photographs taken in Yosemite National Park.
The drive to Yosemite takes almost five hours and my eleven-day old niece, Harper, sleeps the entire way. We get a late start made even later by a coffee shop that takes twenty minutes to fill our order. We drive across the new Bay Bridge and continue east for what seems like an eternity. The farther away we get from the coast, the browner everything gets. It becomes apparent just how dire the drought in California is. The Don Pedro Reservoir is so low that its sides are exposed and the result is the landscape of some alien planet, or how you might expect the earth to look in a few hundred years.
We stop and take pictures by the Yosemite sign. A threesome of tourists wait for their turn and comment on how small Harper is. They ask how old and they tell my brother and sister-in-law they’re brave.
Do you think we’re brave? my brother asks me. People keep saying that.
We walk around the grounds of the Ahwahnee Hotel together while my sister-in-law feeds Harper in our hotel room. We come across a river no more than five inches deep. I wade out in the sandals I bought at the beginning of the summer, now so tattered and worn I don’t care if the water ruins them. The river is freezing cold and numbs my toes, but the air is stifling and warm. The forest fires blaze just on the other side of Half Dome and everything smells like burning wood.
We wake up the next morning and the car is covered in ash. Soot falls around us like a freak snowstorm. We can’t see the top of El Capitan. We strap the baby into her carseat and drive up and up and up to find some cleaner air.
photographs taken in Yosemite National Park.
Ojai is too bright and hot to ever fully open my eyes, so the result is a trip a little fuzzy around the edges. We arrive in the early afternoon, irritable with hunger and the delays of Labor Day traffic. We walk slowly through the types of stores you can only find in towns like this, where big names aren’t allowed and the antique store stretches on for miles, crammed with one of everything you might ever want. We eat Mexican food and when we check into our hotel, the receptionist pours us two glasses of cabernet and tells us when we can see the pink moment. We drive the short distance up to Meditation Mount; I arrive at the top feeling motion sickness from filming too much of the bumpy ride up the hillside. Then: dinner at the nicest place you’d ever want to eat—a table set against a miniature forest of bamboo and flanked on the other side by a sprawling herb garden.
Neither of us sleeps.
I don’t know why, but I wake up every hour, squinting into the darkness to see what time the cable box says it is. I’m relieved when it’s morning, when we finally pull ourself out of bed in search of coffee and scones, eating in the car as we head to our next destination: a popular, easy hike that takes us around the back of an orange grove. It is impossibly hot. My tee shirt is damp with sweat by the end of it; we turn the A/C on high and drive slowly, letting the car cool down.
We eat vegan wraps for lunch next to a very old cocker spaniel that keeps dipping its ears into the water bowl. We head home when the sun is at its hottest point. I take my boots off and toss them into the trunk. S puts his hat in the backseat.
Everything is burnt orange and bright green until we get back to the coast—and then it is only blue blue blue.
photographs taken in Ojai, California.
Lately I have been doing so much work there isn’t room for anything else. I wake up and make coffee with eyes still closed against the morning light. I work in bed with the pillows propped up behind my back and I don’t shower until three or four, when I’ve written or revised thousands of words and accidentally get a glimpse of myself in the mirror.
My first niece was born yesterday: Harper Arden. She is tiny and she yawns a lot and she keeps her eyes open.
I’ve been dreaming of a small, quiet vacation. We’ve been recording music and I’ll listen to the songs as I drive up the coast or out into the desert, letting the heat swallow me up until I’m floating, boiling.
Yesterday I spent one hour outside photographing a beautiful girl who kept asking me how she looked. Afterward we ate fried avocado tacos and split an enormous piece of cake made with too much lemon. My scalp sweat under a wool hat but I haven’t done my hair in weeks.
I feel like I have a better handle on myself than I’ve had in the whole past year. I still change my mind a hundred times a day but at least the decisions are closer together. They are no longer night and day. The variations are at least, now, related.
photographs of Bridgett taken in my back alley, Los Angeles.
