The Worst Journey in the World / drawing winner

I'm going to tell you what happened and I'm going to make it quick. I promise you, you won't want any more details.

Over the past week, I've enjoyed reading about why you love where you live. So much so, in fact, that I was inspired to knit your words together with mine, and write a whole post about all of us, scattered across the map, going about our happy everyday business. I asked for you to send me a photo of the place you call home, and I was rewarded with beautiful shots of snow and sunsets, street corners and oceans and outhouses. (That last one was from a Vermonter.)

The timing was perfect. I was about to embark on my annual Christmas Expedition to the North: a 17 hour drive from Asheville to Vermont, just the dog and I, listening to audio books and eating a bag of snacks picked with careful deliberation from Whole Foods. The snack bag is a splurge, bought with cash from the AB Tech textbook exchange, a Christmas present to myself.

Because the journey is long and the days are short, I drive in darkness for the majority of the trip. Sometimes, sailing alone down interstate 95 in the blackness, a certain loneliness will seep through the car windows and fill the space around me. On either side of the highway, the land rushing by looks bleak and unfamiliar, occasionally illuminated by fast food restaurants. I begin to feel very far from home.
This year, things would be different. I heard from many of you who live in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, and all up and down the Northeast Corridor. Now as I drive I can picture your bustling town just over the hill, the woods laced with running trails, your five roommates all cooking dinner together, and you at the grocery store, or at the late night coffee shop with your head bent over your work, drinking an Americano. Your words made the long road between my home and my other home feel familiar, friendly.

This year I broke up the trip into three days. I injured my back while putting my mountain bike on top of my car ("a bike accident that involved a car", is how I like to put it), and I can't sit down for long periods of time without pain roaring down my spine. My first stop is Durham, to pick up David's Christmas present I'd commissioned from his best friend, Ann. I planned to spend the night with David's parents, then drive up to Ithica to see my sister. On the third day I'd make the final push to Vermont.
The last week was a rigorous one as I doggedly tried to keep up with final exams. I had a test every day and ended up with straight A's, even in Chemistry, which I thought would do me in. So it had been a few days since I'd last posted. As I flew around the house getting things ready for departure, I tried to write something about the upcoming trip, cheerful sentences like 'the dog and I are about to do what we do best- drive!' But I couldn't swing it. Too many other things to do.

Finally, we pulled out of the driveway and made our first stop at Whole Foods.

I would tell you about all the nice things I chose to sustain me over the next three days, but it would make me too sad now. Let me just say this: I am so skilled at selecting road snacks that when I drove across the country, from Seattle to Asheville, I was never even tempted to stop for food.

When I left the store, the bag was heavy and I was brimming with optimism and holiday cheer. I sang along to the radio as we pulled onto the interstate. The dog sat upright in the passenger seat, smiling.

Then, not two hours into the trip, it hit me: this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and the desperate urge to shut my eyes. I rolled down the windows to let the cold wind whip me awake. At 5:30 in the evening after a good night of sleep, this was completely out of the blue. Maybe it was the stress of exams hitting me after the fact, or the accumulation of medicines I'd been taking for my back.

By the time I made it to the Greensboro countryside to pick up Dave's present, I knew things were about to get ugly. This was no post-finals fatigue. I walked into Ann's house, and there on the mantle was the gorgeous knit piece that she'd dreamed up, designed and been working tirelessly on. She had put the final touches on the frame just a few hours before I arrived. As I stumbled in the front door she was holding her breath with excitement, anticipating my reaction.

"I think I'm going to barf," I said, and ran into the bathroom.
I threw up like, right after this.
Half an hour later, I was driving the winding dark road back to the highway, David's present carefully wrapped in plastic in the back seat. Ann had given me pieces of crystallized ginger and offered me a barf bag for the road. But for some stupid, illogical reason, completely unfathomable to me now, I'd turned her down. 

Twice on that country road I pulled over and dry heaved into the ditch, but nothing came up. I felt dread as I merged onto the wide, busy interstate. "Eighteen miles," I chanted. "That's all I have to do. I can survive for eighteen miles."

I lasted four miles. And then it was all happening. I tried to get off. I safely merged three lanes over and reached the off ramp but it was too late. I grabbed the only bag in the front seat- the one from Whole Foods full of my snacks and coconut waters, and threw up with a terrific slosh. The bag sat warmly on my lap until I found a gas station.

Crying and wiping my nose, I got out of the car and threw the bag and all its contents into a trash can. I bought a blue flavored Gatorade. I managed the rest of the trip to Dave's parents house without further incident, and that's where I am today. Marooned in Durham, too sick to continue.

As it turns out, David also got sick that evening, as did a number of our friends who attended the same company Christmas party last Friday. One that was richly catered by a local restaurant. "We never get to eat this kind of food," I recall whispering to Dave. "Dig in!"

So we all ended up with food poisoning. But I am the only one who ended up with food poisoning at 70 miles per hour.
For more photos of this girl and this dog and all the fun they have, find me on Instagram @melinadream

This week we are taking a break from the giveaways, for reasons that should be apparent. Next Monday we'll be back with a Christmas Mystery Prize (or two).

Until then, I'll be inching my way up North, slowly and less exuberantly than I'd intended. I look forward to that moment when I can sit down at the Cafe in White River Junction, Vermont, watch the snow pile up and type out the post about Home with all your words and photos.

Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing. And thanks to Appalatch, a company of true integrity and talent. The winner of the Custom Fit Sweater is....

Congratulations Grace! I understand that love of change- Vermont has four distinct seasons and the years felt dull without them when I moved away. Minneapolis sounds lovely, and you seem to be in good company- there were a wealth of comments from some very content people in Minnesota. Please email and we will get you all sorted out.

Thank you everyone for reading and writing. The make more mail initiative has been a smash hit so far! I hope you're having a safe and warm Holiday, and I'll see you back here in a few days.

The final tally

I'm going to tell you this next thing not because it quite haunts me anymore, but because just a few months ago I was so committed to telling this story and I cannot in good conscious just let it appear like it faded away so easily. Admirable- coveted, even- in our world is this stalwart attitude of moving forward without a doubt, of stealing away the ego and preserving emotional resources purely for what is still to come, never wasting a moment on glancing backwards. But I can relate to none of this. Writing this blog has obliterated my chances of that, as if I had a chance to begin with.

Remember that when Andrew and I broke up, I was the first to admit that there was much more involved besides heartbreak, besides the pure and acceptable emotions of missing a partner that left my life abruptly. There was ego, self doubt, the sour disbelief of somebody new? And of course, the shame and inconvenience of breaking up at a time when everyone around me, it seemed, was getting engaged and getting married and settling down, thanks a lot, Facebook. It was a real bouquet of shadowy, twisty unpleasantness.

So I was genuinely interested to see how all these things had healed, assuming they'd healed, after many months and lots and lots of hard work. I was curious, cautiously so, and also I missed Andrew, mostly the way you miss an old friend, and I wanted to see him. After all, we'd never intended to never see each other again ever, although after I move that will probably be the case.

So we met up a few weeks ago. It had been four months since I'd seen him, and he'd been pretty stiff and I'd been pretty drunk and then I cried at the table. After that fun night you understand my lingering reticence for another dinner, or (even worse) a chance run in.  I'd been dutiful at avoiding old neighborhoods and climbing gyms. And once again I'll  say this was not because he did anything wrong. It was simply because I was doing worse than him, I was taking it much harder.

(This doesn't surprise me. I'm a highly sensitive person on most fronts. One Skittle can ignite a migraine in my brain that will lasts for days, if consumed in the wrong weather or the wrong time of day or on an airplane. Caffeine makes me high as a kite. And my feelings, thoughts and emotions are fierce. I think it's why I'm a writer and why my life is, or at least appears to be sometimes, maybe a little bit unusual.

I take medicine to help curb the sensitivity. If I didn't mention that I would be lying in every post that I write. It take one pill that acts as a migraine preventative, sleeping aide, anti anxiety and anti depressant. I've been on and off of it for years. I can write more on that later.)

So anyhow, Andrew and I meet for a classic climbing and dinner combo, and I learn pretty quickly what has healed and what is still in rehab. The big wins came early: I wasn't nervous, not particularly concerned with what I wore or what my hair looked like, and when he first walked in I felt nothing but happiness. But then we ran into some people and I realized that agreeing to meet at the big crowded public climbing gym may have been a huge mistake.

The people we ran into were some of his friends who I don't know, who had no idea who I am, and who immediately start asking about his girlfriend and where she was and why she isn't there, and all the fun times they had, the lot of them, on climbing trips these past few months.

This felt, for me, just pretty uncomfortable and painful and also just kind of annoying. But my mind was split on the issue. The self preservation side of me was thinking 'what in hell life decisions did you possibly make that landed you here, now, with these people? Flee!' While the other half, perhaps the logical side, was thinking 'buttercup, it might be time to toughen up. You're fine. He's fine. We're all fine.'

In the end, yeah, it's good to feel what you feel, but at some point you do have to toughen up, buttercup, not that I'd ever suggest meeting up with an ex at a climbing gym, those things range from big playground full of friends to HOUSE OF EMOTIONAL TORTURE.

We went out to eat. That was easier. Dinner was nice. Andrew is just a nice guy all around, he was kind and inquisitive and interested in my life. And he seems to be supremely winning at life, which I tried not to resent him for. My friend Dave told me that if I get competitive and start comparing my life to his life, or her life, or anybody else's life, that's a good way to go crazy quickly. Because you can never win. Ever. 

Then at the end, as we were saying goodbye on the street, he said I should meet his girlfriend and I said oh no way. He said we'd probably really hit it off and guys, you need to stop saying that, because of course we'd get along. But your mere existence might prevent that from happening for a little bit.

We hugged goodbye and then I drove home and cried until my ears filled up with tears.


Because I was lying on my back and so the tears slid sideways off my face and into my ears.

Oh, why was I crying? Because Andrew and I had had a really good relationship and I missed that. Simple. For once, simple.

Seth says I have to stop beating myself up for having feelings. He pointed towards his broken thumb and said, "My thumb hurts because I broke the bone. Would you ever tell me that I'm weak for feeling the pain?"

I said no.  He looked at me for a long time and said, "....sooo......"

I get it.

Okay, so here's the final tally:

Heart: just fine (what a workhorse!)
Stomach: can still twist a little if I sit down and think about things, but mostly just hungry, and
                  very flat (!)  
Brain: pretty much concerned with other things
Ego: still bent, but can easily be distracted by posing in sports bra in a full length mirror (see  
         stomach, above.)
Envy: still blocking any people on FB who might post photos of andrew and his girlfriend, so I
           suppose still in recovery?
Senses: mostly returned
Humor: working on it, for christ's sake

My life is a raw, three layer disaster

I decided to become a raw vegan. It's the thing these days. It will give me glowing skin and tons of energy and make me a round the clock delight.

This is the right lifestyle for me and I thought it would last, and I was very excited.

I was messing around online, lost somewhere on Facebook, which incidentally has become a form of consensual torture, when I came across a recipe for raw, vegan peanut butter and jelly bars.

They looked fantastic. For three nights I lay awake in my bed fantasizing about them. On the fourth day I decided to go for it.

