Color Of Water And The Meaning Of Life
Driving long distances alone was similar to being incarcerated. If a man was able to transcend the discomfort, he could use the opportunity isolation affords to journey inward, to meditate, to face the darkness, and be one with his true self. Conversely, a man can allow the monkey-mind to take control – filling gaps of boredom with anger, rehearsing plots of revenge, and avoiding long-repressed demons buried in the sarcophagus of a battered heart.
I left work around two in the afternoon. As I saw it, the world owed me. Still recovering from a completely imploded life less than two years prior, at thirty years old, I considered myself a repressed talent, a star diffused to the complacency of mundane life. I worked the counter at an electrical supply warehouse, which meant I took shit in the form of predictable blue-collar punch lines on a daily basis. Electricians tend to fire off zingers with the same commitment and intellectual capacity as children asking circular questions. I found myself willingly participating in the art of dick jokes and one-upping on a daily basis.
When you think you’re better than your job, it’s easy to excuse laziness and corner-cutting. I left work early because I thought I was entitled to do so. After all, hardworking warehouse manager, Gary, left early every Friday in order to beat traffic going home to his house 100 miles away, so why shouldn’t I be afforded the same courtesy when visiting my girlfriend in LA?
I shaved a corner by leaving early and hit the 101 heading south. The journey began on the plus side of my imaginary tally board. I was always keeping score of something, and everyone I met caused an instant assessment of “better than” or “less than” inside my head. From San Carlos through Sunnyvale, I either passed, or was intuitively aware of, all the market-leading companies of which I was not a part: Facebook, Google, Apple, Lockheed Martin, NASA, and Yahoo. I had friends at each one, and every connection was a brisk reminder of my marginal status in the beehive of Silicon Valley. Negative tally marks made their way to my scoresheet.
Speeding down the freeway, I was trying to win back a piece of whatever it was they stole from me. I didn’t know who “they” were, but they made me angry. Downtown San Jose was pocked with graffiti, and I cursed the deviants still enthralled in the pseudo prestige of street mentality. Why couldn’t they grow up like I did? Fucking idiots. They should all face the soul-crushing blow of betrayal then see if they still stood for their righteous ethos.
Gilroy set me climbing over the Santa Cruz Mountains by injecting all five senses with garlic. Farmland to either side as far as the eye could see, and signs along the road declaring fresh fruit and vegetables for sale. The two-lane road would be serene if I could have passed the pretentious 18-wheeler doing 35 in a 60. Thirteen cars crawling behind him, and still he didn’t use the opportunity to pull over and let us pass. Fucking asshole.
Anger is easy to find when life is a constant game of who got the best of whom. My radio began to cut out, fading away the voice of the sports-talk personality du jour. I shifted allegiance between meatballs frequently. Now I couldn’t even practice the mental riffs I would certainly conceive on the fly, if only I’d been lucky enough to get the effortless position of professional loser-wrangler.
In my mind, I scoffed at the masses of complacent, fat Americans who vested all their emotional stock in the outcome of a game played by men who bore no affiliation to the fans, except to have achieved their own personal destiny within the relative proximity of where they, the jiggly comatose herd, had decided to stake their claim onto a thirty-year commitment to marginal failure delineated only by relative levels of acquiescence. They gave up on their dreams. Meaningless jobs became acceptable, and wives grew fat as whales, so they found self-worth by attaching purpose to the outcome of sports. How long before I was one of them?
It had been less than two hours in the car, and already I had danced through multiple layers of neurosis. Strong pace.
Where does the mind go when left unclogged by the checklist of daily activities, drive for instant gratification, or other distractions from the present moment? Like most western neurotics, I oscillated between nostalgia and anticipation. I put in a CD and relived glory days of old: Hello John Fogerty.
The music sent me back to a time I considered my pinnacle. I reminisced about driving loads of weed up and down the coast. Hours spent alone on the road thinking about how clever I was for constantly getting over on the system and not having to participate in the malaise of corporate life. The rush was impressive, and highly addictive, when walking into a crowded gas station or restaurant along I-5 while twenty pounds of weed was concealed in my trunk.
Families en route to their vacation would disgust me as I watched them stuff their mouths with In-N-Out burgers, defeated sweat-pants hiding mounds of gelatinous capitulation. I always brought food from home or chose a relatively healthy option, thinking, once again, that I was one-upping the herd in a non-defined game tallied on a non-existent scoreboard. A drug dealer judging the overweight. Pride judging gluttony, thinking they should focus more on vanity. Brilliant.
