I stuff my clothes into my backpack, checking over my shoulder to make sure Annie's still sleeping. Her eyes are closed, so I drop a bouncy ball into one of her boots.
She won't find it for another month or so, but she won't let me tell her where I put it, either. Another one of the reasons I like Annie - she wants to figure things out on her own. Like me.
I slip out the hotel door, anxious about getting on the road quickly. I have to be back in L.A., I have to write my blog, I have to do the podcast with Andy, and I have to do all this today, without much sleep.
I haven't figured out how to balance my life yet.
While I drive home, the sun climbing up the sky to reflect on the ocean to my right, I listen to a podcast. They're talking to the show's guest about how he'd met his fiance.
"She told me that she didn't want to date," he says. "So I said, 'Ok. That's cool.' And then we just started hanging out as friends."
"See," the host says. "That's how you do it, Ladies. When a man says, 'I don't want to date right now,' just say okay and be super chill. No pressure, hang out as friends. And eventually, they'll come around."
My vision blurs as my eyes tear up. "Oh my God," I say out loud. "I should've just been chill. The whole time. I was never chill. It was my fault."
Ok, Guys. Real talk time.
When I started this bouncy ball project, one of my reasons for doing it was because I had just ended an ambiguous "relationship" with a man, and I was having trouble getting over it. I imagined that if I wrote about it, the man who broke my heart might show back up in my life, and I could write about that when it happened, and this story would be like "When Harry Met Sally."
But he never showed up.
For the first month of writing this, I brought him up a lot because everything I did reminded me of him, so I wrote about it because that's how I deal with things. I'm weird like that - I don't talk much about my personal life, but I will write about it and post it on the internet for literally hundreds of people to read.
Over the course of the last three months, I've stopped wanting to write about him because, well, I got over it. And I did it the healthiest way possible - by analyzing a recurring pattern I've been running into with the men in my life. I meet someone I like too much before I even really know them, I have unrealistic expectations about the relationship, they don't feel the same way about me because they don't really know me, and I end up hurt.
That's the pattern. I've gone over and over it, but until recently, I've missed the obvious - it's my fault that I get hurt. Every time, it's been a result of me believing I could manipulate reality rather than adjusting to it, adapting to it, or accepting it.
Unfortunately, none of this makes a very interesting read, so I've spent the last few weeks trying to tell you guys what you all probably knew - that I shouldn't want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with me and that my attempts to write about men I've "fallen in love with" have done nothing but romanticize what was never there in reality. I'd hoped the story would be more entertaining then that, but it's just not.
When you unravel a ball of thread, there's nothing in the center but the end of that thread.
I like that metaphor - the thread. Picture this: I'm holding the end of a ball of thread that's just been unraveled to it's center. I hold my end up to the sky and open my fingers. The wind takes it. It flies away.
The story still moves forward because the story is not the thread. The story is me.
That's the difference between reality and fiction. In fiction, the story can be anything, and what happens makes it interesting. In reality, the story is the people, and they're unpredictable, and they can change infinitely, go anywhere.
Bouncy Ball # 79 - Grand Canyon Shuttle Driver
Sosa and I get on the shuttle bus and take a seat halfway down. The driver, an old man, sprays down the windows at the front of the bus with cleaner, wiping them with an old rag. "We'll be leaving in about five minutes," he says.
There's a passenger sitting with his foot up on the seat in front of him. The old man points at his foot. "Sir, please put your foot down," he says. "People put their hands there."
The man puts his foot down. "Sorry."
I turn to Sosa. He's smiling. "So great," he says. He likes it when people get called out for being disrespectful, and I like watching him like it.
The old man greets a few new passengers as he wipes down the last of the windshield. "I see you opened a window back there," he says. "That means that I'm going to have to shut the AC off. Either you can have AC, or the window open, but you guys can't have both."
"Yes!" Sosa says.
I laugh. "He reminds me of my grandpa."
"I see another person opening a window back there," the driver says. "That's fine. I'll turn off the AC. But it looks like you got your fingerprints smeared all over my windows. I just cleaned them."
"I love this guy," Sosa says.
The shuttle driver takes his seat at the wheel and speaks into a microphone as we lurch forward. "Every year, people come from all over the world to see the Canyon. All kinds of people. They come from Europe, Asia, Canada, all over the United States. And I'm pretty sure some of them come from another planet."