They say you ought to do one thing every day that scares you, and I've decided that for me, once a week is good enough, and this would be my thing.

So I made a shopping list, and I even remembered to bring it, which made me feel very put together and on top of things. At Whole Foods I bought what amounted to a savagely expensive deconstructed coconut. I bought coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut meat, coconut flakes, coconut nectar, coconut water, coconut milk, and on top of that I bought just a whole coconut. Later on I had to google how to slaughter it.

I hadn't been paying too much attention when I'd jotted down the ingredients in my kitchen that morning, but now that I was on the front lines I started to feel a little dazed. Besides the dizzying panoply of coconut, the bars also called for 34 whole dates. That felt like a lot. But I bought them.

I bought everything, reasoning that since I'd gone raw, I'd need all that stuff in the pantry anyway. Absolutely the only thing in my cart was ingredients for the dessert, and as I edged towards the check out line I could detect disaster in the air. The ingredients added up to 85 dollars, so the check out man said "your total is 85 dollars!" Cheerfully, as if it was okay to spend that much on a single afternoon of baking. Not even baking.

I've become good at playing very cool in the grip of catastrophe, so I slid my card with a little "sure sure no problem" smile, but inside my head I was a ten year old flying over the handlebars of her bike, feet kicking madly in the air, arms akimbo.

I'm not sure how it began but everything has gone completely off of the tracks.

It was far too late to back out. I went home and I constructed the thing, and it turns out that the one recipe used nearly everything I bought, with nothing but a few cups of raw cacao and some coconut oil leftover. But I did end up with massive, massive amount of raw peanut butter and jelly bars, so that's good, until I ate a piece and discovered I'd just created the world's most calorically dense substance on the planet, and I wouldn't need to eat again for five weeks.

So I just stood there, and stared down at the pan in awe and bewilderment. What have I done? These bars are worth 85 dollars. This is my cell phone bill. This is 3/4 of the plane ticket to Santa Fe that I didn't buy. This is three pieces of a trad rack I could be quietly accumulating so that one day I can be in the Patagonia catalog and die a fulfilled woman. This is my life in a raw, three tiered disaster.

This is essentially a well disguised coconut.

Pride and common decency kept me from scraping it into the compost, lethargy kept me from utilizing the freezer; I had no choice but to take it on the road. My dessert and I, a traveling sideshow.  I brought it from house to house, I fed it to my friends and I watched their reactions. They were decidedly mixed, ranging from the forced and determinately cheerful, all the way to the neutral, the bluntly apprehensive and those who vocalized regret upon first bite.

And in the end, I did end up in my kitchen, alone in wool socks, scraping it all into the compost bin, gritting my teeth and repeating to myself that we all make mistakes, we all mistakes, we all make mistakes.

The grand spectacular

I am absolutely the best version of myself: winter me, apres ski edition, blue tights and snow boots. I'm hanging out at Vert Fest after a day of gate keeping, it's early evening and the racers and volunteers and vendors are drinking beers out of plastic cups and volleying for spots around the fire. We have our heads back laughing, telling stories and subtly one upping one another as always. The thickly falling snow makes everyone feel fresh and vibrant and prettier than usual.

A boy elbows his way into the circle and is now standing next to me, palms outstretched towards the flames. He has very rosy cheeks. That's really all I can say about him, because that's the only piece of him not covered in synthetic fabric. He's got rosy cheeks and he's tall.

We glance at one another and do the once-over, you know what I'm talking about. Then he turns to Silas, standing on his other side, and begins a loud conversation I'm just certain he wants me to hear. This is good. This is all part of the equation. I drink my beer and wait for my cue, which arrives neatly after about five minuets.

"So!" He booms. "Really been meaning to make it into the back country this winter!"

I spin around. "I'm getting into the back country, and I'm looking for more partners."

The boy grins and widens his eyes in exaggerated shock. "Well, no offense Silas, but I'd rather follow her than you!"

Ha ha, ha ha. A few jokes about Silas being old, about my being young, something about my tights. We all have a good laugh

But really though, do you want to ski? Avalanche certified? Cool. We exchange phone numbers and discuss schedules. Then we have a few hours to stand there and be quick and witty and irreverent. "I hope you don't mind my jokes!" He says. He's so jolly! "I'm always offending people with my jokes!"

I puff up my down-covered chest and say proudly, "Well I'm from the East Coast so you can't offend me!"

And then ha ha, ha ha, we start bouncing jokes back and forth. Really, it's a great time. We're shouting over the chords of a bad cover band, the snow is coming down, new people show up at the fire, introductions all around. We're all feeling very young and delightful, very prime of life. The snow catches in our eyelashes.

Around ten o'clock I call it a night. "After all, lots to do tomorrow!" I tell the protesting crowd, mostly older men, and the boy and I walk to my car. He helps me brush off the foot of new snow that's accumulated on the windshield. Then he gives me a hug, the lingering type. I drive home on I-90 feeling on top! Feeling good! Perfectly executed, I think to myself. I mentally brush my shoulders off.

It really been a good day. I made some new friends- Silas and Ryan and Stefan, and Stefan showed me this secret lodge up there you can stay in for ten bucks a night. I bought an armful of lottery tickets and won an Avalung backpack and a couple of hats and ate some pizza. The whole event thing was a spectacular win. A grand spectacular! But I was most excited about the boy, of course. He seemed so good natured and convivial, and he'd already texted me by the time I got home.
Boy not pictured. Come one. I wouldn't do that.
So we start texting, a little back and forth about snow conditions. I'm not interested in snow conditions but I am interested in where this is going, so I play it cool. 

I wait for him to invite me skiing, which I'm absolutely positive is going to happen, but it's not happening. It's just banter, and it's going to go on forever. 

In Seattle, maybe in any other city but I wouldn't know, you can bounce back and forth with useless texts forever if you're not careful. It's like being stuck in a pinball machine of passivity and vagueness. And if you think a casual 'we should ski sometime' is going to get you out of that pinball machine, you're sorely mistaken. I've learned to keep it quick and specific- suggest a time, suggest an activity, send. 

So I give up waiting and I ask: Want to go skiing on Tuesday?

And this is when it all falls apart. 

He writes me back something about how good the snow was last Friday. He says there were thirteen inches. Then he writes, thirteen inches is never a bad thing, right?

I'm thinking, is he really this into snow or is this a penis reference? And if it's a penis reference, that's fine, that's totally fine, but how about we make these innuendos in person, say, on a chairlift, say, TUESDAY.

But I can't write that, too aggressive, so I write: Ha ha, yeah.

Then he asks where I'm going on Tuesday, and I say Stevens, but I could do Alepental, and he writes that Alpental is closer, and then he doesn't say anything else. 
What would you do if you asked a guy to dinner, and instead of saying yes or no he asks where you're going. So you say, either the Sexton or The Matador, and he said "The Sexton has better fried chicken." And then he doesn't say another thing?  No shit the fried chicken is better at the Sexton, I eat there every Wednesday, do you want to fucking come with me or not?! 

In the old days, you'd get full on rejected and it was wonderful. When I was in 8th grade I asked Oak Clifford to be my boyfriend, after only four months of gathering courage, and he said no. No is pretty easy to interpret. So I moved on and I set my sights on Ethan Waldo, no problem. 

Sometime in the past six or seven years, the customary rejection became just no response at all.  It's a lazy but generally straightforward no. You don't hear from him within 24 hours? Move it along. 

It's the same in the publishing industry. Used to be you'd receive a rejection letter in the mail. Someone took the time to type out a no thank you, or at least send a copy of a form letter. They were almost a badge of honor; authors would do ironic things like turn them into wall paper or make books out of them. 

Not these days. Now you just hear....nothing. Ever. I've written about 15 punchy little magazine pitches in the last six months and submitted them, painstakingly following all the guidelines, each time a quivering little ball of excitement- this is the one, best pitch ever! And then nothing but crickets. Not a word. 

It's just how it goes. 

But this? These non-response responses? It's a new kind of humiliation, because you've gathered the courage to ask someone on a date, and twenty minutes later you're still texting, trying to figure out whether you're talking about snow or about penises and then you remember- wait, didn't I just ask you out? 

(I'm using Vert Fest boy because it's recent and hilarious but he's not the only one, remember Snake Guy?)

So Tuesday comes along and I go skiing, without him, and he sends me a text later that evening. So, did you go skiing?

I'm picturing a cave man. A cave man texting.

I reply yes. He replies something about snow conditions. 

This should have been it. I know that. But to be perfectly honest, I gave it one last try. I shouldn't have because the writing was on the wall, and it's embarrassing to admit, but I did. Just in case he was into me, but he was just dumb as a rock.  

I asked him to go to Smash Putt for Jeremy's birthday with me.  He wrote back: Smash Putt?? 

I explained that smash putt was like mini golf, but hip. 

And that was that. That was the last I ever heard from him. 

So that's how this one ended. Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with an explanation of smash putt. 

At least I won an Avalung, so it wasn't a total wash. 

The happiest moment of my whole life

The happiest moment of my life occurred at 1:13am on an early Tuesday morning inside of a Walgreen's. The happiness was artificially induced, buts its inauthentic origins did little at the time to diminish my state of euphoria.

I should have been disconsolate. First there was the fact of me being at a Walgreens at 1:13 in the morning, having just been released from the hospital where I'd lay alone for many a doped up hour.

Even worse,  I'd spent the last three days violently voiding the entire contents of a week's worth of food up my wind pipe and out of my mouth, over and over in a desperate, bent-kneed, eye-watering, gastronomical attack. In public. At the beach. In front of the boy with whom I share a rocky history and whose affections I was trying to win back. His eyes, as I staggered back towards him on the sandy path, wiping my eyes, held the wide-round horror of the "I know I should support you but that was really gross" variety.  

To compound matters, I'd just put him on a plane back to New Mexico, where, like clockwork, he'd come down with the virus. On the plane, not in New Mexico. So he was gone and I was missing him and hoping he wasn't too resentful of me for causing him such a wretched ride home.

But still, I was happier and full of more pleasant tidings than I can ever remember. When the bored, poker faced pharmacist told me I'd have to wait fifteen minutes for my prescription, I was thrilled. I had fifteen uninterrupted minutes to wander along the joyful aisles of a Walgreen's, how often in life are we given that opportunity? (A lot.)

After I'd put Will on the airplane, I'd choked down a bowl of soup, thrown up the bowl of soup, and then fell asleep. The next morning wasn't looking any brighter. I went down to the beach to try and heal myself with the fresh sea breeze and some rare self portraiture of me looking pale and skinny. The pale and skinny part of that sentence is what makes it rare. For once it didn't cheer me up; instead I puked quietly and despondently in the sand. So I trooped over to the hospital. They put me in the same room where I'd been less than week earlier when my shoulder bones began their trial separation.
Photo by Chris Forsberg, if I don't say this he'll be after me. He seems to know his rights.

