Have you ever been walking along the beach and seen a rock that you just had to pick up? Sometimes you carry it for a few steps and then toss it casually aside. Sometimes you take it home and place it carefully in the garden. Sometimes you see another rock and put the two together, because something about the pairing just looks right. This is rock magic. It looks like nothing, feels like nothing, but in fact, is something. I will explain…
I’m sure you’ve noticed, rocks do not have feet, they do not have wings, they do not have fins and they’re pretty dense, so if they want to go somewhere the wind is certainly not going to help. So what do they do? They use us, that’s what! They find unsuspecting people on the beach, or in the mountains, or even just the sidewalk and compel them take them wherever it is that they want to go. That pebble you just tossed into the lake? It’s been wanting to go for a swim all day.
The most memorable experience I ever had with rock magic began at Reynesfjara, the famous black sand beach in the south of Iceland. I found a rock there that called out to me. We spent an hour on the beach together watching the waves and when it was time to go, the rock went with me. This rock stayed with me the rest of the trip, and when I returned to California, it found a new home in my rock collection next to some other friends from Iceland and some new friends from other travels.
When I was planning my second trip to Iceland, I felt like this rock wanted to go home. I put it in the small zip pouch in my backpack and off to Iceland we went. For almost two weeks, this rock went everywhere with me – up mountains, along rivers, into the snow. It was a beautiful trip together until we reached the Glacier Lagoon and I knew it was time to say goodbye. We sat together for a while, watching the glaciers bob in the gentle waves. And, when I felt satisfied with our moment, I gave it a little kiss, placed it lovingly atop a big rock and walked away. I did look back, but only to smile, happy knowing that it was back home and that we had had a beautiful journey together.
Eight months and 10,000 miles of travel only for this rock to end up 120 miles away from where I found it. I really hope it is happy at the Glacier Lagoon, or that if it wasn’t or changed its mind, it found someone else to take it on another adventure. Who knows, maybe it’s relaxing right now on a beach in Fiji.
I was alone. Just me and the mountains. I hadn’t planned to hike this far. I hadn’t planned to be here. In fact, I wasn’t even quite sure where ‘here’ was. I didn’t have a map, I didn’t have phone service, but the mountains ahead were calling to me, so I kept marching towards them. The thought crossed my mind that if I took a wrong step, I would die here, but it seemed a good place to die, so I continued on.
There was a trail, but the more I walked, the more the trail blended into the surroundings. There were boulders to the left, boulders to the right and boulders straight ahead. It was hard to determine which way was actually the way to go, so I just went up, scrambling over rocks and crossing little streams. My eyes were fixed on the summits above me. They had captured me and were pulling me closer and closer to their snow-lined peaks. On my right, what had once been a series of puddles, was now almost a river. Occasionally, I would pass a rock large enough to break its flow, creating a delicate cascade of water that sprinkled down its face.
My heart was beating in my chest – from exhaustion, from excitement and from fear. I’ve spent plenty of time alone in the wilderness, but this was different. I was under the spell of the mountains and there was no telling what would happen. I had lost control, my heart was leading the way. I continued on until the mountain face became too steep. Even using both hands and feet, I slid more than I climbed, and eventually, I retreated to a place where I could rest. I was surrounded on three sides by rock and snow, and in the distance, far far away, I could see the sun creeping towards the ocean. It cast its golden rays across the surface of the water and shone orange and red on the clouds above. It was time to go back, or I would be lost here in the dark, possibly forever.
When I reached the base of the mountain, I sat down in the grass to watch the final moments of the sunset. I took a deep breath and exhaled out all the fear, joy and excitement of the past few hours. What was left, was stillness and peace. I settled into the moment, enjoying the calm feeling in my heart. It was a feeling that I recognized, but not from my adventures. It was a feeling I had felt only twice before in my life. Once when I was a teenager, and once during the month just prior to my hike, both times nestled in the lap of a man that I loved. It was in this moment that I realized, sometimes, the feeling we are seeking doesn’t have to be found through adventure; sometimes, the feeling we are seeking is waiting for us at home, and all we need to do is take a deep breath, find stillness and peace in our hearts, and let out the things that keep us from appreciating what we already have.
