Tonight I drove from Truckee to Sacto, over the Donner Summit. I drove along the dark lake circled by tall trees, the highway climbed further up the forbidding mountains of rock and snow with a heavy blackening sky overhead. 166 years ago the wagon-less, starving, forlorn pioneers of the Donner-Reed Party were building cabins at the far end of the frozen lake, hopelessly cut off from the other side of the summit by twenty foot snow drifts, searing cold, and sheer exhaustion. They were still trapped and in the worst shape possible in April; no one could get over the pass to help them, even if they hadn’t been busy fighting the Mexicans for control of California. It took me two hours to make the trip in my minivan, and the rain fell on small patchy piles of dirty snow.
I am thinking about songwriting these days, as if it were my dog, my best friend, who rightly wandered off to go get his needs met elsewhere while I was lost in myself. I sort of assumed he would always be around, though through my most selfish of days I was secretly grateful for the times he would wander off. He needs a break, I would say to myself. We’re just going through some changes. I’ll spend some good time with him when I come out of this spin, he understands. Next time. I missed our happy best buddy days, endless hours of play and communion, but deep down I was relieved when he wasn’t around – freed from the yoke of responsibility, away from the pangs of guilt that came when our eyes met, when he returned to find me right where I had been when he left. It had been so long since I felt like myself around him. Since I felt like myself at all. I’m not quite sure when the last time I saw him was, but it’s been a while, and I miss him. I’m sorry now, and I wish he would come home.
It is sometimes easier to live in your mind in a world of embellished memories and best case scenarios of future projections. If you are sufficiently detached from reality, the lines between memory and fantasy, goal and desire, blur. Keep the ether coming, and you can stay in that world for a long time – things are amazing, more great things are around the corner, all that is wrong will right itself just because it will. I’ll get everything worked out and my dog will come on back home, tail wagging and eyes sparkling, and we’ll go on to live our glorious future days together. It’ll be like no time had past at all.
Only, now that the fog has lifted, his leash still hangs by the door and it is still quiet in the house. Days and days go by, and I come to my senses. Do I really expect him to just trot up the drive like nothing happened and pick up right where we left off? It has been so long since I have lost all sense of time playing with him, I don’t even really remember how. Would it be the same? If he walked up to me now with a ball in his mouth I’m not sure I would know what to do.. It would be awkward. I would probably flood with messy inconvenient feelings. Would he stay? Would he want to give me another try? Who am I now? How did I not realize how long he had been gone?
I wish I could erase this emptiness, fill it with something, but I can’t. I don’t blame him at all for leaving, I was really the one that left. The only way to truly honor the gift he has been in my life would be to really feel the loss of his presence, become willing to meet him wherever he is at, and make it right, one moment at a time. It took time for our ties to wither, it will take time for them to rejoin. If it is to be. Maybe one day he will return to my house for good, lay on the rug by my chair, and sleep. As we sit by the fire, I’ll know he will be there in the morning, and we will enjoy a new day together. Whatever happens, I will work to accept my life as it is.
It could be worse, I could be stuck and starving in the snow up on the Donner Pass. If I had been born as I am in that time period, I wouldn’t even have lived long enough to be a miserable transgendered alcoholic with a mood disorder, I would have died of the ear infections I had as a child. Nothing like a little history to put your life into context and lighten things up 🙂 I went up the mountain hoping my songwriting would magically reappear, and I came back down with the insight that it is a craft I must re-cultivate. I suppose one’s work cant always be easy and sublime, and a greater degree of fulfillment may lie in its use to the world beyond the worker. It’s time to roll up my sleeves.