And so, as the same CD played songs from the height of my now crumbled empire, I waded through faded memories of a life once worth mentioning. I was someone important once, but it all came crashing down in magnificent fashion when I met the man who played me like I thought I was playing everyone else.
I’d made it through Pacheco Pass and was headed down the endless straightaway that is I-5 south. My black Frontier zipped down the highway at 100 miles per hour. Memories and distractions eventually ran their course, then my mind was left to float in a void.
Signs for Coalinga County reminded me to seal the car from outside air in preparation for the coming effluvium. I could tell the wind was blowing north because the rank odor of manure assaulted me well before I could see the endless fields. As far as the eye could see, and as vast as the mind would wander, tens of thousands of cows wallowed on what looked like barren dirt but was probably their own feces. They waited patiently for their time on the slaughter block, and I sped by in a hurry on my way to a life slipping by. Harris Ranch cattle lot proudly claimed the title of largest on the west coast. Indeed, it was the largest pile of shit I had ever seen.
The killing fields didn’t faze me. Instead, I reminded myself of the bright glow of love I was driving toward in Los Angeles. I had met Genevieve three months earlier while attending DUI classes in Hollywood. In a room full of people waiting for an opportunity to talk about themselves, she usually sat quietly with grace and impeccable posture.
At 28 years young, I returned home from San Diego a defeated man. Still stumbling from a ruthless combination of heartbreak, addiction, and betrayal, I managed to slowly crawl my way back into the routine of a normal life. A longtime friend got me a job with the electrical supply company his stepfather owned, so I was given an opportunity to work my way up a fast track toward a coveted management position. I began as a delivery driver.
During the day, I would rumble around the Bay Area in a twenty-foot flatbed, delivering conduit and wire to construction sites. After work, I would hit the gym to regain the confidence of my youth. On weekends, I would get piss drunk and often supplement the booze with cocaine. I felt the universe owed me a hall pass to act a fool, given the abhorrent hand I had been dealt in San Diego. By kicking meth, I believed I had earned my seat at the bar. That routine provided great comfort.
Eventually, the odds caught up with me. One night, one fateful Thanksgiving, while on another rock-star caliber binge, I made an illegal U-turn after leaving a bar in my hometown. The job wasn’t progressing as fast as my ego expected, and the DUI added another layer of resentment, so I asked to be transferred to the Los Angeles branch of the business in order to settle into a culture I was certain would be more fitting for a man of my ilk. It was there, while living in the epicenter of all that was shallow and self-absorbed, that I found Genevieve hidden among the wolves. By the time I had worked up the nerve to ask her out, six months in Los Angeles had left me lonely and with even less purpose than before, so arrangements had been made to transfer me back to the Bay Area for work. Long distance relationships were difficult for a man like me.
Genevieve was stunning, a real-life version of Jessica Rabbit with a shy smile that made me scream inside every time I saw it sneak out. Radiant earth stones always accentuated her flawlessly sculpted face, and an ultra-chic pixie cut crowned her exquisitely. She was the perfect mix of LA fashion and lost hippie soul. Five years my elder, and twenty years more mature, Genevieve had a poise about her that I had never witnessed before.
She was a recovering alcoholic, 18 months sober, and still serving out a mandatory two-year commitment to DUI classes after having wrecked her car, under the influence, and busted for the second time. She wasn’t just sober now, she had something that flowed from her soul, some kind of spiritual thirst, that made me want to be around her all the time. Every other weekend, I made the miserable drive down the corridor of haunted memories to be with my waiting angel in a city deceptively claiming to be full of them.
I was driving on a restricted license, but I never concerned myself with the idea of hedging against consequences in life. I hit the Grapevine in Southern California well shy of four hours on the road. Consequences, however, were what this particular trip down to LA was all about.
I reached the heart of Los Angeles at twenty minutes before seven. Gen wasn’t due to be off of work for another hour, so I passed the time appropriately by having a few beers at a nearby restaurant. I was sitting alone at a high bar table, pressed against the window, looking out onto West Third Street in Beverly Grove. Large gulps made for quick refills. Outside, a young couple engaged in conversation, dressed in postmodern rocker chic outfits, walked by a homeless man who was sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against a light post, hunched over to one side, drooling and mumbling. The Ray-Ban wayfarers didn’t give the slightest indication of concern as they both gingerly veered around the human obstacle.
