Picturesque Emotional Meltdown
(Note: This is probably one of the least “curated” things I’ve written and because of that it can read a little grim. It’s only really been edited for spelling and grammer, otherwise the thoughts are as I felt them. I’m fine, in therapy, taking care of my mental health and all of that. This is just a look into how my brain deals with loneliness, grief, and fear.)
Today I’m driving up the California coast from Oakland to Bodega Bay, the sleepy little town off Highway 1 where Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds was set. I used to watch that film a lot as a child and though I know it’s not his best, it sort of remained my favorite. I loved the lack of explanation, the overt environmentalism, and as a child in Central Texas, I found the coastal location dreamy.
My boyfriend Sam is out of town and I’m attempting to be proactive about pursuing solo adventures. As Jamilla Woods says her song Holy, ‘I’m not lonely, I’m alone, and I’m holy, by my own.’ I’ve planned several activities to fill my week with, solo road trips, movie nights with friends, I arranged my work schedule to ensure busy days, and looked up movie times for emergency entertainment. It’s going… fine. I’m working on it. I struggle with some light codependency, but like the chill kind, you know? Diet Codependent, all the same flavor you know and love but half the calories.
I can cook, clean, hold down employment, pay my bills, make decisions, and navigate a city by myself. I’m an adult and all of that good shit but I just get super sad when I’m alone for too long. That’s all. This intentional approach feels good, I can already tell that the effort I’m making is helping stave off the depression that sneaks in when I’m by myself for several days. “Get ahead of it.” I say to myself as I enter plans into my Google Calendar. “You got this you hella competent bad bitch!” I insist to my reflection in the mirror after applying makeup. Then I wipe most of it off and go for a more subdued look with just some subtle lip gloss. This new look says “I don’t need your attention. I’m busy and independent.”
I’m trying to hold it together as I leave the house this morning but honestly I’m reeling a little bit. Last night before going to bed I found out through Twitter, along with the rest of the world, that an Australian white supremacist in Christ Church, New Zealand attacked and killed 50 people in attacks on two mosques. He broadcast 17 minutes of his terrorist attack on Facebook Live before censors shut down the feed. A man inside the mosque greeted this murderer with the words “Welcome Brother” before being shot and killed. The white terrorist had a manifesto, he spoke highly of the American President, Donald Trump, and he applauded previous terror attacks perpetrated by other white male terrorists. American terrorists. You know, most terrorists. You see, America’s primary export is weaponized hate.
When I arrive in Bodega Bay, I stop at The Birds cafe, a small establishment that serves fried food and beer. It’s busier than I expected and I’m surrounded by families getting a jump start of the weekend. Families everywhere and no one is talking about the violence that just occurred in New Zealand. Maybe that’s normal, it is so far away after all, but it doesn’t feel normal. It’s the beginning of the weekend, spring break is looming and I listen to the families make plans and laugh. I feel alien and distant. I try to ignore everyone but they are talking so loud. I put my headphones on like a surely teen and try to read a book while eating fried artichoke hearts.
Overhead, I watch as two larger hawks dip and glide around each other in the air. I can’t stop staring at them as they twirl and jockey around the trees surrounding the cafe. Are they dancing? Is one of the birds trying to hit it? They seem so active and aggressive. Maybe it’s just because of the town I am in and it’s association with birds that I’m so enthralled by their movement. A woman screams- no, a woman laughs and I wonder what the hawks are waiting for.
Looking at the internet it seems like so many people want to treat every terror shooting as a sort of soft reset. Like those signs about injuries you see in a warehouse.
It has been 0 days since a white man has killed a lot of people.
Lawmakers and politicians do the performance of shared grief. White liberals nearly trample each other while rushing to the microphones to give their thoughts. We have an election coming up so everyone is really showing out. Conservatives and bigots decided instead to blame the victims using the ‘If only they weren’t so Muslim’ approach to expressing their hatred. Then someone will make it about demonizing mental illness. Then some NARA disciple will say ‘schools and places of worship should have armed guards’ and then someone else will straight up celebrate the loss of innocent life because… well, because there are terrible irredeemable people in this world.
I’m trying and failing to stay off the internet. This trip up the coast is supposed to be healing and I can’t stop watching the world dissolve. Plus, I’m supposed to be reveling in my independent ass. Stop looking for someone to talk to you dingus. I open Facebook again and I find out that a young comedian I knew in New York has died suddenly. He was three years younger than me. I turn off my phone. I read for a bit and watch the hawks survey Bodega Bay, I listen to the families laughter, and then I turn my phone on to “check my email for a job offer” and immediately click over to Twitter and see a report of an active shooter in a Los Angeles mall. I turn my phone off again and order a beer.
White people often want to believe that evil men are created in a vacuum. I know this because I’ve been there, right? This man was born “wrong” or something about destiny. Some will want to talk about hope, grace, and God’s plan. We tend to call these men “monsters” to separate them from the rest of us “humans” but in truth we know deep down that these terrible men are curated. Built from hundreds of years filled with empire, violence, and hate. We all want to pretend like we are not a part of it. For some dumb reason it makes me think of the cerulean blue speech from The Devil Wears Prada.
“This senseless violence? Oh, ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you.”