We were strangers, parked in a truck miles outside of the city, completely alone in the darkness. Having only met this man once before, I had done what any heartbroken and reckless girl would have done – hopped into his truck and went riding off into the night. I wanted to see the northern lights and he said it was a good night to spot them. He was probably the last thing that my heart needed, but in that moment I didn’t care. I just wanted to feel something, anything.
I once had two heartbreaks in one year. Two bad heartbreaks. The kind of heartbreak that doesn’t just leave you broken, but shattered. Unable to make sense of the fragments that once comprised my hopes and dreams, for months I desperately tried to outrun and outswim my racing mind and aching heart. I refused to stop to think, feel, or even breathe. But no matter how fast or far I went, my pain was always faster, stronger and more determined. It always caught up with me and when it did it took me down like a lineman trying to stop the final play at the Super Bowl. One day, I just couldn’t run anymore, I couldn’t swim, and I couldn’t hide. I was trapped with my anger and sadness staring me in the face. The clock ran out, the game was over, there was no way to win.
Still unwilling to actually face my feelings, I booked a vacation. I’m not sure if I was trying to run or hide, or just buy some time so I wouldn’t be caught crying at work. I just knew I needed to be alone. Just me, wandering the wilderness, searching for peace. I left for Iceland. It was one of the only places I knew I could hike alone without fear of being eaten by snakes, bears, mountain lions or tigers. A place where the only thing I had to fear was the weather and myself. As it turns out, I was much scarier than the weather. The weather in Iceland in October isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. There was lots of rain, a little snow and winds that can rip the doors off of cars if you park the wrong direction. I loved it. I watched the Icelandic horses standing in open fields bearing the force of the wind. I watched the calm in their eyes as the rain fell around them, they just stood there unflinching in the cold. They knew how to weather a storm. I tried to learn from them, but lacked their grace and beauty in the face of a storm I wasn’t sure would ever pass, but somehow, when I watched them, I felt understood.
On my search for peace, I had planned to avoid men on my trip. They were, after all, the source of all my troubles. But, I have an iPhone, and it’s trusty battery left me with a choice upon arrival, get really fucking lost or hang out in my hotel for a few hours tethered to an outlet. I chose to be tethered and to pass the time went happily swiping away on Tinder. Before I was even at 50% battery life, I had matched with the most beautiful man I had ever seen. Ever. Icy blue eyes, beautiful bone structure, just the right amount of scruff to bring attention to the contours of his lips, and a photo of him with a horse that showed off both his strong body and his adventurous spirit. It was trouble and I have an unquenchable thirst for trouble, especially as a distraction to pain.
We met the next night in the middle of nowhere. Having asked him directly if he was either a rapist or a murderer, I had determined it was safe to invite him to my hotel to meet for the first time. I gave him my room number and waited, watching the night from my window. There was nothing out there but the wind and the stars. Then, a knock on my door. This was it – was he lying about being a murderer? I was about to find out. The night went well. We talked, he taught me some Icelandic, he didn’t murder me. Time passed quickly and I had to send him away as I had important hiking plans in the morning. I never expected to see him again, but on the last night of my trip we met again, this time to chase the northern lights. It was the only thing left on my trip wish list and the weather was clear and cold, good conditions despite the nearly full moon. He picked me up and off we went, driving away from the lights of the city, to a spot where it was just him, me, the truck and the sky.
As I watched the sky, I could feel his eyes on me. He was a native and the lights display that evening was not nearly as interesting as the crazy American girl sitting beside him. I watched the colors dance across the sky. They were faint against the moonlight, but clear enough to see. I was in awe. I never knew how much they moved. How different each moment would be. It was beautiful. I could have been satisfied with just the lights show, but that was not all this night had planned for me. My eyes met the eyes that had been watching me. They were beautiful, he was beautiful. I wanted to get lost in those eyes, just as I had the sky, I wanted to free myself to the moment, and I did.
As we made love, I gazed through the window at the northern lights still dancing across the sky. It sounds romantic, but it wasn’t. This wasn’t about romance or love, it was just a moment. It was two strangers in the night, giving in to passion and desire. One searching for escape, for feeling, for hope, for peace. The other, well you’d have to ask him. Maybe he just liked a bit of fun, or maybe he was just as broken as me, desperately searching for a glimpse of warmth in the frozen landscape of a broken heart.