Inside the restaurant, a loud buzz filled the air. Everyone seemed to be bred from amazingly attractive genes. My tally board filled with negative marks as I absorbed the hustle of Los Angeles. People looked important and appeared to be discussing important things. I felt grossly unimportant because no one had offered me a chance to be recognized; recognized for what, I did not care. Genevieve sent a text announcing her departure from work, so I picked up the pace on my last two beers.
She was even more beautiful than I remembered. When she asked why I didn’t come pick up the key and let myself into her apartment, I shook it off and mentioned having a couple beers at the restaurant instead. I drank five. She smiled and gracefully flashed her emerald eyes at me to absorb my words, then casually looked away to hide the fact that she knew I was drunk.
We had sushi for dinner then headed home for an early night.
As we brushed our teeth together in the bathroom, I purposely swiped my pelvis by her butt. She smiled at me through the reflection in the vanity mirror and shook her head “no” in a way that only made me want her more.
“You know, I already took the first pill. No booty for you tonight, mister. You and your friend down there have already done quite enough.’
I grabbed a hand full of her rump, sighed, and gave my best puppy-dog look. Genevieve offered one sarcastic chuckle in response.
The next morning, I woke up arid and groggy. As I stood in front of the sink, sipping coffee and staring out the window, Genevieve walked up quietly behind me, put her arms around my waist, and rested her head on the top crease of my spine.
“Hey, lover,” she mumbled in a groggy morning voice.
“Good morning sunshine. How you feeling?”
“Nervous. I took the second pill a few minutes ago.”
“How long do we have?”
“A couple hours.”
“What will happen, and what do you want me to do?”
“I’m going to get sick, with bad cramps, and sit in the bathtub the whole time. You just hang out, and if I need anything, I’ll let you know. “
It was casual then, in the same way it had been casual when she told me. Two months into our relationship, Genevieve mentioned she was pregnant. Immediately, I had a great sense of calm, a surrender to fate. I never told her, but inside I felt willing to take on the responsibility of raising a child with her. Instead, the conversation went immediately to the topic of abortion, both of us drifting into it without much resistance. I had never discussed such a heavy topic before and was amazed by how mundane it felt. Two weeks later, we stood hugging in the kitchen.
When the time came, she quietly excused herself and walked into the bathroom. I stay curled up on the couch with a book in hand – Smokescreen, by Robert Sabbag. The walls were thin. Sound carried through effortlessly. Shower knobs squeaked, then water began to run. For thirty minutes, nothing seemed awry. I sat on the couch, consumed by my novel.
A soft moan was heard through the wall. I looked up and stared at nothing while perking up my ears. Water was still running. A few more moans, then a faint whimpering sound. I sat on the coach and listened. My mind raced to find a way to help but couldn’t come up with any viable solutions.
Why hadn’t I told her when we were talking on the phone that day? My heart felt that question, but my mind quickly charged in with a slew of pretext. We’d only been dating for a couple months. How could I tell a woman to consider having a child if I hadn’t even told her I loved her? Did I even know how to love anymore? Would she think I was desperate and vulnerable? Besides, had my heart healed from the demolition I’d suffered in San Diego? Was this all nonsense? On paper, the abortion made sense. We barely knew each other, and I still lived in my mother’s house. How could any reasonable person reach any other conclusion beside an abortion? I agreed with all the logic, but my heart was sobbing as I listened to her wallow in pain.
I stood up and began pacing around the living room. The moans became louder. Peeking down the hallway like a nervous child, I saw the bathroom door slightly ajar. Four times I tried to make it near the door, and four times I retreated in fear. Finally, on the fifth attempt, with my eyes looking straight down at the floor, I managed to venture close enough to the door to be able to say something to her. I leaned against the doorjamb, fumbling for words, listening to the sound of a woman grieving in a bathtub.
“Hey, Gen . . . Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked shyly.
“No. Please go away.”
Feeble words, under heavy breaths and panting, were stirring in the bathroom. I returned to the couch, defeated. For the next hour, I lay in the fetal position with a blanket covering everything except one ear, left exposed to listen in case a distress call was sent. Moments like that had the ability to run a flip book of memories through my mind. My thoughts meandered through the vault of hidden monsters. If only I had done this and not that, a million times over.
A scared voice cried out from the bathroom.