The hawks circling The Birds cafe don’t attack any of us. I’m still not sure why. I leave Bodega Bay and the families there behind and drive further up the 1. The plan is to continue driving until I reach Salt Point, a location that, according to my research, is good for spotting migrating Grey Whales. About 4 miles outside of town the Pacific Ocean opens up to my left and I have to pull over because I start to cry. This isn’t a rare occurrence, I’m constantly crying, but I think this moment hits me in a way that opens a lot of flood gates simultaneously. The deluge of loneliness, fear, grief, anger, and doubt all sort of pour out of me in my parked car above on of the most beautiful things I’ve ever scene and I decide that I should walk down to the beach for a more picturesque emotional meltdown.
I carry my two bags, one full of books, notebooks, and my laptop, the other filled with beach supplies and a waterproof camping blanket that Sam made fun of me for purchasing, down the rotting wooden stairs built into the hillside above the beach. On the way down the treacherously deteriorating steps I notice a group of women struggling with a large plastic storage container full of ice and beer. I offer to help them carry it down the steps and they look at me sideways and let me know that they’ve “got it.” I remember that I’m not wearing makeup or particularly femme clothing and perhaps I look like just another white guy with a beard. Am I threatening? Was offering to help condescending?
The beach if perfect and almost deserted. I’m sure that there are 100s of “better” more pristine beaches in the world but right at this moment I’m wrapped in a sense of relief and appreciation. It’s still early in the spring and cold, as I get closer to water the breeze is cool in contrast to the sun warmed air. I look at my phone and see that I have no phone service. I’m more alone now. Alone and honestly grateful. I think, what if I could stay here? Away here. Leave all of it.
I lay out my blanket on the sand and take my shirt off. I look at my phone again. Stop that. I watch a young boy run towards the ocean. He’s running so fast and I know the rough sand must be stinging his un-calloused feet, but he’s so excited and he’s running. When he passes me he is almost horizontal. I envy his joy and I wonder if he will kill someone someday. I stay at this beach for an hour. I’m still and keep wanting to look at my phone. What am I looking for? I know it’s all bad.
I take a bunch of photos of myself, changing faces with each photo, from shocked, then happy, then too happy, then numb. I start to read a science fiction book that I’ve been slowly, arduously picking through but none of the words really make sense and my eyes hurt. I close my eyes and let myself bake in the sun. I think about Sam and briefly I wish he was with me, but then I shake that feeling and remember that I’m fine. I’m enjoying being away from everything, why bring other people into this? I tell myself to enjoy being alone.
I leave this beach and look at social media again but it’s still frozen in the past. It’s all mourning and death, but from earlier. I have no idea what’s happening in the world. No one knows where I am. I drive another few miles and stop at another beach. This one is far more rocky than the previous. I climb amongst the mussel covered rocks and photograph the things I find living in the tide pools. I see hundreds of hermit crabs, a strange anchored tentacle creature that I can’t identify without the air of the internet, and a large purple starfish. In the distance further down the beach I watch a family struggle to put shoes on three squirming boys. Again, I wonder if these boys will kill someone. Or, I think, who will kill them? I climb the disintegrating wooden steps back to the highway. I look at my phone again but less expectant this time. Nothing. I’ll go to one more beach, take one more hour away from the world.
The next place I stop at is miraculously empty, entirely deserted. Not a human in sight as far as the eye can see. It’s startling at first, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this alone. I mean, I’ve been in neighborhoods late at night but I know that there are people inside all of the house sleeping and dreaming. I have no phone service and I see no one and it’s just the waves, and the seagulls, and me. I lay in the sand and I close my eyes. Now I see nothing.
After an hour or so a woman in her early 60s shows up on the beach, seemingly from nowhere but then again my eyes were closed. We acknowledge each other with a smile and head nod but then otherwise keep to ourselves. The woman walks the beach alone picking up shells and stones and filling her pockets. I take an edible and zone out. We say nothing, alone together. Away from the world. We are neighbors in our loneliness. Maybe she’s thinking the same things I am. Is she obsessing over death? Did she just take an edible? The woman stops collecting her treasures and sits on a large piece of driftwood about 50 yards further down the beach. She stares at the ocean as the salty wind makes her hair dance.
Can we still love this world? Can we forgive us? I imagine the woman walking up to me on my blanket and calmly saying “I am going to walk into the ocean, I am going to kill myself. I apologize for disturbing you, I had hoped that the beach would be empty but you are here now and unfortunately I can not wait. I don’t want to ask you leave or anything but please don’t try to stop me.” And suppose I watched her as she walked out into the water. Her legs strong and confident as she pushed forward against the tide. And when she was chest deep in the frigid salty ocean, she turned back towards me and nodded again before slipping beneath the jade waves.
But of course this doesn’t happen. Or it maybe it does but in another version of this moment. A tangential universe. I am alone again and the tide is rising and the woman is gone and she was filling her pockets with stones and the world is bad. The sun is setting on this day and part of me is ready to leave, to log back in, to remind the world that I am here, that I’m real. But most of me wants to stay. I take my shoes off and walk into the water. I’m alone in the ocean and I keep walking forward and no one knows I’m here or where I’m going and I’m not lonely. I hear the earth calling my name and humanity keeps screaming and I know that if I just take a few more steps and let go-
Behind me on the hillside I hear a dog bark and the jingle of it’s collar and I turn to see a family descending the destroyed steps towards the beach. They help each other down as the dog easily jumps and then they notice me in the surf. They wave for some reason.
Ok. Fine. I’ll stay. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day.