It was a stormy afternoon in California, dark clouds covered the usually blue sky as rain pounded down. My sister and I had been playing outside when the downpour started. We rushed across the yard to safety, and my sister, being older and very protective, grabbed my hand and said to me, “Stay close to me, there might be thunder!” And, just as she said it, a huge thunderclap burst through the sounds of rainfall.
I was probably 3 or 4 when this happened, but I still remember it clearly. It was one of the few moments in my childhood when I felt completely loved and safe. My sister and I were very close when we were young. From the moment I was born, she loved me. She often showed it in weird ways like tricking me into eating a mud taco, pinning me down to spit on my face, and trying to throw me out the bathroom window of a hotel to save me from our parents, but despite the questionable moments, she was always there to protect and love me. The first line of defense against a dark and dangerous world.
As we got older, it became harder for her to protect me. Danger lurked in unexpected places in our household. Slaps that flew for no apparent reason, quiet whispers of things children should not know. We lived with the constant nagging feeling that something terrible was about to happen, and it was only a matter of time before someone really got hurt. Eventually, I learned to protect myself. But the nasty side effects of growing up knowing mostly fear and sadness showed themselves as I raged into my teenage years full of anger and pain. There was no way for her to reach me, so we drifted apart.
As teenagers, I worked through my internal turmoil with drugs, promiscuity and a fully immersive socio-economic study of the drifter culture, she sought her escape by channeling her intense fight for survival into academia. She graduated valedictorian and I narrowly escaped death on more than one occasion. But even worlds apart, she was always there. She did the things our parents should have done. She had the hard conversations, she offered support and she showed me love. She did the best that any slightly older child could do. And so, with time, we found our way back to each other.
Our reunion started when she left for college and invited me to join her for a skirt party and underage drinking. Next, I visited her one year for Thanksgiving. It was just me and her in a little apartment making chicken, peppered brownies, and rekindling the love and joy we had shared as children. We drank too much champagne, made incredibly stupid videos, and laughed until tears of joy rolled down our faces. After that, the visits became more frequent and the calls longer. The space between us disappeared, and there we were, as close and full of love as two children running from a rainstorm.
This year, thunder struck again. With my sister in Los Angles and me in France, we reach across the ocean to escape the storm. We both protect each other now. We share the hard conversations, the offers of support and show love to each other when it is needed. We call on each other to remember what is real and what is not. To remind each other not to get lost in hope. To accept our limitations and put our energy where it matters most. We help each other to make the tough calls, to face the hard truths and to prepare for the inevitable. In life, there will always be thunder. There will always be storms and scary things. What matters, are the people who will take your hand and pull you close. No matter how far away it may seem, love will always be there when the storm hits.
California. It is the place that I am from, but it is not my home. I told my friend this over coffee at Christmas and I think I broke her heart. Somehow selling my house didn’t tip her off that my move was intended to be permanent. Sometimes I wonder why it is that I hate that place so much. It is, in fact, quite beautiful and there are many things that I love. I love the oak trees and the way they twist and turn as they grow, I love the redwoods, I love that it smells like pot absolutely everywhere, I love the hills in the springtime when they are a vibrant green, I love the poppies that splash orange across the landscape, I love the endless rows of vineyards as their colors transform to red in the fall, I love the drive up to Lake Tahoe in the wintertime and that first moment when you realize you are finally in the snow, I love the cliffs of Mendocino and watching the waves kiss the fog just before they crash and I love the tacos, so many tacos. But even with all this love, it’s not enough to defeat the hate.
I hate the traffic, I hate the way that people say “like” every other word, I hate that in the summer all the grasses die and I am left staring at a barren wasteland until November, I hate the Target parking lot on Sunday afternoons as everyone makes their final push for ultimate consumerism before the week is up, I hate the hipsters that think they’re saving the planet by drinking a Fairtrade light roast as they type away on their MacBooks in the recently constructed coffee shop, I hate that we have cities where the contrast between wealth and poverty is so rampant, but what I hate the most, truly the most, is the endless blue sky that can last for days, weeks, and even months. It’s not even really blue, but a brownish grey-blue extending for miles and miles, only stopping when blocked by some hideous construction or when it disappears into the haze of desiccated earth. It’s a sky that just stares at you, reminding you that there will be no rain, no clouds, no escape from the endless sun. In March a sky like this can be moderately pleasant, but by June my heart has withered with the grasses where it remains trapped, hiding from the heat, waiting to come alive again with the first rain.