Bouncy Ball # 80 - The Grand Canyon
"This is so great," I say while we hike down into the Canyon. "So much better than being in L.A. right now."
I work at an elementary school, so I'm actually on Spring Break. I haven't had a Spring Break since college, and even back then, I never went anywhere during my breaks. Mostly, I just slept and drank and slept and drank.
Sosa stops to take a video of the scenery, layers of colossal jagged rock pocked here and there with desert vegetation, pine trees, and giant rock formations that I'd want to play on so badly if I were a little kid.
"You know," I say, "I don't think I'm as afraid of heights as I used to be."
"Yeah." I pause to take in the view. We're on a skinny dirt pathway with no rail, our shoes crunching against the sand and gravel. "Maybe it's because my feet are on the ground. I always feel better when my feet are on the ground."
"Let me carry your backpack," Sosa says.
"You don't have to do that. I can carry it."
"I know I don't have to." He holds his hand out. "We'll take turns."
"But really, I'm fine. It's not even that heavy." I'm not used to letting men hold things for me.
"Just give me the backpack, Leah," he says, shaking his head.
So I do. He carries it all day, and I'm preoccupied with it because I didn't need him to carry it, because I didn't want him to think I expect things like that from him. Every hour on the hour, I turn to him. "You want me to carry that?"
"No," he says. "I got it."
Bouncy Ball # 81 - Excerpt from "Planes, Automobiles, and the Bouncy Ball Project" - Written by Antoinette Dieu
(For the full story and more of Antoinette's adventures, check out her blog, "Wild Okie.")
Spring break finally got here. Finally, finally. Finally!
I had a plane to catch for our Monday flight out to Louisiana to visit my in-laws. G and I hauled our luggage to the local stop, hopped a bus to Seattle, caught a plane to Dallas and then Shreveport, and then rented a car to get around. All told, we spent from about 8 a.m. until about midnight in transport.
And yes, I agreed to go visit my in-laws. I like them. They are fun, including my husband's grandma, my mother and father in law, my sister in law, Stashia, and niece (who we call Ladybug on the 'net). We haven't seen them in 18 months and hadn't met Ladybug yet, and we had a week for break, so why not?
It was a great week. One of the highlights was participating in "The Bouncy Ball Project". I have a friend, Leah Kayajanian, who is a stand up comic in LA. Straight up. If that doesn't make you fear/respect/lust after her, you should also know that I met her in grad school. She's a great writer. So when she asked if I'd like to participate in her Bouncy Ball Project, I agreed.
Leah is one of those people you would be like if you had the guts to abandon everything you used to be to become the person you want to be. She's smart, funny (obvs), hard working and I imagine her as something close to Cobie Smulder's character Robin Scherbatsky, drinking whiskey and chasing wild men. I would've driven to LA to get the bouncy ball, just to tell a good story and toss a ball out to the mercy of the universe. She has her name on all of them, too. I think that takes a certain amount of chutzpah, to say, Yes, I'm littering in the technical sense, but I'm really just spreading good plastic vibes. Call me sometime.
It was in the low 60s. After Ellensburg with its snow still on the ground, that's a warm spring day. I got Stashia and Debbie (my mother in-law) in on the plan, which seems appropriate. Yes, my accomplices in creative littering were my sweet, thoughtful, church-going in laws. You'd think that these traits would work against the bouncy ball project, but you would be wrong. These women are sort of hardened criminals, prone to gleeful ball tossing at random intervals.
Nobody would suspect them.
Oh, and if anyone finds that ball, it wasn't me who put it there, despite photographic evidence. It's got Leah Kayajanian's name all over it.
Bouncy Ball # 82 - Ray
"This is my tenth time doing stand-up," Ray says. "And I don't know if I'll ever stop being this nervous."
The audience, full of comics waiting to get on at the Improv open mic, applauds. Comics aren't necessarily nice people, but we're pretty supportive when someone tells us they're new to stand-up. I have a theory it's because stand-up has ruined our lives, so we want to encourage other people to do it, too, to share in our misery. Kinda like what I hear about having kids.
"I don't know if I'll ever be funny doing this, but I like coming here every week," Ray continues, his voice cracking. "I can't think of my jokes right now. I'm drawing a blank."
"You got this!" someone shouts out from the back of the room.
Ray looks out toward the voice. "I really can't think of what I came up here to say."
