One year ago this moment I was in a van in the Holland Tunnel with a band. We were leaving New York on the first leg of a three week tour. I was the tour manager, officially, but more so along for the ride, desperate to leave Austin after a job loss brought on by SXSW, adderall, the earthquake in Japan and the 2011 Supermoon. Traffic was atrocious and I was grumpy and nervous. I was developing a cough that would ravage my lungs for the whole month. I had $400 to my name and was unsure that I would make enough on the tour to fund my subsequent trip to France. I didn’t really want to go to France but I had sublet my apartment for the summer and felt obligated to go at least once.
The next morning, waking to an ancient bloodstain on the mattress of our devastating Pennsylvania motel room, I felt doomed. I needed this tour to save me but I still felt depressed, empty, blindfolded and swinging wildly. I had built a life on picking up and moving on, making swift decisions, unplanned travel and good jokes: the tenuous bones of my spiritual body. My exhaustion and melancholy had been building. I had fantasies of a swan dive off the Golden Gate Bridge; I felt like a drag, a trickster, like I needed to let my friends know that they could carry on, that they didn’t have to like me any more, that I wouldn’t hold it against them. I needed to be let go, but I thought I’d give “it” one last shot.
I was reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids and was distressed at my soft plains, damp folds, that I was not built for hunger or late nights without booze or drugs, that my inspiration came in spurts and not long, pulsing waves. I prayed desperately that slow and steady was bullshit and that my panicky leaps of faith would congeal into a life that didn’t need so much propping up and apology.
Tour ended and I was deposited back in a hotter, drier Austin with a bruised rib and the same $400 I started with. I had a few good memories; lying in the grass near the San Diego airport under a full moon, swimming in Santa Cruz, a hallucinogenic cherry blossom freakout in Seattle. Now, however, I was bouncing between friends’ houses, trying to decide what to do. On day three I went to Barton Springs Pool and exposed my pale body to the bleached, flabby air. I stood at the edge of the deep end, flexing my toes. I decided that when I surfaced from my dive I would have an answer, some focus. I jumped, cut the cold, murky water and pushed deep, eyes open. I quickly discovered that my rib wouldn’t allow me to swim with my left arm and the million packs of cigarettes I had smoked in the last month had greatly diminished my lung capacity. My enlightened dive turned into a panicky dog paddle to the edge of the pool and I returned to my towel, discouraged.
3 grizzlies (2 babies)
etc…An old truck with a camper shell
A really nice pair of tweezers
Desk job (???!?!)and:Good Work
A Happy Family
I found a job immediately on the Lynn Christine, a 37’ salmon gillnetter skippered by Brian O’Riley, a Japanese/Irish pothead who believed that a 5 gallon bucket and a deckhand were better than any newfangled hose and fell asleep while driving the boat. Twice. I was too tired to be depressed. The days ended late; watching the sun set after 11 with a beer and a cigarette on the flying bridge. Humpbacks and killer whales and sea lions and glaciers and salmon after salmon after salmon. The season ended and I flew to Sand Point, a tiny island in the eastern Aleutians, to jig for cod. I met a handsome fisherman in a bar. I was attracted to the fact that he didn’t appear to be on meth, and he liked that I knew how to read. I took him back to the harbor and we rolled around on the Cinnabar, my new skipper’s boat. We were inseparable for the next few weeks until I kissed him goodbye and got on a plane, returning to a Central Texas that had been ravaged by drought and wildfire. Finally, my mood surpassed that of the landscape. My plan was to organize my home and turn over the lease, return to Alaska to pot crab for the winter. I saw my future in fishing and was pleased. I loved my bruised, bulky body and all the cigarettes I got to smoke.
One year after leaving New York I am lying on a floral couch in my living room. NPR is on in my bedroom and it’s a soothing jumble of Osamas and Obamas. My cat is trying to get comfortable on my stomach, no small feat considering its shape. I am eight months pregnant. The baby stretches and I rub the knobby foot that pokes out under my ribs. The cat looks annoyed.
I went to Barton Springs earlier today. I have plenty of decisions to make but I’m not looking for those answers at the bottom of pools or in bear infested alder groves. I go swimming because my back hurts and it feels good. Am I free of anxiety? No. Is my depression gone? Sort of. Melancholy has been replaced with mathematical and moral problems. Will my savings last until I am ready to start working from home after the baby is born? Is knowing a resentful, angry father better for a child than fantasizing about an invisible one? If I never let my child on the internet will it grow up to be a poorly adjusted weirdo? If I have a poorly adjusted weirdo for a child will I love it anyway? How do I teach my child that a lot of right wing Christians are scary creeps but smug bumper sticker Liberals tend to be unhappy and annoying? I want this child to go to Alaska someday, I want it to see puffins, I want it to know how to work hard and have weird fun harbor sex. I want this child to be brave enough to just keep trying, to keep walking into the waves, to be able to look back year after year with amusement and pleasure.