The nurses gave me an IV and pumped me full of wickedly good stuff. I don't know what it was. I'd been feeling mildly stiffed that I'd had my hands on some Vicodin for my shoulder and it went to waste. I don't engage in mild altering activities and I hear vicodan gives you a pleasant high if it doesn't make you barf your head off. I was excited, and then I got the virus and barfed my head off anyway, so the Vicodin never made it to the correct receptors. Whatever they gave me that day in the hospital more than made up for it. I fell blissfully asleep, only not fully: I was just awake enough to be aware of how blissful I felt now that the pain was gone and I was floating above my body on a big white cloud.
The first two days of Will's visit were nearly as cheerful and peaceful as my drug induced high. For some reason, despite our checkerboard past and not having seen him for over a year, I was completely at ease. I expected my heart to be in my stomach when I retrieved him at the airport, but that wasn't the case. I am completely, utterly unselfconscious around him, which came in handy when I threw up on the door to the shower (not the inside of the shower either) while he was making toast in the other room. 

To get you over that image here is a picture of hometeam being held like a baby:
Those easy first days, we went to the beach and the huge park near the shipyard, walked through a terrific windstorm with our heads ducked against the gale, searching for glass and shells. We slept in and went out for perfectly crafted espresso at Fiore. I took him down to the yard and pointed out all the boats in my fleet except the Endeavour, which is wintering in Baja. Those two days swirl together in my memory, but they were sandy and windswept and happy. I got stuck in his eyelashes a few times. We were sort of entranced by one another.
We had dinner with Steph and Ammen, who held the permit to our grand canyon trip where it all began. They are the very reason we ever met. As always they fed us well, and we talked about cabins on the ocean we could rent for the weekend. I had originally planned to fill every second of our time with outdoors activity, which used to be the only way to keep him sane. Skiing, hot springs six miles deep in the woods, snow shoeing. Those plans evaporated the second my shoulder hit the snowy ground before the rest of my body, and so my next attempt was to whisk him away to the isolated coast to the West. 

On the way home, Will told me he didn't need a trip to the ocean. That the Puget Sound was ocean enough. "An isolated cabin with you would be great, but my life right now is completely isolated. I'd rather do city things? Like.... museums?"
His voice inflected into a question because he knew how shocked I'd be. I couldn't believe it. The city craving side of a man who lived entirely in and for the wilderness.

That night I drifted easily into sleep, thinking about all the ways I'd show off my city of a decade, the raw and colorful Pike Place with their flower bouquets and dusty magic shops and flying fish, the gum wall, a ferry out to Bainbridge island. I thought about the science museum and the aquarium and the sculpture garden at sunset. Simultaneously, somewhere inside, the virus was planning its blitzkrieg. I awoke in the morning and I knew it was all over. I ran into the bathroom, bypassed the preferred receptacle for vomit (not enough time to lift the seat) and threw up on the shower door. The cat observed silently from the sink.

For the remainder of his visit I was bedridden. Except for the unfortunate beach trip. It was really sad. He took care of me, along with my roommate, but there wasn't much they could do. It was one of those painful stomach viruses. If I moved, it hurt. If I sat up, I'd throw up. The second night I  burned up in bed with a fever and Will rubbed me down with pieces of ice. It was like the grand canyon sickness take two, only not as dramatic. Or traumatic. Or memorable, or storyworthy. I've gotten a lot of mileage telling that story live, but this one, how my crappy immune system ruined his once a year visit, I'll only tell here.

I was so fucking mad. "Will," I whispered after I'd been lying in the same position for 12 hours, "I must tell you I've become a very independent, vibrant, sporty and can-do person since we broke up." I paused. "You may not know that by looking at me now."

Will rubbed an ice cube on my forehead and said, "I know, Lina." He was bemused. Seventy five to eighty percent of the time, I bemuse him.

Then the airport, the soup, the hospital. The sweet, lapping waves of something good hitting my seratonin receptors. I was there for about twelve hours. Then, for the second time in a week, they  filled my discharge papers and asked, "Are you here alone? Because you can't drive after what we gave you." And, for the second time in one week I responded with a stiff upper lip, "It's okay, I'll just walk."

I didn't mind. I didn't mind anything in the world because right before I left they emptied a whole second vial of the stuff into my arm. It went right to my head and it made me deliriously pleasant to be around. The best way to describe it is that I felt intensely, bizarrely cozy inside. And so, script in hand, I marched down to Walgreen's at midnight, beaming at the empty streets and the few passing cars.

If you ever get a dose of this stuff, go to Walgreen's. There is no better place for you on earth. Besides all the helpful boxed remedies, there is shelf upon shelf of cheap, inexcusably flimsy, wasteful stuff, which, when stripped on the labels of cheap, flimsy and wasteful, is actually just a bundle of plastic joy. The store was decorated prematurely for Easter (they mowed right through St. Patrick's day) which is the world's happiest holiday, strictly in terms of decoration. I just stood there and smiled back at all of it, completely blown away by the amount of fun surounding. Fuck me, is that a bunch of peeps skewered on a stick? Chocolate carrots wrapped up in orange foil? An M&M full of M&Ms? A pastel M&M wearing a basketball cap with legs filled with real M&MS?

So wondrous. All was right with the world.

I guess this is why people do drugs.

I can honestly say I felt as happy and blissful dreamily content as I've ever been.

So it was probably a good thing when my insurance refused to cover my script on the spot, and the bored looking pharmacist pushed the papers back at me and shrugged. I'm not sure if the medicine was the same stuff they'd pushed into my veins at the ER, I didn't think to ask, but if I'd had a whole bottle of that stuff for myself it may have ruined my life. In the most blissful possible way.

Which is sort of what Will did, because he lives so far away, with no prospects of moving here in the near future. He completely wrecked my Seattle life in the most windy, blissful, lovely way.
Annnd now for something completely different: the winner of the winter photo giveaway. Thanks for all the winter time survival tips, they were fun to read and a lot of people mentioned that they scrolled through and looked at all the comments to get some good ideas. The winner (chosen my is.....

Jacki said...
Something about that Irish Boat just grabs me - beautiful!

My surefire way to beat the winter blues is to take a four-year-old sledding. I would imagine any winter activity with an enthusiastic young pal would do, but my boyfriend's son + sledding = instant cheer.

And on days when my sledding buddy isn't available, hot chocolate and lighting a bunch of candles around the house.

Congrats Jacki! Irish boat coming your way. Email me at: melina (dot) Coogan (@)

You'll eat it and you'll like it

I made these cake pops. Here's how. First you make a cake. Then you crumble the cake into bits. You add a huge amount of butter cream frosting and make a paste. Then you roll the paste into balls. Then you dip the balls into melted white chocolate. Then roll the balls in sugar. They're disgusting.

adventures of the paper heart (3)

I am a very vivacious and secure person with a stunning imagination and potential for creative thinking.  I know this because lately, I've been taking these online questionnaires about character traits and happiness and this is what they all tell me.

If you must know, I rank pretty low on modesty, humility, caution, prudence, discretion, spirituality, faith and sense of purpose.
I'm aware of this creativity, and how it's set me apart from some and brought me closer to others and steered me across the globe for the past fourteen years. It makes problem solving not easy but always interesting. The flip side to this vivid imagination, however, is that when life takes the inevitable turn for the worse, I am capable of crafting a perfectly designed, artful, sublime sort of sadness.

Unnecessary sadness, I think. I really commit to it, the first to dive down the rabbit hole, conjuring bad omens out of thin air, swirling consciously downward. I throw back a handful of the blue pills when all I really needed was one or two. I fill my whole self up with sadness and then tip over and pour it into the world around me. And then it takes a really long time to crawl out.

Which is why Ryan, who knows me very well, ripped me from that sad place just as I was beginning to wrap my knuckles around its handlebars and get a good grip. I was crying when he picked me up from my house and during that sleepless night in his guest room I was crying and when he hauled me into his car and drove East on 1-90 I was still crying. Seattle was being hosed by this incredible rainstorm with standing water on the highway and the white lights of cars all blurred and I saw my misery reflected in the rain and oh, what a lonely, achingly sad place!

As one might imagine, this type of gratuitous, head over heals emotion is exhausting and I eventually fell asleep, to the great relief of the driver, and when I woke up we were somewhere in  Idaho.

We continued to roll east, hour after hour, past larches flaming in gold and patches of mountains actually flaming in wildfire, churning heavy grey smoke into the atmosphere. The air was thin and brittle and chilly and burned a little in my lungs. The landscape was arid and open and so very different than the glassy, wet city we'd left behind us.

We stopped at a gas station, a building in shambles, Ryan bought a grape soda as a breakfast drink and the attendant had no teeth. It was there that I unlocked the door, fell out of the car and started to feel better.
For a week, Ryan and our friend Sebby, who lives in Whitefish, continued the process of picking me up and dusting me off. And they did a remarkable job of it.

I love the practical problem solving strategies of men, which differs so greatly from the nurturing instincts of women. They approached me as something broken, but like anything broken I could very well be glued back together by following a simple set of instructions. "Fix it, fuck it, or punch it," is a term I've heard them use before. There was no sitting around wrapped in blankets talking it out, no agonizing hours debating the meaning and merits hiding behind every word in every conversation.

Part of this is due to the fact that Andrew and I broke up very cleanly. But amicable or not, my paper heart still repulses at the idea of he didn't want me. And thank God, the boys left me no room to wallow. They talked entirely in movie quotes and refused to indulge me in the circle-talking of the recently heartbroken. "What do I do now?" I'd ask from where I sat, sunk into the booth at dinner, suddenly overcome by a fog of sadness.

"Shoot the hostage, take him out of the equation!" they'd say, and laugh, and go on talking about whatever they'd been talking about.

The self-pitying observations and pointlessly nostalgic comments did not interest them and after a few days they stopped interesting me, too.
I spent the daylight hours alone, working at my computer at Montana Coffee traders, the cheerful hub of the town decorated in white christmas lights. The cafe saw a steady stream of patrons, all the men were handsome in ski hats and all the women wore sweaters and vests and tights and boots and I looked exactly like them. I spent hours of each day in that place, half working, half watching.

In the evenings the two boys collected me from town and brought me to their luxurious gym. They taught me their grueling core workouts and their weight workouts. We swam in the pool and sat in the sauna. They took me out to dinner and forced me to order something other than soup. One evening I ate half of a hamburger and Ryan said, "Oh, hey, welcome back to life!"

At night we made bonfires and kept a fire in the wood stove and soaked in the hot tub under a bright white spray of stars and blowing snow squalls. We cooked food and watched movies and played board games.
What I really loved was the bars. The bars of Whitefish are full of skiers and country boys, sweatshirts and Carharts and patagonia jackets and old men playing ping pong. Everybody has a beard. I'd go alone or with the boys or with my friend Lauren, a tall, gorgeous butterfly of a woman who laughed loudly and knew everybody. I'd go to the Great Northern or the Brewery or the Palace. After only two days out there, I started smiling at strangers, gauging their reactions, basking in my complete anonymity yet undeniable power of being a girl in this wild place. People either ignored me or smiled at me, introduced themselves or didn't. After a few evenings I started learning their names, nodding at them when they got their coffee in the next day.
And I felt okay. I felt happy, actually, but mostly I what I felt was a staggering relief at having escaped. Even thinking about the confused cells in my body doing the wrong things at the wrong time was okay with me. It didn't scare me so much.