photographs taken at the American Museum of Natural History in New York
with a Canon 60D
It is too hot to do anything. In Connecticut, the humidity was like a fluid blanket you couldn’t get out from under. I come back to LA and it’s no better. It is too hot to write. The words stick at the ends of my fingertips. It is too hot to follow through. It is too hot to edit. It is too hot to do anything other than fill up my water glass and walk from the kitchen to the living room a hundred times, checking for minute drops in temperature. It is too hot to be concerned. Too hot to wonder what more I could have done. I take two or three showers a day. I buy linen summer dresses and they wrinkle so easily that I stop caring. I don’t own an iron. I hang them in the bathroom when I shower but the water isn’t hot enough to steam. They just get wet and I towel them off after I towel myself off. I write on my bed with bare legs and my laptop sticks to my thighs. My cat won’t come near me anymore. He sprawls on my unused desk or spreads himself across the wood floor. It’s too hot for being pet. I write songs too hard, too long. My fingers hurt against the keys of my laptop. They sting in the water of the shower. I make coffee and stick it in the fridge and then I keep checking back to see if it’s cold. I sing the same moody lyrics over and over and my best friend texts me to say I think this is the best thing you’ve written yet. 2 hot 2 live I text her back. She sends me a string of nonsensical emojis. We FaceTime without speaking. I melt. My cat is afraid of the guitar. I am out of paper towels and cannot clean up the mess of melting. We work around it. photographs taken in Connecticut. my young cousins.
photographs taken at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles, California.
I haven’t been to Connecticut in over a year. I watch out the window as the plane descends over farmland and greenery and a line of bright yellow tractors and I think: OK, I’ve made it. I’m back.
It’s a particular feeling to return to the place of one’s birth. You feel at once a stranger and someone returning, triumphantly. You almost expect people to stop you in the nearly-deserted airport, to congratulate you on the journey you’ve just completed (both metaphorically and actually), to ask if they can touch your hand.
More people than we expected show up to the wake. I don’t know all their names and so my cousin and brothers whisper to me and I whisper to them if they look confused. My grandmother’s casket is closed. It was what she always said. I don’t want anybody to see me dead.
I don’t blame her.
It starts storming during dinner. The three little girls, my cousins, are all scared of thunder and lightning in an obligatory, resigned way. Like they just know they’re supposed to be. The rain hits sideways against the windows of the restaurant and the sky lights up in flashes of gold. My oldest brother and I drive to pick up his wife from the train station in Windsor Locks. It’s by a river. We get there as the train is pulling up. It looks exactly like a noir film, all mist and steam and bright headlights.
We stay up late every night. In the mornings there are tiny, kid-sized footprints on my parents’ hardwood floor. My father vacuums. My mother watches a soap opera by fast forwarding through all the boring parts. The sliding deck doors are covered in palm prints and fingerprints. The mornings go much too quickly. Time does not listen; time does not rest. So I don’t rest, either. I bounce around where everyone tells me to bounce around. By the end of it, I feel tired and worn out. A whirlwind of a trip, everyone says. I sort of smile, glossy-eyed. I have another cup of coffee and ignore the ulcer ache of too much stress and travel.
My little cousins hug me in turn, one after the other, and call me auntie and throw me balls and kiss my stomach, the highest part they can reach.
Do you remember me? I ask the littlest one.
She puts her nose against my neck and laughs laughs laughs.
My grandmother dies in the middle of the night. My mother said her blood turned septic, and it was quick. Later I will google what that means.
Dangerously low blood pressure, the result of a severe infection that has spread through the bloodstream.
S goes out to buy muffins. I stay home and make coffee. We write a song using chords I can barely play. Except the chorus is easy, so I help.
The chorus is this: D A Em G and it is a chord progression I have been playing for years. Since I first learned to play the guitar (poorly) this is the chord progression I play when I pick one up. This is the chord progression I dedicate to my grandmother, who spent the last years of her life in a nursing home, sometimes not knowing who we were.
The last memory I have of my grandmother before the nursing home: I pick her up. She asks me to take her to Walgreens. She loves going to Walgreens. She has the beginnings of dementia coupled with a tendency to hoard and a confused sense of kleptomania.
My grandmother has worn lipstick for years. She buys the kind that is green in the tube and then red when you put it on.
That day, in Walgreens, she pushes a cart around the store. I watch her take a tube of lipstick from a shelf and put it into her purse.
My favorite picture of my grandmother is her and my mother on my mother’s 21st birthday. My mother is sitting on my grandmother’s lap. My mother holds a phone up to her ear. They’re smiling at each other.
In the car I ask her where the lipstick came from. She doesn’t know. And it’s the truth. She really doesn’t know.
The thing about grandparents: they are always there. They are there when you are born. They are there for every birthday. They give you Hallmark greeting cards with twenty dollar bills crisp and new from the bank. Snickers bars chilled in the fridge. Altoid containers hidden in every drawer in the house. They are always always there, until they’re not.