“Hey, Anto. Can you come here, please?” Gen asked with pain in her timbre.
I sprang to my feet and darted into the bathroom. The space was dark, cramped for my large frame, and decorated with a woman’s touch. Shadows danced on the walls as candles of different sizes burned on every available horizontal surface. Elegant wicker rack shelving, with cast-iron framing sprayed gunmetal grey, stood above the toilet. The top shelf was lined with various bottles of perfume, creams, and lotions. The two shelves below were dedicated solely to jewelry, and Gen’s taste was that of a Navajo princess. Earth stones soldered into large, forged-metal earrings and necklaces dangled on display; turquoise, amber, copper, and bronze dominated the scene.
A twenty-year-old built-in wall heater was glowing red on one side of the warm room. A small window above the back of the tub let in a single beam of sunlight. An iPod, perched on a docking speaker, sitting on the edge of the sink, was playing a soft, Buddhist meditation chant. The monks worked diligently to calm the room.
The shower curtain was pulled back. Genevieve was sitting in the bathtub, knees curled up, arms lassoed around her shins, and forehead resting on her knees. Her eyes were closed. A painful grimace tightened her face. She was naked and rocking slightly back and forth. No water was running.
“Hey, sunshine. What can I do?” I asked shyly.
“Sit with me and hold me, please.”
I got undressed, throwing my clothes haphazardly in the corner behind the door, then carefully stepped behind Genevieve into the tub. The white acrylic lining was cold to the touch. Slowly, I slid down behind her using both arms as cranes to assist with the maneuver. My knees moved under her arms and outside her thighs, along the sides of the tub. I leaned back against the beveled edge and put my arms along the top lip, creating a pocket for her.
Genevieve reclined into the tender embrace of her lover and cried. I wrapped my right arm over her shoulder and down across the middle of her chest. My left arm went down low, around her waist, then up her centerline, between her breasts, to form a seatbelt connection over her sternum. Through the back of her ribcage, I could feel her heartbeat against my abdomen. With my whole body, I gave her a soft squeeze, then kissed the back of her head. We both closed our eyes and listened to the sound of chanting monks.
Despite all my regrets, despite all the sorrow in my heart, even the deep sadness I normally felt was destitute in the face of that innocent moment. I felt her soul close to mine and fell blissfully into her heart. For the first time in years, I had no racing thoughts barraging my mind. I was simply there, in that beautiful space. Past the words and the gazes, the touch or the smell of a lover’s hair, there is an undefined method for connection between two souls. There are moments hidden between pain and sorrow that create a bend in space, an event horizon, and, in that space between emotions, the meaning of life can be felt but never understood.
Cramps lunged Genevieve forward, and she reached for shower knobs. Thundering water overtook the tranquil monks. Water poured from the spout and filled a shallow pool of warmth for our feet and bums. She sat forward, huddled over bent knees, and breathed deeply through her nose. I placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Would you like me to massage you?” I asked.
She took a slow, deep breath and followed with an anguished response.
I rubbed her neck softly, then trapezius and shoulders. Genevieve was struggling with pain in her uterus, and I was helpless to stop it. I cursed God for the cruel sentence on my lover. She sat whimpering in the bathtub, and my only repercussion was to watch her suffer.
The water in the tub turned a faint hue of red. Genevieve was at the angry phase of pain now, clenching her jaw and gritting her teeth, looking the devil straight in the eye. She mumbled tough nonsense and tensed her body. I had my ear on her upper spine and my hands on her shoulders. She screamed with her mouth closed. I looked up and saw the color around the drain darkening toward violent red. From the same angle, I could see a tear rolling down Genevieve’s cheek. When she breathed in deeply, I breathed with her in unison.
Her body and her mouth let out one collective sigh, then she fell back into my arms again. I let her nuzzle into a little ball then wrapped my big bear paws around her. I hummed a soft tune and let her fade into sleep.
By the time she woke up, the running water had turned cold. Genevieve stood up, stepped out of the tub, and began drying herself with a towel. I sat there for a while, in the cold water, just watching her. The room was dark now. Some of the candles had burned out, but the remaining flames keeping vigil created a divine glow behind Genevieve.
“How are you feeling, Gen?” I asked while looking up in awe at the most beautiful woman in the world.
“Better. Thank you.”
A sliver of a smile creased her lips for half a second, and that sent my heart racing to the moon. I was madly in love with her.