The only time that big ball of sadness lodged in my throat threatened to rear up and choke me was when I thought about returning to Seattle. The new house, shabby and unfamiliar, the wet weather, the dark afternoons and terrible traffic. I knew when I went home I'd have to cope with missing Andrew, and it would be my job to grind through that sadness and face the winter without him.

A week went by, and when Ryan was getting ready to drive home I told him to leave without me. I packed up most of my things into his car and said goodbye to my dog. They drove away early in the morning, and I bought a bus ticket to Missoula to go see Nici, my old friend whom I've never met.
It feels like Nici brought me back to myself, but that's not entirely true. What she did is show me that I'd never really left in the first place.

I still have not gone back to Washington.


I'm sitting in a waiting room with all the pregnant women who are waiting to see grainy, slow motion movies of their babies. I'm nervous, visibly so, and if anyone notices me they might assume that it's my first appointment and I'm one of those women who never saw this coming. And they would be right- I didn't see this coming. But I'm not pregnant.

In the dark room, the ultrasound tech is not interested in talking with me. I'm lying on the table, shaking, trying to force myself to calm down. She is looking at a monitor that makes alternating clicking and beeping sounds, studying the images with a concentrated frown. I tell her I'm scared. "Do women always get scared about this sort of thing?" I ask, hoping for some reassurance.

She does not take her eyes off of the screen. "I don't know. Everybody is different."

"That's such a cop out answer," I snap back. And then I regret it. Don't be rude, I tell myself. She is helping you, even if it doesn't feel like it.

After a few minutes of silence, she prints out the images and stands up. "I don't see anything alarming, but your exam is only half over. I'm going to go show this to the radiologist. Then we have to put a camera up inside you and get a better look."

I sit up halfway. "What? My doctor didn't say anything about that."

She shrugs. And she says, "Don't worry. Most women find it tolerable."

Tolerable would be an accurate way to describe it. Nerve wracking, uncomfortable, but not the worst of the exams I've had during the last two weeks, as a host of doctors try and find the cause of the ubiquitous, searing pain in my abdomen.
Bouts of pain have come and gone for years, with spells of normalcy in between that are so long that I never worried too much. It got a little more prevalent this summer while I was on the boat. And since I didn't want my appendix to burst in Glacier Bay or the I'm-sure-it-must-be-cancer to spread to my lymph nodes as I talked about whales to passengers, I went to the doctor during a turn day in Juneau. The Jones Act paid for it.

The woman in Juneau told me it sounded like an ovarian cyst and that it would take care of itself. Then she gave me a prescription for Klonopin because maybe it was all in my head.

But it didn't take care of itself. It got worse and worse and worse. Something kicking me in the lower back repeatedly, a twisting, molten, agonizing pain twisting inside my abdomen.

Finally, on a backpacking trip with Andrew, it got so bad I could not walk. I lay down on the trail in a beautiful open valley and gripped at grass with my fists. This can't be normal, I said to him, breathlessly, urging him to scramble up the peak without me. This cannot be normal.

So the melange of doctors visits began. A woman reached her hand up inside of me and pressed on things- does this hurt? "No." Does this hurt? "Yes. Why- do you feel something?"

This is what I do- I try to jump to the bad news before the bad news jumps on me. Do you feel something? Is something wrong? Are you thinking we aren't working out? Are you losing interest?

When she said yes, she did felt something, I was surprised. I didn't expect her to actually say yes. I thought I'd hear what I usually do: that it was nothing out of the ordinary, it would go away on its own, it could be in your head anyway.

And so I was sent to wait with the happily pregnant women as it bucketed rain outside. The uninterested tech and the tolerable cameras. And afterwards, I couldn't stop shaking and feeling terrible about everything. I drank half a bottle of wine and made dinner and Andrew took me out to a movie, and later I cried on his couch and he said all the right things so perfectly.

The ultrasound pictures came back, a few days late but completely normal, and my doctor called and said that it was good news, but it meant we had to keep looking. She asked if I could come in the next day and see another doctor. So I did, another hand reaching up, pressing, asking if it hurt.

This new doctor was very kind and told me she'd taken her two little boys on a Disney cruise over the summer and how much they'd all enjoyed it. And then she asked me a bunch of questions, and I said yes to nearly all of them, and she said it.

"I think you may have endometriosis.

"What we need to do now is take a CT scan of your abdomen. I'd put you on hormonal medicine, but I see in your chart you have migraines with aura, so we can't do that. Let's start with the CT scan."

Endometriosis. It's something I've suspected since I was nineteen. Because some things just could not be normal. I've brought it up a few times, only to be brushed aside by doctors. "Have you tried Advil? Stretching?"

Endometriosis is not a disease that is cured, it's a condition that's managed. It's painful, but it's not the pain I'm worried about so much. It's the possible complications, which could mean, although does not guarantee, that it's really difficult to have kids.

The diagnosis has to be made definite, and then the options and treatment and answers to questions I am not letting myself look up on the internet. I'm waiting a little bit, because my friend Ryan said he was going to take me to his cabin in Montana for a week and get me away from everything.
On Tuesday night I lay there in the dark of his guest room with my bags packed and lined up at the door. Andrew and I broke up on Monday, which may sound like horrible timing, but we've been talking about it for a long time. And I was so dreading the lonely, longing time that would come after our break up that I just wanted to get it over with. And so we did and it was sad, but it was graceful because I prevented myself from saying no, please, forget about it, this is a terrible idea. Or I may have said that anyway. I don't remember.

And so between losing Andrew and letting anxiety take me on a spinning wheel of worst case scenarios, I didn't fall sleep. I lay there awake until Ryan came in at three fifty in the morning to get me up.

"I made it easy for you," I whispered. "I didn't fall asleep."

Ryan turned the light on and looked at me. He said, "Uh oh, hot stuff."

He texted the friends we were going to see: Lina is a wreck. Then he hauled me into the car and drove me all the way to Whitefish, Montana, which is where I am now.

The very attentive lover

Yesterday was national tell a joke day. So, in the spirit of being a day late and a dollar short, today I'm going to tell you a quick story about a hilarious linguistic trap that I recently set for myself and quickly became ensnarled in.

Now, if you read this blog somewhat regularly, you'll know that somehow I ended up working as a Naturalist on a boat in Alaska. Which is unfortunate for all involved, because I know next to nothing about wildlife. 

Or geology. Or glaciology, botany, ornithology, biology or anything else I'm supposed to be an expert in. The things that I don't know about Alaska could fill a rather extensive collection of field guides. 

But I'm an excellent expedition guide. Safe, experienced, always on time, very well liked.

And I'm a pretty good medic- reliable, caring, knowledgeable within my limited but still useful scope of practice.

But I am the world's worst naturalist.  How my title job lept from the ideal "Expedition Guide and Boat EMT" to the frustratingly misguided "Naturalist" or worst- "Interpreter"- is something I may never understand.

Anyhow, a couple of times a week I'll end up as the naturalist on a small boat tour, motoring up to glaciers and gliding along the shoreline in search of bears and eagles. When the glaciers calve and the bears are mating on the beach, or, on one grim but fascinating tour- the daddy bear is ripping the head off the baby bear and eating it live- I don't have much talking to do. The passengers are pretty satisfied just to watch the show.

But on the days when nature isn't ponying up, I have about an hour and a half of silence to fill.
When I've run out of my basic eagle facts and my basic bear facts, I can usually get away with talking about ship life and boat lore. It's bad luck to whistle on the ship, for instance, or have a potted plant.  I'm very interested in these types of things and they tend to stick in my brain better than, say, the average weight of a humpback or the hibernation habits of a coastal brown bear.

Just the other day, I was on an extremely uneventful boat ride. We were supposed to motor up into Ford's Terror, which is like Yosemite only nine times longer, but the tide was flowing and a tidal surge prevented us from getting there. So we had an hour to kill in a pretty but unremarkable bay in Endicott Arm, looking at bits of ice and rock walls.

After exhausting all of my ice material (slush brash growlers bergie bits ice bergs glaciers, in that order) and all of my rock wall trivia (all of this rock is technically "exotic rock," please do not ask me any questions about it," I moved on to boat trivia.

"Did you know," I said to the sixteen guests, standing up in the prow of the boat. "That the word Bosun originates from the word Boatswain."

They appeared interested.

"And Swain means attentive lover. Isn't that interesting? So the Boatswain is the attentive lover of the boats." Our relief Bosun, Adam, had just told me that the day before, over dinner, and I was thrilled to have a new piece trivia for my collection.

My guests nodded, attentive in their own right. I plugged forward.

"It's like the coxswain, for rowing? The coxswain is the attentive lover of the-"
Hold up, I thought to myself. The attentive lover of the cock? That can't be right.

There was a long pause. Somewhere, from the tops of the dark granite Fjiords, an eagle cried out in distress.

"Of the what?" asked an older gentlemen in the stern of the boat.

Ladies and gentlemen, for one thousand dollars, the correct term would have been "cockpit." But, like a possum stuck in the suicidal freeze of headlights, I couldn't think. The only thing running through my head was:  Don't say attentive lover of the cock. Don't say attentive lover of the cock. Don't do it. Don't say it. Seconds dragged by.

I pulled my parachute.

I said, "The skeleton of a grizzly bear bares an eery resemblance to the skeleton of a human. Isn't that interesting?" Then I sat down.
There are many prime examples of me being a terrible naturalist, but this one really takes the cock.

The under cover reporter

The world got quiet, it was never quite day or quiet night. The night turned the color of sky turned the color of sea turned the color the ice.
-Josh Ritter, Another New World

Notes from sea, written in my crew cabin at the end of each fourteen hour day. 

Sunday was short and disorientating, I was alone on a plane, plunging into Juneau with a view of my tiny boat from way up high. I took a taxi to the boat. I walked up the gangway and felt nothing until I started seeing my friends waving from the windows. It feels a little like coming home to the strangest family on earth. Today I stayed in my crew room the whole afternoon and evening, dizzy and weirdly exhausted, my heart skittering around in my chest like something being thrown around in a dryer. Out on the bow we passed the Brother Islands which are full of rude, roaring sea lions. I saw none of them. I slept intermediately and ate toast for dinner but there was no butter to be found. My favorite deckhand worked the night shift, and since I couldn't sleep all the way through the night, he made me some tea and brought it to me in my bed. 

I was up today on Tuesday morning feeling calmer and level headed. We played on Reid glacier today, and there was this whole family that ran up the rocky side and went sliding down the ice on their backs, and it was fun to watch. The water around Reid Glacier is turquoise and milky with glacial silt. The whole place looks like a construction area, or Jupiter's moon. 

Later on I brought out the colored pencils and started drawing pictures with the little kids. I tried to draw a map of the Reid with pictures of all the wildflowers and tracks and marbled murelettes that we usually point out, but it didn't come out exactly how I'd imagined it.

 One of the kids has a father who is a very famous movie director in LA, he’s done a lot of animations and he started coloring glaciers with us. He drew a little sketch of a calving glacier and it was really good. It looked exactly like you’d think a movie director’s sketch would look like. We were all crowded around this little table. I found out later that he directed Puss in Boots and Shrek and a lot of other things. He is the nicest man, with two little boys and his wife on board. He has a very dry subtle sense of humor. 

