I popped in my ear buds, chose a science podcast and walked out my front door. When I came-to five hours later, I was somewhere in Bay View, which I called “The Bay View,” and pretty soon just The Bayou. I could tell it was the Bayou because of the large gully that I was walking alongside and the distant view of Twin Peaks and Bernal Hill. The salt scent of the estuary blew across my face. I was lost, and should have been concerned, but it was a beautiful winter day. The sun sparkled, and the air was cool. I set off walking along the river bank. In my right hand, which was now a sharp metal hook, I held a rope leash leading the alligator beside me. My pajamas looked like Huck Finn’s rags. A sixty-foot prehistoric barracuda cruised by. I thought it was an android. Side streets split away from the water beckoning with Chinese vegetables stands and 99- cent bargains.
I could have walked forever, but somehow I remembered my other life. I looked for the way up from the water’s edge. The bank was too steep. I was carrying bags, scarves, pens, my phones and other slippery objects in my left arm. In my right hook, I held the rope leash. My legs were rubbery and weak from the flu. I couldn’t climb out.
Five hours later, I was back in my living room, on the phone with my father, trying to explain what had happened.
My dreaming mind is not wasting time with subtly. I didn’t lose five hours, more like 18 years. From the moment at age 22 that I moved into my apartment on Guerrero St. and spent years wandering around San Francisco (no earbuds available in those days), in a state of semi-ecstasy from not eating, letting my skin melt to just the shimmer of an outline as my body dissolved into sky, light and the back drop of the city. I wasn’t one to dive into life and get messy. The Alexander Technique was my spiritual bypass, a way to perfection that didn’t cost. I held myself back and waited, missing all the usual the human drama of marriage and children. I’m not sure who likened eating disorders to a golden cage, but the metaphor is apt.
The trance began to break when I turned 40. Painful loss threw me into Pema Chodron’s pages and eventually meditation. A welcome disillusionment occurred, and I mean that word in an unusual positive translation. The illusions and stories fell apart. The practice of sitting and watching it all, breath by breath, provided courage to dive into the mess of life.
I walked home from the De Young Museum today, my 48th birthday, rushing into the few remaining patches of winter sunlight, still alone, but counting everything that is not wrong with my life. Middle age, it seems, is about having a constantly broken heart. Enough people that you have loved and have loved you fiercely are gone. More will leave. But regret, will just drive the trance deeper.
There’s no option of holding love back.