The year I moved to England there was a national scandal – a resident who claimed to “love the weather.” That resident was me. English weather was a dream come true. It rained, and then it rained, and then it rained, and then it stopped raining and fluffy white clouds floated gracefully across the sky as the sun peeked through illuminating the vibrant green hills, and then it rained, and then it was foggy – that sweet soft fog that surrounds you like the world is giving you a cool wet hug, and then it rained, and then it sprinkled, and then it poured and then it rained. It was beautiful! I regularly took taxis from my home to the train station and when the drivers heard my accent they’d always ask, “Soo, how d’ya like England then?” “Oh, I love it!” I’d reply, “I love the weather, it’s perfect!” I could see their eyes glance back at me in the rear view mirror, they would shift their weight a bit in discomfort and then look back again, certain that the passenger they had picked up was, in fact, crazy.
I never truly realized just how much I loved the rain until that year in England. In California, if it rains people stay inside. Hikes get delayed, BBQs cancelled, the only good thing to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix in a protest of disgust towards the damp surroundings. This is not the case in England, with the majority of days being wet life must go on. Hikes are taken in waterproof pants, BBQs happen with creative backyard construction and a sense of humor, and Netflix is watched in much the same fashion but with the added bonus of a bacon butty and good ol’ cuppa tea.
During my first really wet hike in England, I came alive in a brand new way! I could not hide my childish glee as I scampered down the mountainside surrounded by vibrant greens and wet rocks. We didn’t do this in California, and I had no idea what I had been missing! Everywhere the rain splashed. My face and feet were soaked but my body protected by borrowed raingear. In the months that followed nothing could keep me indoors as I explored hillsides, creeks, meadows and woods. For the first time in my life, I felt at home. I wanted to stay, but life had other plans for me and I returned to the blazing California sun filled with longing for the life I was leaving behind.
Now I am in France where the weather is all confused. Some days I feel the crispness of the cold winter air as I carefully tread on icy paths. Other days, the rain falls down around me giving my heart that flutter of delight. And still other days, I am reminded of the cruel California sun as the clouds dissipate to reveal an expanse of blue. But the sun here doesn’t bother me as much, it doesn’t threaten to stay too long or drain my heart of happiness. The blue sky here is actually blue and, even when cloudless, has a certain charm. Maybe it wasn’t the blue skies I hated so much after all. Maybe it was just living in a place that never felt like home. Or maybe, I’m able to enjoy it because I know that after the sun, the rain will come. There is, after all, nothing quite like a rainy day.
Last spring, I tried to be a proper adult. I had it all: a great job, a beautiful condo in one of those snobby communities with a tennis court and a pool, the perfect yoga studio and a standing Sunday morning walk and gossip date followed by overpriced lattes at one of those places with sixteen different kinds of milk. In fact, I think they even served air milk. It’s the keto approved, gluten free, allergen safe, vegan friendly, environmentally sustainable, and consciously harvested alternative to actually wanting a latte. But, of course, ordering a one hundred and eighty degree latte with double air milk, extra foam, in small circular mug that has been warmed for five hours in a bath of 40% natural sunlight and 60% fluorescent lighting sounds so much better than saying “A coffee, please.”
I was so committed to this adulting thing that I even tried adding a boyfriend to the mix. You know, a good one, the kind my friends wanted me to date. The kind that I could take to brunch and introduce to my friends because, well, I actually knew his name. I managed to find myself the perfect man for my new adulting lifestyle. He was good looking, with beautiful blue eyes and a nice smile. He adored me, definitely wanted to get married someday, loved his family, went to church and was even building a house, by hand. He wasn’t quite my type, lacking the usual commitment phobic bad-boy criteria, but I thought I would give it a shot. If I can do yoga, I can do anything! Or so I thought…
Mr. Adulting was really trying. He cooked for me, he took me bowling but didn’t let me win, we went hiking and he brought a bottle of the wine that I had loved from our second date, he even hand carved a cute little gift for me. Things were going well, so well that in only a few months I had met his family, he had been to my best friend’s summer BBQ and I even let him spend the night. Everything was perfect. Everything except that fact that I secretly wanted to murder him every time he laughed. But, I understand from my married friends that this is normal. Adulting, yes!