After dinner this evening, his little boy was careening down the passageways the other day towards me. "Catch that kid!" Shouted the famous film director. I bent down and took the boy up in my arms. "Now, take all his clothes off and put him in the bath!"

There are a couple of crew members “down” which is nautical parlance for "not feeling good."  Whenever the deck hands get sick they fight it like dogs, refusing to lie down because they want to get back to work. Me, I don’t really have this problem. When I feel sick I want to lie down and die and I figure everyone else can deal without me. I wonder if I get sicker than most people or if I just have a bad work ethic.
One of the assistant engineers went into my room to check the head and saw my favorite deckhand in my room, and he saw the cup of tea he'd made for me, and his mind starts clicking away. He calls his girlfriend who is the first mate on our sister boat and tells her that me and the deckhand and I are doing things that we're not supposed to do. And she tells the deckhand's girlfriend who is also on that boat, and now everyone's in all sorts of trouble. The deckhand wants to tear the engineer into pieces. The engineer growls.  Meanwhile we float around on the same boat and point out whales to all our guets.  It's very Love Boat drama and I never thought there'd be so much rigamarole over drinking a cup of Orange tea after midnight. It didn't even have caffeine.  

As always, I feel a powerful sense of disassociation, "Depersonalization" I believe is its clinical term. As if I'm in the corner watching myself and all these interesting things happening and wondering how they're all going to play out, like theater. 

I am very grateful to have been in a relationship of sorts for eight months without a drop of drama, jealousy or pettiness or anything bad. It's so easy, as it should be. 


The crew were in such a terrible mood today! I’m thinking people have been on the boat too long and it’s starting to show. All the stewards are worked up because they have to uncloak the espresso machine which is a big pain in the butt. After our first week when the stews, who are overworked beyond understanding, were trying to make espresso drinks for seventy people, until finally the bar tender burst into tears and hid the thing beneath a black curtain. There it's stayed until we got a new hotel manager demanding to know why 15,000 dollars is hiding under a cloak. 

Some of the guys are trying to break up with their girfriends but can’t do it because we have no way of communicating from the ship.  And this one guy who used to be a good friend wasn't talking to me or looking at me since I came back, and finally on the stairs down to the engine room I said what the fuck? And he admitted, a few days later, that he can’t talk to me anymore because he’s attracted to me, which really made my jaw drop because, as the famous film director’s son pointed out, I really look shapeless and terrible in this horrific uniform. The hotel manager of the whole fleet is onboard right now and every time I see him I growl because he  chose this uniform for us. 

Then one of the guests took a long hike to a glacier and had a few guests capsize in the glacial water. Everything turned out fine, but the guide and the supervisor, they went into the ship’s office and locked the door and you would have thought it was an international incident or a tri-state killing spree, the way they were dealing with it. I knocked on the door of the office just to get the damn chocolate to start doing Turn Down and they glared at me.

Just trying to do my job, sir. 

I’ve been spending more time on the easy dock with the deck staff slinging kayaks around. I really enjoy my time with the deck staff and being away from the guides and being in the sun. Or the rain, really it doesn’t matter what the weather is out there. It's nice to finally know where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing. I've found that if I show up and do those things, nobody really bothers me. 

Today the whole crew and passengers jumped off the boat on a polar bear plunge. Everyone was running and diving and gasping in the glacial water and I felt completely happy. 

I cleaned out the weeping, ingrown toenail of a steward and suggested she go to the doctor when we get to Juneau. "It feels painful, like this," she says, squeezing and unsqueezing her hands into fists. The pus is leaking into her sock. 


Today I took seven passengers on a jungle gym hike in the pouring rain. This is a hike that sent two passengers med-evac packing last year and I’ve done it now four times without so much as a twisted ankle. And they loved it. I had the famous film director and his wife and his older son. The son, who is sweet and polite and sincere and interested in the world, kept telling me it was the most adventurous adventure he’d ever been on. We took a lot of photos and saw man-eating size skunk weed and devil’s club nine feet tall and came back in head to toe mud. 
There he goes again, inventing conflict and pulling stress out of thin air. I pat myself on the back and whisper, “Today you took the famous guy and his family on a beautiful hike and everyone was safe and had a good time. You did a good job at what you were hired to do.”

I've studied people's swollen mouths and written details about their vomit, pulled out splinters, washed out eyes and cleaned out wounds. It's not enough. I want more. I want to be on an ambulance.

Later on I take a woman in a double kayak and paddle her out to the waterfall and then we played around with the kids on a paddle board. She's worked on many movies and written books and I was grateful to be out in a kayak, just me and her. 

One of our stewards woke up sick one day, was medivaced back in Seattle, and is so sick she can't return. And our dishwasher still hasn't been replaced. And Ema has that toe and she needs to be off her feet. So the stewards are understaffed and the deck and the guides do turn down, we fold people's beds down and leave them chocolate and we used to fold the toilet paper into little points, until someone realized what a stupid waste of time that is. I don't mind turn down, because I get to talk to my friend Scott for a whole half our as we gather up used towels and throw back sheets. 

The mighty turn down and the day stretches into thirteen hours or more.

There is more discrepancy about hours and paycheck which just burns me up.  
Too tired to write after seventeen hours of my feet. But the kids organized a dance party in the lounge and I did the worm backwards and they loved it. It totally floored them. At one point all of the guests were dancing and some of the crew. It was so much fun. Our boat is so small and so lovely. I saw our sister ship out in the distance as we steamed towards Juneau and I slammed myself against the window thinking it was the Wilderness Explorer with my friend Randall aboard, and it suddenly hit me how much I miss Randall and how I'd do just about anythig to see him, swim across to ocean to get to his boat. So I ran up to the bridge and asked captain Kendra is that boat was the Wex thinking I could get Randall on the radio, but it wasn't the Wex. It was the Wilderness Discoverer and I don't know anyone onboard except the deckhand's poor girlfriend who thinks I'm sleeping with her boyfriend which I'm not, of course, just enjoying the tea.  This was a good week, a very good week. 

The company sent both Ema and I to the doctors. They burned her toenail off and they explained to me that Depersonalization is a sign of severe anxiety. I don't mind it so much. I feel like I'm watching myself, like a reporter. I feel like an undercover reporter. 

Week Three at Sea: Notes

I tried to write from Juneau today on my one hour off, but found that my keyboard was broken. I couldn't write a thing EXCEPT FOR LIKE THIS. Anyhow, I sneaked into the ship's office and publishing what I can- notes I've taken throughout this week, week 3 at sea. 
Today at dinner the assistant engineer unpeeled a mostly raw hardboiled egg and stormed out of the dining room. To date, this is his second storming out of the dining room episode.  He’s a big guy with a Mohawk but he’s very sensitive and he takes the terrible food personally.

Dave Horner is back on the ship for a week.  Dave is another engineer and they asked him to come back because the ship is in such disrepair. I begged for him to come back because we became close friends instantly in ship yard. He’s got one of the guest rooms, which means two real beds and a window and a space where guaranteed nowhere is going to find me. 

I have Dave for a week and whenever I see him on the ship I feel like I’ve won the lottery.  Last night I brought mango juice up to his room and he had bought watermelon in town and these little packs of gummy fruit, so we ate fruit till we felt sick and then we sat on the beds- you can’t sit up on the beds in crew quarters so even sitting was exciting- and told stories till 10pm, which is the latest I’ve stayed up on the ship, ever.

Bumbee left yesterday for another ship for six weeks . He walked away in a handsome pea coat, looking just like a sailor. I ran after him on the fantail of the boat, tripped on a taut line and fell across the entire fantail and landed with my body half out of the ship. He used to leave me notes all over the ship, stuffed into my radio and coat pockets. After he left, I found my waterbottle I’d misplaced but found I couldn’t drink out of it. Bumbee had rolled up a note into a plastic back, rolled it up tightly and stuffed it into the straw.

We like to pretend that we have a choice about everything. “This was a good restaurant.” We’ll say after dinner. “Want to meet here tomorrow?”
“You know, that sound great. There are a few other places I’ve been meaning to check out, but I really like this place. Same time?”

In the evening I’ll say to Dave, “Do you want to go out tonight? Maybe grab a drink, see a movie?”
And Dave says, “You know, we’ve just been going out so much lately. What say we just  stay in and watch a movie?”

Two days ago I was nearly crying to Bumbee and Scott and told them I was going to quit. And Scott, who is a former police officer who used to train Iraqi police officers in Iraq, talked me down so patiently and gently you would have thought he was a saint.

The crew and their infinite patience! The stewards who make this special effort to bring me things- cookies, food, stuff. They steal it from the kitchen and slip it into my pocket. I’ve grown to love them immensely.  When I got to Juneau I went looking for things to give to them. Buy bags of cookies to bring to the stewards when they are polishing silverwear at ten o’clock. You start looking for nice things to do for one another and those things become your sole purpose for being on the ship.

After 12.5 hours on your feet with all these strangers asking me questions I don’t know, by the end I feel like I will burst out into tears at any moment. It doesn’t matter how much I love anybody.

Hell is a ship with food

“Do you want to know my version of hell?” I whispered to Meril. We were standing side by side in our matching blue and black uniforms, smiling and nodding at the people in the lounge.

“Hell is being on a ship, where the most wonderful food in the world is served.  Anything you can imagine. Everything is drizzled with crème fresh and seasoned perfectly and served with a fresh garnish of something or other picked just yesterday. And the desserts! Crème brule and pudding, delicate layer cakes and pink squares of something or other and chocolate mouse- all day long, whenever you want it.

"In my version of hell, you hear about the food all day long.  You smell the food wafting up from the kitchen. Everywhere you look, there is a television screen broadcasting the menu de jour. You can’t avoid it. The food is everywhere.

"But! And here’s the thing: you can’t have any of it. Not one single bite of the food can be placed in your mouth.

"You don’t starve- if you starved, you would eventually die or become so weak you would have to be removed from the ship, and this hell is eternal. In this hell, you are served three meals a day and you have absolutely no reason to complain. You are fed and there is enough food for you to have as much as you want.

And eat you should, because whatever you do not eat today, you will be served tomorrow. The crust around the sausage sticks will deepend and harden with every re-heating, until there is no meat whatsoever but just some sort of tough, breaded exo-skeleton. Eventually, all your meals will be oblong in shape and indecipherable.”

Meril nodded. “Don’t worry” she whispered in her lilting Louisianna acent, “Your meal will be covered in a pool of ranch dressing. So it doesn’t really matter what shape it is.”

I love to talk with Meril because I know she won’t go running to the captain.

 I’ve grown to love the Chief Engineer, Pat, and I’m afraid they are going to take him away the way they took away Dave Horner, the guy who built the ship that I loved so much but we left him on shore.

I was asking Pat yesterday what they do with those trays of fancy desserts if they don’t all get eaten. “Do they go into the trash?” The thought was terrifying, yet hopeful. If only I could get to them first….

“No,” said Pat, who has one arm tattooed like a robot arm. “The night shift deck hands eat them. Those deck hands survive on sugar and caffeine.”

