It’s fiesta in Santa Barbara, and I’m the only one not celebrating.
I dig my feet firmly in the sand, hoping the loose grains will transfer their heat to my toes. The marine layer has yet to burn off, and the gray haze that the shore is caught in reminds me a little of grief. It is summer and my heart is heavy.
He is on the beach standing next to me, searching for my eyes. Searching to see me in them and not the cloudy mess that I’ve been lately.
“Let’s go somewhere random,” he suggested last night.
“Where could we possibly go?” I asked indifferently.
“I don’t know. Let’s just point at a random place on the map and drive there tonight.”
I could tell by his body language that he was begging me to help him salvage our relationship. Even though I spat out every excuse I could, I agreed to go. We hastily packed our belongings and left the house in a cloud of smoke. It would be the van’s maiden voyage beyond the vicinity of our home town.
So here we are in Santa Barbara, the fortuitous point on the map that our fingers landed on in the lottery of potential destinations. We had arrived late in the evening and slept in the back seats. At sunrise, we headed for the ocean.
My feet are still planted in the sand and I am hypnotized by the sailboats offshore. The masts, swaying slowly with the current, remind me of giraffes. To my left, a group of pre-teens are preparing for lifeguard training. Like a herd spooked seals, they awkwardly stumble into the water and make their way out.
In three days, it’ll be a year since we entered this relationship. Of course, the beginning of it was wonderful. We passed entire days walking and talking. We watched sunrises and sunsets. We shared ideas and stories over coffee. We made love — and I mean really made love. If I could live off of beginnings alone, I would. They are filled with delicious uncertainty. In the beginning, not knowing whether you’re going to be extremely happy or profoundly miserable is a gift. You are forced into the moment and only look forward.
Then, if you are a creature of habit like I am, you start over-thinking, comparing, and criticizing. You convince yourself that you’re unhappy but become too afraid to admit it.
Each summer, Santa Barbara holds a week-long Old Spanish Days Fiesta celebration. After the sun sets, restaurants stay open late and collect crowds of chatty people. The entire city celebrates itself with dancing, live music, wine tasting, and midnight bicycle rallies. Artists aplenty arrive to set up their easels and tripods to capture the scene.
By day, all the city buildings are open for visits. Of these, we choose to browse the Court Hall. Built in the Spanish colonial style, its massive whitewash adobe walls tower over you. Standing before the edifice, I can’t tell if I feel like I’m in Spain or Cuba. We wander through its hallow halls. In the slant of light coming through the window, I can see dust timelessly suspended in the air. My feet make the wooden floorboards creak with an arthritic ache. I photograph the space between us, ignoring that it is growing larger with every passing second.
We browse the museum of art from Van Gogh to Munch. Though I am compelled by the colors on the canvasses, I feel none of them inside of me as intensely as I want to. He trails behind be carefully, watching for my reactions.
Carl Jung, the 19th century psychologist and philosopher, would have loved a patient like me. He specialized in patients who had emancipated themselves from their formal upbringings, had established themselves in society, yet still found the bulk of life to be stale, boring, and unprofitable.
First world problems, as a friend of mine would put it. Here I am, bathed in the luxuries of the middle class in perfect health, able to play hooky and take a day trip on a whim, and of all things, my chief complaint is that my life — and quite possibly my relationship — has begun to bore me.
We sit down at a French restaurant called Petit Valentien. The waitress offers us both a glass of wine, but all I can think of is water. It’s so hot outside that the ice inside the glass melts within two gulps. Two loaves of bread hot from the oven make it to our table, along with a plate with a slice of melting butter on top.
“I’ll give you a few minutes to decide on your meal. Let me know if you need anything!” chirps the waitress, helpfully.
Without a moment’s pause, I grab at the bread. My loaf is still too hot to split in half with my bare hands. I stick the tip of my right thumb in my mouth to cool it, then proceed to lather butter into the still-steamy, fluffy white piece of bread in my hands.
“Be careful, I don’t want you to black out again,” he tells me in a tone that is half-joking, half-serious.
This, of course, is in reference to my ability to continuously eat anything with carbs in it as if under a trance. Potato chips, bread, crackers…Anything that could clog up your gastrointestinal tract, I can eat as if my stomach were a black hole.
This comment makes me laugh. In fact, it makes me laugh a lot. It makes me laugh to a point where I feel like with every guffaw, I am regurgitating every morsel of heaviness and darkness within me. When it subsides, I look around the restaurant as if it was the first time I had seen it that day. Am I lightheaded, or am I actually lighter? I can’t tell.
“Are you okay?” he asks, slightly concerned.
“I’m good. Really good, actually.” My arms are wrapped around my belly in recovery position.
“I didn’t think I could be that funny.”
“You aren’t, don’t worry,” I joke.
We smile at each other and mean it. This hasn’t happened in a long, long time.