Everything was great, that is, until we went on vacation. It was my mistake to invite him. In fact, that was never my intention. I had my vacation planned before we met, but in a moment of wine-drunkness (surprise, surprise), I sent him a picture of a waterfall and said “Isn’t it amazing! Don’t you want to come?” Big. Fucking. Mistake….. He came! I didn’t think it was possible for a person to book two weeks off and fly across the world from one text message, but these guys who are looking for marriage be crazy! They’ll do anything.
So off we went to Iceland – my favorite place in the whole wide world, the land that fills my heart and feeds my soul. We arrived and I was beyond excited. I practically jumped off the plane and ran out of the airport to take a deep breath of the fresh, cold, Icelandic air. I was in heaven. Everywhere I looked, I saw perfection. The rocks, the clouds, the moss, the lakes, the rivers, the waterfalls, and the mountains. Oh those mountains, the only thing in this world that is so overwhelmingly beautiful that sometimes when I look at them, I mean really look, I can’t help but cry. And that’s without even being wine drunk!
I tried to share my excitement and joy with Mr. Adulting, but he just wasn’t having it. Day 1 of the trip, I tried to understand. It was a long journey, maybe he was tired. Day 2 we went for a hike. If you haven’t been to Iceland, first of all GO!, and second, there is something about the air that even my best writing could not describe. It is cold, clean, wet and alive. When you breathe in you don’t just smell the surroundings, you take in the essence of the land. On my hike with Mr. Adulting, I stopped and I looked at the mountains, took a deep breath, and in utter amazement, joy and peace said, “Isn’t this the most beautiful place you have ever been?” To which Mr. Adulting replied, “Not really.” The fuck?!!!! And so, I dumped him. Not right in that moment, but the next morning. There was no way I could ever love someone who couldn’t feel the land that we were standing on; someone who couldn’t appreciate the beauty and mystery of this Earth.
The trip went on, awkwardly to say the least. But, despite my travel companion, I managed to soak in every ounce of Iceland I could get. Breathing the air, drinking from the waterfalls, kissing the rocks and of course gazing longingly at the mountains at every possible moment. But it was a long trip and while I was off sniffing moss and taking selfies with waterfalls, Mr. Adulting was getting broody. One day he decided he had had enough and would hitchhike home. I casually mentioned that there were buses, wished him luck and got on Tinder, because well, there’s more to ride in Iceland than horses. But this time, Tinder didn’t take me on any rides, instead it changed my life. Now how does a shitty dating app change a girl’s life? Well, the short version goes: I met a guy, who was in a band who sent me a song that I listened to. The ever so slightly longer version goes something like this…
It was the last day of my trip and I had just gotten a text from a guy I met two nights before. He said that he was in a band and would send me a song, and surprisingly he did. I waited until I was at the airport to listen to it, since I wouldn’t have anything better to do but sit and wait. Not wanting to leave, I decided to wait outside until the last possible second. There is a small grassy area outside of the Reykjavik airport where you can just barely see the mountains in the distance. I sat in the grass, looked towards the mountains and put on the song, not having any idea what I was about to be listening to.
The first notes of the song played and I was instantly blown away. It sounded like cool fog rolling over a dry and barren land. And then the singing started. It was as if I could hear the pain of a land that had been transformed by “progress.” I kept listening, thinking for sure this guy had sent me someone else’s song. There was no way some rando from Tinder was this talented. I listened and I listened, and with each note I felt transported to deep undiscovered places, it was like Iceland to the Nth degree. I listened as waves and waves of sound crashed against me, filling my heart and soul with images and feelings from places I had never been. I listened and I felt and I stared at the mountains and then something surprising happened…I cried. Not a big cry, because I know how to keep my shit together in public, but I had discovered something else in this world as beautiful as the mountains of Iceland, something else that could touch my soul and make me feel the things that I run from and try to deny.