“I’ve got to befriend a deckhand.” I said out loud.

Later that night, after Laurie and I had turned the light out, there was a knock on the door. The sound was confusing to me- nobody had ever needed me enough on this ship to knock on my door. Then the knock came again, and after a long pause I said, “Come in.”

The door opened and Pat came in. I was very confused because I had been sleeping, and because I’d taken a sleeping pill on a nearly empty stomach, which is the only way those things work anymore.

“Are you sleeping?” He asked, entering our tiny room. “I brought you this.” And he reached between the makeshift curtain I’d built around my bunk, made out of Patagonia layers, and placed a little pot into my hand and a spoon.

“It’s dessert. I stole it for you from the kitchen.”

I ate about three bites- it was a flambayed banana bread pudding- and then I realized I was going to choke. I was too drugged up to swallow correctly. I put the pot on my bed side shelf and fell backwards into sleep.

In the morning I saw it there, and I remembered the entire incident. And waking up I knew the day was a little different than any other day before on the ship, because someone had snuck something out of the kitchen, and figured out which room I slept in, and brought it to me in bed.

The Galley Smasher

May 31, 2012
Day 5 at Sea
Somewhere in Canada

Bosun and his spy glass
Everything was smashing in the galley this morning. The weather was rough as we were completing our first open Sea crossing. It was heavier than expected and while I was up getting breakfast the boat started really rolling and everything slid off the shelves.  It was spectacular. 

A palette of eggs was the first to go, and after that came the plates, a tower of chocolate croissants (not for crew) wine bottles, coffee mugs and silver wear, all hitting the steel floor  and smashing apart with a satisfying raucous. Everyone in the Galley made a grab for something- I threw myself on a stack of china plates- and held on as the sous Chef, Karlos, tried to keep his feet from slipping on the egg-covered floor and his palms from falling onto the hot stove top which takes up the entire wall as the floor of ship tipped back and forth. Meanwhile someone made a lunge for the broom and was trying to sweep up the glass while fruit platters continued to sail off the shelves. 

We sat in the dining room as waves of grey water lashed against the window and our breakfast slid all the way down the table and the all the way back. If you got up to get a fork or a knife, you had to task somebody with babysitting your plate and holding it down so it didn’t topple over and spill onto the carpet.

Then you’d be in real trouble.

We’ve sailed straight through an Orcas pod, and seen a glistening humpback appear slowly out of the water, and a Grizzly bear on the shore lumbering along, looking exactly like a man in a Grizzly bear suit. Those were my thoughts when I saw the bear- “That looks exactly like a man in a Grizzly Bear suit-“ and that’s when I knew I simply was not a naturalist at heart.

We’ve engined past bright, white waterfalls cascading off of deep grey granite (the granite was the color of the Humpback) and massive rivers spewing out of the trees and into the Sea and a dozen types of waterbirds including trumpeter swans and Marbled Murellettes and still, it is the image of the eggs and plates smashing in the galley and everybody hitting the deck in a collective hail Mary that sticks with me the most, and in particular the cook, dancing on the split yolks, his legs bicycling beneath him the way they do in cartoons, trying not to get grilled on his own stovetop.  

A Tiny Thing Heads North

Everything on the ship is so small- the bunks and passageways and tiny bathrooms- and all the doors are remarkably heavy. The watertight door to the crew cabins make me fear for my fingers. I've become acutely aware of my fingers, actually, how very small and fragile they are, how quickly they'd crush inside those iron doors or snap in two inside a taut line when we are docking.

And then there is the utterly fearsome, wrought iron anchor that makes a sound like the earth splitting in two when dropped.

In two days I've logged 28.5 hours of work. Its safe to say I've been in a complete daze through all of it, except for the two times I've cried in my cabin, then the daze sort of broke and it felt nasty. Last night however I gave a presentation I put together about the nautical origins of certain phrases, and I felt a bit more myself now that I was the whole show. It went over well and everybody liked it, and I didn't use the microphone I just projected across the whole big room. So today all the guests are coming up to me and saying what a good loud voice I have for "such a tiny thing."

That makes me feel about seven years old, which is a funny thing to feel when you are the head medic and reaching into people's mouths to examine their infected teeth.

I've got to go now, we're sailing away from Friday Harbor and North into Canada in a little bit. From now on I'll only have internet once every week.

If you want to write me a postcard, or a letter, or a story, a letter of encouragement, a pep talk, the story of your own toughest job, the story of your own thriving, or surviving, sinking or swimming or quitting or breaking or whatever.....send it here. My friends have strict demands to write me often. If you are a reader and we've never met, well, now is the time my friends. I welcome your love or your Harden The Fuck Up speeches, whichever you see fit. In return, I'll patch up your teeth if ever they break.

Melina coogan, safari Endeavour.
C/o inner sea discoveries. 
PO box 33579, Juneau Alaska 99803 
Write me everybody. 

Write my story for me

Leaving Seattle

May 28th Day 2 Anchored somewhere in the San Juan Islands, Washington.

I cried in my room today, twice, once out of pure frustration and once out of sadness. I should never have taken this job, is what I was thinking. I really shouldn't have gotten on this ship.

I was standing in the bathroom of the tiny, windowless room, afraid my roommate, another guide, would walk in. Therefore I was forced to look at myself in the mirror as I cried, never something one wants to do.

This will not work, I thought. It will not be like this.

This is the time to find humor- the deeply buried humor and appreciation of irony that my wonderful, dry, Midwestern mom and Bostonian dad imparted on me.

 The fact that on this 8,000 dollar a week cruise the toilets don't work is a great start. The fact that on an 8,000 dollar a week cruise the toilets don't work is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me.

 Everything that happens on this boat is a story being written. Everything that now makes me crazy or furious or frustrated is merely my story being written for me. This is my autobiography being cranked out.

And all I have to do is do my job and laugh at everything and stand my ground. So the people that challenge me, I do what they say if what they say is reasonable. If its unreasonable, maybe I do it anyway. Maybe I have to do. Go ahead, I say inside my head. Write my story for me. Do your worst. I want it to be a good one.

Leave the Pieces?

We're outside of a Dennys in a town East of Seattle. Andrew and I have been climbing for two days straight in hard, cold wind, and we're both wrecks. The last two places we stopped at were closed, so when I see the lights inside the Diner and the people sitting amibically in their booths, I throw out my hand in a wild gesture- half celebration, half invitation for Andrew to hurry out of the car. My iphone goes flying out of my hand and lands- smack!- right on its screen on the cement, the Apple equivalent of the C4 vertebrae.

Andrew scraped it off the floor and gingerly hands it back to me, his expression nervous. My phone is toast. This will be expensive. But it's okay. I have a job now. It's no big deal.

A few days later I'm driving on I-5, with capitol hill on my right and downtown Seattle on my left, when a stone jumps up from the road and pops me right in the windshield. It leaves behind a pock the size of a quarter, with cracks spider webbing out of it like something gone septic. I know what happens if you ignore those little chips- they weaken and weaken the windshield from the outside until one day the whole thing crashes down on you, maybe while you're driving out to the CVS to get a bag of chips or something, and you dead.

 It's okay. I have a job now, and I can pay for the little things that come up.
 It's not long after that that I leave my house in the morning to say goodbye to Andrew at his car. I have no shoes, no wallet or phone, no dog, no house keys, no cell phone keys, no gum, no hairbrush, none of the necessary thing. In the thirty seconds it takes to tell Andrew to Have A Lovely Day at the Job, my roommate leaves for the day, locks the door behind him and cheerfully bikes down the hill to work.

 Thoroughly locked out and completely alone, I slice through my screen with a railroad spike and tumble headfirst into the house. The rescreening is a pain in the ass. I can't reach the screws without a ladder. I have no ladder. I can't get to the Tweety and Pop hardwear during business hours because I'm on the boat during normal business hours, and also during abnormal business hours. So my friend Tyrel offers to do it, because he carries a ladder in his car and he is The Best Man In The World. This I say with confidence.

The rescreening only cost 30 bucks, which is nothing. I have a job now.

 I'm driving with Randal out of the ship yard and something bumps underneath the wheel. "What the hell is wrong with your car?" He asks. I tell him I have no idea. It's normally such a good car. What was wrong with the car was something about the break pads and that's all I could understand about that. It cost exactly the cost of ten re-screenings, plus tax.

 This all leads me to yesterday, the big grand daddy of them all. I'm waiting for my cousins to share a bowl of Pho with me at our usual Pho spot in Ballard. It's the day before the day before I leave for Alaska, and I want to eat Pho because it's 5 dollars a bowl and after all those damn repairs I can't afford anything else, job or no job. It had been another long and slightly demoralizing (can you be slightly demoralized? or do you have to really commit to it?) day at the boat. I asked for a hot chrysanthemum tea with honey, for the comfort, and then I threw it all over my computer. Not just my computer, but also the table, the chair, and my legs. I don't know, I just lost control of my hand or something. I jumped up- the woman who lifts a car off her child- and I shook my beautiful, silver, perfect, soothing, glowing Macbook like I was trying to make a deaf baby out of it. I toweled off the keyboard and I knew that it was bad. I oscillated between blinking back tears and really just letting loose with the sobs.
 In the end, I chose to save the sobs for the poor fool at the Genius bar who had the misfortune of getting me as a customer. I was crying so hard in that Apple store I almost expected a nurse to appear and gently but firmly pull the partition. My computer, as it turned out, didn't want to drink any tea. It zapped the logic board (what the hell is a logic board) to the tune of 800 dollars. Not only had I poured tea onto the keyboard, but then I'd dunked the thing into a box of rice, on the advice of a friend, hoping it would dry it out. It may well have dried it out. But it also filled the thing with rice. Tilt my computer to the side and it sounded like an African Rain Stick.

 The computer, the music, the photos, the laboriously pieced together Power Points on Nautical Terminology "Nauty Terms!" and the ethnobiology of Alaksa. I needed those things to keep my sanity and to keep my job. Without that computer and all the painstakingly gathered naturalist information and caches of bear photos for all the presentations were supposed to do- without that computer I don't even need to get on that boat. All my work is on that computer.

 I'm also the head medic on the boat and an expedition guide but none of that seemed to matter at the moment. Everything I need for my job is on that computer and nobody can talk me out of that statement.
Andrews hands on a Denny's menu
However, when you don't have 800 dollars, whether or not to spend 800 dollars is an easy choice. I continued to cry- real tears here, dripping all over the counter top, the genius recoiled as I tucked my computer back into its pink carrying case, like wrapping a dead dog in its favorite blankie. I bought an external keyboard with some hope that a half miracle would occur and the computer could march on with an artificial limb.

Before I left, the Genius opened my computer and picked out the grains of rice with a pair of tweezers.

I already spent my first two paychecks from the boat trying to fix all the shit I broke in preparing for the boat in the first place. If I don't get out of here tomorrow I'm going to break something else, maybe myself or a major bridge.

Luckily or unluckily, we are sailing tomorrow. We're starting our two week journey up the inside passage to Alaska and from now whatever I break, Bosun will fix and I won't have to pay a god damned thing.