It strikes me to see someone so new up there, the Improv logo blazing behind him. I try to imagine it's me, that I've just started doing stand-up. I try to put myself back in that head space - the anxiety, the panic, the insecurity. But I can only remember that because I know it happened. I can't remember the feeling of it, how it feels to be afraid of what people think.
In that way, Ray is brave, and I am not. Like I heard on "Game of Thrones," you can only be brave if you are afraid.
"I can't go on at the Ice House anymore," Ray continues. "I don't ever tell any jokes there because I can't think of any. So I just get onstage there and do what I'm doing now - just ramble about how I can't think of my jokes."
"Tell us a joke!" someone shouts. "You can do it!"
Ray looks up at the red light bulb on the beam just under the ceiling, indicating he has a minute left. "I think that's pretty much all my time." He starts to put the mic back in the stand.
"Ray!" Jamar yells. He's the host of the Improv open mic. "I'm not letting you get offstage until you tell us a joke."
"But..." Ray says. "Really, I don't want to take up everyone's time."
The crowd starts clapping, shouting. "You can do it! Tell us a joke, Ray!"
Even I cup my hands around my mouth to yell, "You got this!"
Ray stares. "Really, I, uh, don't know what to say."
We clap. We woot and holler. We pound on our tables. We chant his name. It's actually a beautiful moment, the way all of us, usually so self-involved and preoccupied with what's going on in our own minds, rally together in this second to get behind this guy. I don't know about everyone else in this room, but I need Ray to tell his joke.
"Come on, Man!" Jamar says.
"Okay," Ray says.
We stop pounding. We stop clapping. A sudden silence takes over the room.
"I used to be homeless," Ray says. "I lived on Skid Row. But I would trick real estate agents into showing me really nice places in downtown L.A. by pretending I was a writer for Warner Brothers. Man, you guys, some of the views that I've seen of this city..."
He continues, "One time, I was in an elevator with this lady, and we were going up to the Penthouse of the Ritz Carlton. And she turns to me and says, 'So who do you know?' So I told her I knew Mike Espy, you know, like the Espy awards? And she believed me! She brought me up to the penthouse, and I walked over to the window, and you guys, I could see the whole city below me."
Bouncy Ball # 83 - Natural History Museum - "The Silk Road" Exhibit
"Would you like to touch a silkworm cocoon?" a young museum guide asks as we approach. He's standing next to a display case housing actual silkworms.
"I have a dumb question," Becky says. "Are these worms considered insects?"
"Yes," Sten says. "They're moths."
I've just met Sten - I made a last second decision to meet Becky at the Natural History Museum's Silk Road exhibit, and Becky brought Sten with her. Sten's her girlfriend. Or a girl she's dating. Or person she's interested in. Or a person in an open marriage that she's fucking. Or they're friends. Or they're close enough to buy a museum membership together. Or whatever. I'm completely exhausted trying to pin down their relationship, but luckily it doesn't seem to matter to either of them.
I like Sten immediately because she's a know-it-all, and she shares random science and history facts through the entirety of our tour. Becky and I know literally nothing.
"That's not a dumb question at all," the museum guide says. "Silkworms are not actually worms. They're caterpillars. And if you look really closely, you'll notice at the front of their bodies, they have six tiny legs. These are their actual legs, their insect legs, but they don't use them to get around. They use those pods." He points out the small circular "feet" on the caterpillars underside, which inches them forward.
I bend down over the glass to get a better look at the silkworms. Sure enough, there are six tiny insect legs. "Wow," I say. "I never knew that." I should've paid more attention in science class. (This is a thought I have at least once a week.)
The guide hands Sten a cocoon, the outside white and soft like a cotton ball, hard in the center. Tufts of white thread are sticking out on one end, raw silk fibers. We pass it down, all three of us running our fingers over its exterior while the guide explains to us that for over two thousand years, China was the only place that new how to make silk. They kept the silkworm a secret from the rest of the world for that long.
"Two thousand years?" I ask. "Really?"
"Yes," the guide says. "Can you imagine?"
I can't. I'm transparent. Everything about my life is out in the open. Everyone knows all my tricks. Everyone knows how I spin silk stories out of raw thread.
At each stop on the exhibit, I'm struck by the fact that so many years ago, people still existed, and really, they are the same as we are now - the world was just much bigger to them.
I think about merchants on long desert safaris, trading Chinese silk from Xi'an for exotic foods and spices in Turfan. I think of their relief when they reach the gates of a new city, hear the bustle inside, and the comfort washes over them because they know that whatever happens on the journey back, they've made it this far. There are people here.