So there I was, sitting in the grass outside of Reykjavik airport with a gentle tear running down my cheek, listening to the sound of lands I didn’t know. And it was in that moment that my life changed, because it was in that moment I knew, with 100% certainty, I could never really go home again. Not that I couldn’t get on the plane, because I did, but that home would never be home. California, my condo, my Sunday coffee dates, my perfect job, my yoga classes, my stupid attempts at an adulting lifestyle, they would never make me happy, because all of it was just a distraction from the world I wanted to live in. The world I hope we can all live in. A world that isn’t motivated by consumption, greed and the latest iPhone. A world that understands that nature is the ultimate beauty, power, heart and soul of everything worth fighting for.
I don’t know if I will ever get to live in a world that understands this, but at least now I know what that world sounds like. And while there is a part of me that believes that if everyone could hear what I heard the world would change, sadly, I think too many of us are like Mr. Adulting, blind to the beauty and mystery that surrounds us. Too many of us could look at the mountains and say, “Not really.” And that, my friends, is the greatest heartbreak of all. The heartbreak of a dying world.
As fate would have it, I have recently found myself in France. Not just for vacation, but for the next two years. And, in true Tina style, I threw myself into this with as little preparation as possible. No French? No problem. I got this… I had a grand plan. I would move to France, take 5 or 6 lovers, and learn all the essential phrases while making passionate love in a foreign land. My plan was perfect, except for one detail that I failed to take into account: I don’t like French men.
Now, as an American, I have long heard the stories of French men. They are passionate, romantic, and will sweep you off your feet with grand gestures, poetry and incredible sex. Personally, poetry makes me want to gag, but so does deep throating and I’ll do that for the right man. I got this…
But, I didn’t “Got this.” I still don’t have this. I’ve been here for almost three months now, and while my French is improving my taste for French men is not. I was hoping it would be like the white wine from Jura – a bit peculiar at first, but quite enjoyable once you get used to the nutty flavor. Sadly, this is not the case. In my limited research, I have found the men here fall into the following categories:
Stale White Bread: Boring to begin with and only gets worse with time. Absolutely zero flavor or nutritional value, but you’ll eat it at 3am when you’ve had 10 G&Ts and forgot to ask the Uber driver to stop by McDonald’s on the way home.
Shower Drain Hair: Just the thought of it makes you cringe. Looking at it makes you feel dirty all over. If you have to touch it, it’s best to use gloves, but even then the memory will haunt you for months.
Mr. Moody: Always dramatic, everything is the end of the world. This guy makes man babies look like pro adulters. Actually, this guy might be closest to the stereotype, but only because he vehemently expresses how miserable life is with his poetry about catching colds, losing socks in the dryer and traffic jams.
The Tour Guide: Possibly also quite French, this guy knows everything about the city, the region, the history and the culture, and he likes to talk about it… a lot. It’s not actually possible to connect with this guy because he’s too busy trying to impress you with his infinite knowledge of everything. Like the wine? He doesn’t care why, he just seizes the opportunity to tell you the longitude and latitude of where each grape was picked and what the winemaker was wearing during harvest. Like the cheese? He’ll tell you the story about how his great-aunt’s cousin’s wife’s sister had a cow that was neighbors with the horse that was owned by the farmer that sold a goat to the couple whose daughter’s sheep grazed on the property next to where this cheese was produced.
Mr. Casual: I’m pretty sure these guys are universal. They’re in it for one thing and one thing only. This is totally ok with me as long as the expectations are clear and it’s good for both of us. What surprised me about Mr. Casual French Edition was he was offended when I said “No problem, but can we skip dinner and keep it to weeknights?” Oh, and he forgot that last bit about good for both of us.
So there you have it. Dating in France. Actually, the first thing in two years that has managed to get me off Tinder. I never thought it would be contempt rather than love that would finally pull me away from swipe life, but here I am, swipe-free for almost three weeks now.
I will confess, I’m not being 100% fair to French men with this description. There was, in fact, one French man who doesn’t fall into any of the above categories. He was an anomaly. He was able to not only stir my desires but crack open the locks on my bitter heart. I’m inclined to say he probably isn’t French, but apparently his Frenchness dates back to the Cretaceous period. Of course, having felt something potentially real for the first time since my disastrous heartbreak, I dramatically threw a scarf over my eyes and ran from his apartment at 6am only to go home to cuddle a baguette in regret. But, that’s a story for another day.