I'm en route to North Carolina from Seattle. There is a two year old behind me, stuck between his mother's legs and the back of my seat, and he keeps plowing his head into the back of my seat with surprising strength. Bam! Bam! Bam! Those little people and their giant heads, like weapons. It goes on for hours and I keep turning around and looking at the mother but she always just smiles with determined ignorance. Finally I start to say something and she interrupts me: "Oh, is he bothering you?" And I say weakly, totally pathetic, "Um, maybe he could just stop with the head thing?"

She gently asks him to stop, with a little too much room in her tone for him to refuse, in my opinion. Then she flashes me one of those searing just wait till you have kids looks, and the plane starts to shake very suddenly. We're flying through something, something bad enough that the drink service is halted, which always feels way more disappointing than it should feel, and also unfair because the first half of the air craft got to have their drinks and now the plane is going down and they'll have more of a chance of surviving, since they're all hydrated and we're not.

The turbulence is bad. I hang onto my arm rest and feel really really angry at whoever is responsible for all of this, the invisible hydraulics in the air and the trajectory of the plane and the geography of the country and everything else. I was actually looking forward to the cross-country flight, a few relaxing hours to sit still and read a book and not be bothered. Actually, I was really looking forward to this trip- a quick trip- three days, two of them full travel days, to my grandmother's funeral in Cleveland.
The Wilderness Discoverer heads out to Alaska
You could say I'm a bit, oh how do I say this, overwhelmed with my new career choice. And I was looking forward to this little break with the excitement of a fifth grader about to be released on Summer break. Like, me? I get to go to Cleveland? I don't have to go to work for three days? Tell me, how did I get so lucky?!

It gets worse.

 Last Monday, some of my crew and I were hoisted away during the work day and taken into Ballard for a mandatory drug test. There were eight of us, and we had to go into that back room with the security guy one at a time. It took an hour and a half. I was the happiest I've been in a while, totally relaxed, sitting there with an Oprah magazine, mentally directing the others to pee slow. Make this last. When it was my turn, I did a quick overview of the space in the room- a tiny room with a nonflushing toilet and a sink with broken taps, no water- and just enough space for me to curl up on the floor and shut my eyes. If I wanted to. Which I did. I estimated how much time I'd have- ten minutes- maybe fifteen? Before the security guy pounded on the door. Fifteen golden minutes to myself.

I know how to work hard. I promise I do. But this life, this boat world, was dropped into my lap when I least expected it. I had a job, car, house, boyfriend, dog, routine, friends, plans. And then this offer happened, and I said yes, and suddenly I cannot keep up.  I wake up at six, try and get the dog out for a few minutes, pack my things, stop for coffee, run out the door to Fisherman's terminal. Almost everybody else lives on the boat. They already left behind the aforementioned dog, boyfriend, car, house. I haven't yet.
I screech into a parking space on the harbor and run up the gangway with coffee in one hand and it's amazing how much can spill out of that little hole in the to-go cup. I forget about breakfast or brushing my  hair, whatever it takes to get my ass onto that ship before the all-hands meeting at 7:30. Last week I went to the wrong ship and therefore was four minutes late getting to the correct ship and I got an extremely firm talking to by my captain. Being reprimanded by the captain of your ship is like being yelled at by the president, the chief of police and your mom all at once. I told this story to Lisa a few days later, recalling the whole scenario in horror in the back room of her work. "Did you cry?" She asked, eyes wide. "I would have cried."

I didn't cry. I think I left my body. Like a dying person who floats above their mangled, car-wrecked corpse on the side of the highway and feels peace. I felt peace because I was planning, with utmost certainty, to jump overboard and drown myself as soon as I got a moment to myself. I've never been yelled at before in my life- surely death was the only option.

The day ends after 6pm. Then I go home, to the moping dog, the half-packed house that needs a subletter, the car with the broken breaks that won't be fixed until October, and I run run run run from task to task, and late at night I drive across the city and shore up at Andrew's house and he makes me dinner and listens to my my tyraid, yet again, about how bad I am at everything. He's cooked me dinner three hundred times. I've cooked him dinner one time. I'm leaning on him hard.

Anyhoo. That's why the drug test was such a rush. An hour and a half sitting in a waiting room. The luxury. The magazines. The little cooler of chilled water. Peeing into a cup was nothing- I'd pee into a thousand cups if it meant having that quiet time with Oprah. I think my crew-mates felt the same way, only they have a legitimate reason. They spend all day scrubbing, sanding, hauling things. I outfit kayaks and put together slide shows about edible plants in Alaska. The expedition team does not have the most grueling job on the boat, at least not when we're in the shipyard. Whenever the bouson spots us on deck, studying maps or looking through books, he always finds something to slam. "Do you think this ship looks finished? Do you? Jesus, I wish I had your job!"

In case you were wondering, I didn't do it. I didn't curl up on the bathroom floor like a demented person having an episode. But I could have. And that was thrilling.
The view from my doorway
Unfortunately the airplane isn't as luxurious as I'd hoped. It's no drug test, that's for sure. The turbulence not only makes me nervous in a white knuckle seat grasping suddenly religious kind of way, it's making the kid behind me nervous and he starts screaming and banging away at my seat again. Only this time I don't blame him. There have been times this past week I've wanted to bang my head against the bulkhead, or the wall of my bedroom, or the window of my car when I'm driving downtown to the DMV. Maybe it would help? Let him bang out his two year old frustrations and fear into my thoracic spine. What do I care.

The Fish on the Dock

There are two stories I could tell right now. The first one is the triumphant story where I sleep on the side of the road next to roaring Icicle creek, climb eight pitches up Orbit, take pictures of Andrew's bloody fingers at the summit, stand at the edge of the cliff in the cold wind and hike out by moonlight. The story that I like to tell, the one where I'm strong and energetic and healthy, falling asleep in the passenger seat as Andrew drives down I-90 in a torrential rainstorm, safe after yet another big adventure, bringing us back to a city brimming with everything familiar.  The life that I've carved out just right.
The second story is that one where I'm failing, flailing, flopping around- picture a single fish in a net on the dock- the one where I'm late to everything, where I get lost, literally lost, in the passageways in the ship and I'm scared of my own room because there are no windows and it's next to the engine room and it's loud. The part where I'm exhausted and overwhelmed and fantasizing about quitting and falling asleep during the expedition team meeting and crying in my car to Randal, and my tears are white with salt which means I'm very very dehydrated because I can't find the water on the ship. That story where I'm sea-sick when I'm on dry land and the world is constantly tipping around me and the dog sits alone in the house all day and it's back to sleeping pills at night.
The transition into boat world has been tough. It feels like hell. I'm fairly certain I'm not doing a good job at it, and I always do a good job. With everything. Except this. As it turns out, two full time lives is one too many. 
One of our vessels, the Safari Spirit, burned down at the harbor last week, and the crew has been laid off or thrown in to a new job, a demotion by necessity, onto a new ship. The Safari Endeavour is still afloat, with a full crew working every hour of every day to get it ready for embarkation, and I should be so grateful that it was not my ship that burned. But all I can think is, if it had been, if I had been on the Spirit, I could go home, and crawl into bed, and go back to my normal life and nobody could blame me because my ship no longer existed. 
Of course, I can always just gloss over it. Glossing is an art, like everything else, and I've mastered it. I've mastered the wild, envy-inducing elevator pitch of my life:

I'm going to live aboard a boat, and soon we're heading to Southeast Alaska and I'll be there all summer leading kayak trips through Glacier Bay and being a medic and on the weekends, until we leave the harbor, I go on these huge climbing adventures.
You see? Look how I can word it so that everything sounds so perfect.

I'd rather tell it like that.

I'd rather not tell the second story at all, because I don't want anyone to know what a rough time I'm having, how terrible I am right now at my job, at my own life.

Whiskey Soured

Driving up the access road to Baker Mountain is an overwhelming experience in itself. The road carves between two massive walls of snow that grow higher and higher as you gain elevation, until it seems there is an impossible amount of snow ready to crash down on you at any moment.

On Saturday morning, snowflakes were sifting steadily from the sky and the clouds were the silver white color of a mottled pearl. It was difficult to discern where the sky ended and the snowdrifts began. All you could see through the icy windshield was the dark outline of the road cutting in wide turns through the whiteness.
It was easy to see me, however, because in the endless line of cars winding slowly up the mountain, I was the only one standing outside of the vehicle, squeezed in the narrow margin between the traffic and the immense walls of snow, dressed head to toe in shocking pink. And I was throwing up.

Really, guys, did you ever think my perfect ski cabin weekend wouldn't start like this?
None of this happened on purpose. I never intended to wear a ski outfit of pure pink, it just happened over time, the way you slowly and inevitably grow old and lose your affinity for soda. I acquired each piece- the pink vest, the pink polypro, on a different occasion. The pants were a fluke. Patagonia Women's Powder Bowl uninsulated pants were only available in vivid turquoise or magenta.  And nobody can pull of turquoise. Nobody. Trust me, I've tried. Turquoise makes you look like a crossover between a muppet and a human child. I'm pretty sure that's why I've been single for so long.
As for the puking, that was also a fluke.

Andrew, Chris and I arrived at a cabin near Baker on Friday night. I had the tremendous luck of having just the right weekend off from work and a last minute invite to join a few friends for a birthday celebration at a ski cabin. As I carefully packed up the car, I could hear the satisfying click of the universe locking together. It was supposed to snow all weekend! There was a hot tub! Hallelujah!

As soon as we arrived, Andrew set to work making these sweet and refreshing Whiskey Sours.
He made a simple syrup over the stove and squeezed the lemons fresh. Look how beautiful! If a good looking boy placed one of these in front of you, and you were wearing green knit leg warmers, wouldn't you drink it down? I sure did. Thrice! I drank three! There was music playing, lots of talk about climbing and skiing. Things were going exactly as planned. My whole life was going exactly as planned.
The others went off to bed, but the three of us were just getting started. We hit the hot tub. Having run out of whiskey, I chose a Porter with blue icicles on the label. In my Patagonia bikini with a bottle in hand, steam rising off the water into the frosty night air with snow and pine trees all around us, I was feelin' good.
I never once stopped to consider how dehydrating the whole evening was.  How could a hot tub be dehydrating? There's water all around you! You probably absorb water. In fact I absorbed so much water I was sweating!

I felt happy, almost loopy happy, but of course I did. There was literally no where else on earth I wanted to be, nobody I'd rather be with. I was so content that I almost slipped down into the suspiciously murky waters of the hot tub and slept there all night. Glad I didn't, I would be dead.

I do have one little blink of memory where I felt the lightest touch of anxiety. As I crawled into the crimson sheets of my bed around two am and lay there, very still, I felt my body sinking deeper and deeper into a sort of bottomless crevas. My last cohernt thought was, "Oh." As in, "Oh, I'm very drunk." Then I crashed fully into a thick, black sleep and woke up five hours later when Brittany was calling us to breakfast.

And oh, how the world had changed overnight. It had become a painful, painful place.

I tottered out of bed into the living room. I was then peer pressured into having a few bites of eggs. My stomach clutched and protested. I drank a cup of coffee. Around me, the others were buzzing around like happy bees. Moving slowly, I gathered my things as best I could, leaving behind my fleece, my down jacket and my wallet, all arguably important things at an expensive ski area in a cold climate.