On my way out, I walk down the ramp outside the front of the building and drop the bouncy ball behind me, right in front of a woman who's peddling bags of chips from the inside of a baby stroller.
Bouncy Ball # 84 - Anahit
"Miss Kayajanian? Leah?"
It's rare that people pronounce my last name right on the first try. I look up from the Cosmo magazine I'd picked up from the rack in the "quiet room" at this day spa. I don't read Cosmo, but I also don't go to day spas, so I figured why not see what all these pampered women are doing with their day?
I'm here because Sosa did a comedy show for the people who run this spa, and he got paid in a gift certificate. I signed up for an 25-minute massage ($80 for "non-members"), and I arrived early to take advantage of the "amenities" the place also offers.
As far as I can tell, Cosmo magazine has no actual information in it. Up to this point, my afternoon at the day spa really only made me feel more alienated from other women because I just don't understand any of this stuff and because I am completely unable to relax.
I had gotten in a hot tub for about five minutes. I tried to clear my mind, but I can't stare at walls without my mind telling me I'm wasting time. I drank 17 cups of infused water. I used every single free product they had in the spa (I took a shower to do this, even though I'd showered earlier that day). I stared at a bowl of cucumbers with the sign "Refresh your eyes" underneath, and I thought about how if that sign weren't there, I would for sure have just started eating the cucumbers.
I stepped on a scale that didn't work to see if I'd gained any weight. When no one else was around, I stood naked in front of the mirror, and I realized that I spend way more time doing this than I'd like to admit. I never look at my face, but I always look at my body because it's been my work of art, my magnum opus.
So what am I gonna do when it all breaks down?
I stand up, tighten my robe. I see a middle-aged woman at the doorway, a warm and welcoming smile.
"You speak Armenian?"
"No," I say.
"Ah," she says. "Your last name. I thought you were Armenian. It must be your husband's name."
"No," I say. "It's mine. I just don't speak it."
"That's okay." She wraps her arm around my shoulder like it's the most natural thing in the world, and I feel so safe, I want to turn to her and say, "Mother?" Instead, I look at her name tag.
"Is your name Anahit?" I ask.
"Yes," she says.
Anahit, Anahit, Anahit. I keep saying it over and over in my mind. It's an Armenian name. I love it. When I look it up later, I find it means "moon goddess," "healer," "water and wisdom," "fertility."
I've never had a massage. My whole life, I've been hesitant to let people massage me. I still cringe when acquaintances of mine rub my shoulders - I hate that. Don't do that to me. I know you mean well, but I hate it.
But I don't hate this. In fact, I'm surprised at how sore and beat up my body is. Some of it, I was aware of going in. For example, my left elbow has been aching for two months straight, and I've been waiting for it to just go away even though I have awesome health insurance.
I also have crazy tension in my shoulders - the yoga instructor who comes to our school tells me that every single week. Also, my ribs on my right side have been hurting the past few days, I think because of the 30 Day Ab Challenge, which I finished in February, then decided to do again in March with Sosa.
Still, there are other pains in other places. There's a sharp pain deep in my lower back. It hurts so much that whenever Anahit's hand comes close to it, I brace myself. I feel like one false move, and she'll pop my entire spine out of whack.
Afterwards, when Anahit walks me out, she puts her arm around my shoulder again. "You need to come in for longer," she says. "You need to get better."
I know I'm not coming back. My life doesn't really have a place for luxuries like this.
Bouncy Ball # 85 - UCLA Medical Center
"What did he say?" Sosa asks.
"He said that it's from working out too hard." I'd just come from the doctor, who'd diagnosed my sore elbow by backing up Sosa's suspicion that I've over-exerted it.
"Yes!" Sosa says. "I told you. You need to rest. You can't keep doing that."
"I know." I sigh. "He says no working out my arms. No carrying heavy things. He told me I shouldn't even twist door handles."
"You're not gonna like this," Sosa says, "but I don't think you should do that two-minute plank today."
"Oh come on!" I say. "It's the last thing on the last day! I'm not gonna just stop now!"
"I knew you wouldn't," he says. "But you should. Leah, the doctor told you not to open doors. You want to rest on your elbow for two minutes?"
"It's the last day," I say. "After this, though, I'll definitely rest."
"Fine," he says. "But you can't keep going like this. Your body can only take so much."