The car ride was too hot. The music was disorienting. The line on the access road was crawling because of a plethora of spun out cars. Andrew kept saying, "Oh, wow, we still have a long way to go." 

It was the perfect storm.

I knew what was going to happen before it happened. I clutched at the door handle, hopped outside into the snow and threw up in a neat arc against the towering white wall. There were at least 20 stopped cars behind us with a perfect view, and no reason to look anywhere else. I was the only spot of color in a whited-out world.  I got a few cheers of encouragement from some snowboarding bros in an Impreza. Evidently they wanted an encore. They got one.

Still feeling notsogood, I opened the car door and folded myself back inside. I knew I probably had to hurl again, but not for another few moments and I didn't want to freeze. "Hey Melina-" said Andrew, who was grinning, "Would you like a whiskey sandwich?"

Now, I still don't know where he came up with that or why he said it. But the image of such a thing- two pieces of bread soaked in alcohol, limp lettuce and cheese between them, gave me the courage to get up and do what needed to be done, which was throw up again. This time the cars were moving steadily. I had to jog slowly alongside the traffic to keep up.

Really, without such weekly humiliations, where would I be? I'd be enormously successful, I bet. Corporations would sponsor my life. I'd have no real friends. I'd be a real bitch.
When we finally reached the parking lot of the lower lodge, I was done. My friends bought me my lift ticket (no wallet) and I couldn't figure out how to put it on my jacket. I pleaded with them to go on without me. They didn't need too much convincing.

Relieved to be by myself, I threw up twice more, then went upstairs to the lodge where the sad people with bag lunches are supposed to go so they can eat their little ham sandwiches without the torture of watching the wealthy eat hot chili out of bread bowls.

I poured myself a cup of water, took a few sips with a straw, and then my head dropped onto the table and I passed out for about 45 minutes.

It was not the most auspicious way in which to start our skiing extravaganza.

After the nap, however, I rallied. I really did. I clicked into my skis and got on the lift and then another lift to the top of the mountain. I shared the second ride with another single rider, to whom I enthusiastically recounted my morning's adventure, even though he didn't ask.

Crazy Bitch

When I was in college, all I did was play ultimate Frisbee. And I thought that how well a person played ultimate Frisbee was a pretty good determination of their character.

So when one of the best ultimate players in the world, Ben, showed an interest in me, I was thrilled. When he said, "I'd like to date you, but with no rules, no commitment, and I get to flirt with girls, sleep with girls, travel with other girls, do absolutely whatever I want, and you have to be okay with that," I really thought about it. Initially, it did not seem like such a great idea. And then I considered what a good Frisbee player he was and I was like, "This seems like a really good deal for me. Onward!"

This was also a time of great enlightenment for me. I was a junior in college in Seattle, a very sex-positive city. I was taking all sorts of college classes, for college credit, towards my college degree, about sex. I took Sociology of Sexuality, Psychology of Sexuality and Psychobiology of Women. I remember my mom calling me and saying, "What's next? Poetry of Sexuality? Math of sexuality?" And I remember thinking, Those both sound good, I ought to look those up in the class directory.

At the same time, I was making a lot of new friends. Some were polyamorous, some were part of Seattle's "kink" community, and virtually everyone was bisexual.

I was learning all sorts of new things. I listened attentively, took a lot of notes, and always read the suggestive readings.

So when Ben suggested that we date- but that we pretend we're not dating around others so that he could keep his options open, I thought- fantastic! A chance to prove how super open minded I am!

I think open relationships can work. Never in my experience, but certainly in some situations. However, ours did not work. For many, many reasons, our relationship was terrible.  Absolutely a disaster.

When you're a girl, and you're in a *terrible* relationship with a boy, it's easy to start to hate other girls.  Girls are always hating on girls. We're encouraged to do that. So I made up my mind not to develop any negative feelings towards other women. That way, I'd be okay with everything always. I refused to become 'crazy' or 'needy' or 'clingy' or 'spiteful' or any of those other things that are a natural reaction to being fucked with.

Besides which, I thought this super-acceptance would really impress Ben. I was so easy to date! So convenient and open minded and accepting. I would literally have no needs or feelings. Between this and all the hair-straightening and outfit choosing I was doing, I might even be close to perfect.

And I'm sure he did appreciate it. I'm sure he was really impressed by me and appreciated how easy I made it for him. But he was so busy having sex with other girls that the conversation never really came up.

This went on for a long time. Whenever I felt like shit, I'd chalk it up to insecurity. And nobody wants to feel, or admit to feeling, insecure. When I felt jealous, I'd do some research. I'd literally google it like it was tonsillitis and there was a homeopathic cure. I once read that envy was just toxins in the body and a juice cleanse could clear it up forever. Totally game, I put on my book store outfit,  hopped on the bus to Barnes and Nobles and bought a card deck of smoothie recipes and a blender.

I even read good books, books recommended by my Poly friends and my professors, like "The Ethical slut." And I was so desperate to make it work out with Ben that I'd warp all the information I got in those books to support this dysfunctional situation.

It's too bad I never stumbled, during this period of enlightenment, onto Dan Savage and his Savage Love Cast. I would have found out right away, in very straightforward terms, that my relationship was actually abusive (mentally, not physically), tormenting, manipulative and that I should GTFO. Get the Fuck out. But somehow I didn't find the Savage Love Cast till years later. Too bad!

Around this time, Lisa and I were captaining our college women's ultimate team. Lisa and I took this pathetic, limping team that was falling apart and threw ourselves into making a real program out of it. We worked night and day, and it payed off. One year after our big push, we played in the finals of College Nationals on national television.

I'd gone to an all-boys high school, so being around so many women was new to me. I started picking up on all the thing we do, like apologize about everything, and all the negative words we used that were anti-woman. Bitch, slut, cunt- the male equivalent of these words simply didn't exist.

Also, this idea of women being called crazy started to really get to me. Listen for it- people are constantly calling women crazy. "She broke up with me, but it's okay, she was crazy!" "Yeah, I met her once, she was crazy!" Nobody bats an eye. The going theory is that all women are crazy.

So I refused to call anyone crazy and I refused to call anyone a bitch and I was determined to like everyone, especially the girls who were sleeping with my boyfriend.

And then came the Seattle Ultimate Carnival. This is the biggest party of the year. All the Frisbee players in the Northwest come down to Seattle for the weekend. It's held in some hip warehouse downtown. The teams prepare routines and costumes and compete for Patagonia gear. I'd been dating Ben for five or six months by this point, so I kind of figured he'd go with me to this thing. But we'd go together was so conventional and close-minded. Also, it would make him feel penned in and trapped if I asked, and I certainly didn't want to make him feel that way. And besides, I was going with my team.

Then I'm at the party, everybody is at the party, and Ben is there with some other girl, this girl he went to high school with. And he is all over her. And I'm like, that's strange, because I'm right here. This feels a little weird. It's upsetting, but it's totally my fault because I shouldn't be feeling jealous.

Everybody notices what's going on. Ben is not a subtle person. Our friends keep looking at them, and looking at me in confusion. Some of them, his friends, his teammates, are pulling me aside and asking what is going on. A few ask, "Do you want me to ask them to leave? We can make that happen."

And I say no, because the last thing I want to do is to make a scene. I can't admit in front of everybody just how messed up this relationship is (of course they all know that, because it's painfully obvious, but that's something I don't understand yet.)  I've come this far, I can put up with it for another night. And besides, she isn't doing anything wrong. She's obviously just a spirited gal (dressed in Japan-o-phile school girl outfit) having a good time. This is part of the agreement, this is cool.

Of course, this ruins the whole night for me. But finally, the party ends. Unfortunately, the after-party, which is even more fun and important that the actual event, it at my house.

So Ben takes this girl, this wacky girl nobody knows, and now they're in my house, in my living room. This girl is totally drunk, and she's falling all over everyone.  She's one of those clingy, touchy, overwhelmingly physical drunk girls. She's starting to really annoy everybody.

My roommates pull me into the bathroom. "Who the hell is this girl?" They ask. "Do you want us to make her leave? What is wrong with Ben?" And what they don't ask but it's obvious they're thinking is, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

But I really don't want to make a scene. A scene where some girl is kicked out of the house and Ben is yelled at in front of everybody? I would suffer for that later. It would be awful. I'd rather just let it happen. Besides, this girl....I refuse to dislike her. She's not crazy, she's just wild. She's just drunk and having a good time. In fact, I think I like her. We'll get along. We'll become friends.

Finally, everybody else at the party has had enough of her. They stick her outside and lock the door. The after party is winding down anyway.

Apparently, she has a different idea because moments later, she punches through the glass window on the door and lets herself back in.  We find her in the front hallway, laughing and holding tightly to a fist that is gushing blood. My roommates are like, "This Bitch is crazy." And I'm like, ""

But by this point, my roommates are beyond furious. The window to our house is broken, glass is everywhere, this will all have to be explained to our landlord who is notoriously uptight, and it will be expensive, and until it's fixed there is no way to lock the door. And this girl is still here, in our kitchen, dripping blood onto the floor as she eats grapes out of our fridge. And Ben is here, and he realizes the situation is out of hand, but when he realizes things are wrong and he's at fault he just gets more stubborn and difficult. That's why he's so hard to deal with.

For my roommates, this is no longer about Ben treating me poorly in front of everyone. This is about a psychopath being in our home at 2 in the morning.

One of the girls informs Ben that if he doesn't get her out of there she is going to call the police. So I sit on the steps and watch Ben wrestle this crazy girl back to his place for the night. He doesn't once make eye contact with me or acknowledge that I am a witness to all this. But, you know, this is what open relationships are all about. Making yourself invisible.

At this point, it is becoming difficult not to feel anything negative. I decide to put myself to bed and either deal with or repress everything in the morning. I go downstairs. Back in those days, I lived in a room that was a re-done garage. You had to go outside and re-enter my room through a separate door. So I do that. I lock the door behind me, then turn the light on. And I am about to fall into bed when I see the walls.

There is blood on my walls. Streaks of blood, as if some girl who had just shoved her fist through a window had gone into my room and rubbed her bloody wrist on my walls. Which is exactly what has happened.

You know, I can be a dramatic person. I like to tell stories and perform. But that doesn't mean I like invite this type of drama, the let's-pour-a-bucket-of-blood-on-that-girl-on-prom-night psycho drama. No way.

In that one exhausted moment, I realized, holy shit. That bitch is crazy.

And Ben is crazy. And if I stayed in this situation any more, I would become crazy.

My advice to you if you're involved in anything like this: good relationships, open or closed, monogamy or monogamish or polyamory, all of it, are based on honesty and support. Anything else is crazy. And you need to GTFO.

I still believe in supporting women and all of that, and I've since found actual, legitimate ways to do that. I became a high school teacher, I lead girls' trips in the wilderness, I speak with groups of teenage girls about writing and health education, and eventually I became a trained doula. Letting a crazy bitch punch through a window in my house and track her blood over my walls, just to prove to the jerk I was 'dating' how tolerant I was of his fucking around? This kind of thing is less of a priority these days.