Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

Stories

the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

Encinitas Boulevard // Wednesday, 10.03pm

The things we want to do are more scary than the things we don't want to do but could see ourselves doing. That's why I'm gnawing on stale French bread with far more butter than the recommended serving size.

You could also say that I'm doing this because I was delayed in coming home to a timely, sensible dinner by getting myself stranded on Encinitas Boulevard. The General tends to cry wolf when it comes to the gas gauge, and I've learned that seeing the needle hit E is no reason to panic right away. I learned the corollary lesson tonight that there's no reason to get cocky, either; he barely gave a signalling choke before he rattled and quit on me.

Like most unexpected misfortunes, it was a pain of annoyance more than actual harm. But only moments before the General called a timeout, I'd been praying about whether I should take the job in Carlsbad.

-- -- --

It seems the surest cure for creative block is to put yourself in a position where you are well-paid to not use your creativity. For weeks I've been praying "God, give me an opening line, that's all I need to get these stories started." But I keep stalling out, unable to find an opening line that can serve as sparkplug. Now, trapped between the airy picture windows that look out on the bluffs and the sparkling ocean, watching fog dissipate and reconvene from 9 to 7, I have opening lines coming like a bad case of the runs.

The people are lovely, young and irreverent and committed to their work, like third-year college students. The office has everything--flex time scheduling, a well-stocked kitchen, and the aforementioned picture windows. From the first day, the owner said that they'd get me set up on the company computer and eventually I'd start taking the laptop home with me. He likes my work.

I can't bear the thought of sitting in there 9 to 5, or 9 to 7.30, more like. I get home asking frantically "What did I miss?"

I think of what I love doing--waking up with the sun, spending the first hour warming up, reading the Bible, exercising my fingers. I watch the fog roll in and the sun lazily set from the picture window at my favorite time of day to go running, and I think "just a few more days."

But then I think of what I'll do instead. What will I do instead, after I tell them thank you very much, but no? I think of the anxiety of waiting for the phone to ring. I think of rationing out my gas and groceries.

I'd do it, I tell God, if you wanted me to. And what I mean is don't make me choose.

-- -- --

Tonight I was telling Reed about my experience with fear. He's about to apply for emancipation from his parents; that's an actual legal term, and it means that a minor is allowed to live without legal guardians. He can't buy cigarettes or lottery tickets yet, but he can get a job and an apartment at the age of 17.

He's determined and he's scared. He wants to know how you know if it's the right thingso .

I tell him what I've learned, what I've experienced, that you do what you want to do until you don't want to anymore. That if God wants you to do or not do something in particular, He'd let you know, either by telling you or by boxing out your options. If neither of those things happen, I say, then do what you want to do, until it gets so hard or boring that you don't want to do it anymore. Then stop, if you can; if you can't, tell God you want to stop and see how He responds.

Everything, I tell Reed, is an adventure if you let it be.

-- -- --

On the way home from that meeting is when the General conks out.

I'm writing as if it was his fault; of course, it was mine. I should have stopped for gas, but I wanted to get home and thought maybe I could make it. (I should have taken a picture of him, also, but really he looked so pathetic, tilted up against the curb with his rear end sticking dangerously into the lane, I couldn't bring myself to do it.)

Home being this place that God provided for me last month, out of the blue, when I already had abundance of home and no real plan about what to do. This place that I've only got about 2 more weeks in, before I have to make another plan.

It's not the options that I mind. It's making another plan. Instead of taking what's being handed to me. It would be so easy.

-- -- --

As I'm driving home, the General makes a funny noise that I don't recognize, and I start to cry. It's a relief; I wanted to cry ever since toting the plastic spouted can back from the gas station. It gathers momentum when I see that the gas gauge isn't entirely full, which must mean that the click-off of the nozzle was from my debit card drawing all it could from my checking account.

I hate the way fear feels, the way it works my insides like a cruel sibling trying to give an Indian burn. I hate it so much that I shout "No!" What I mean by that is to tell fear that it can't have me back. This is how I used to function. Haven't I been through it enough? Haven't I passed this bar already?

"You can't have me back," I say, and I'm talking to myself and something not myself, something that's not personal that just shows up and feeds off me, like a virus or a tumor. "This isn't what I do anymore," I continue to blubber.

"And God," I say, "I'll do whatever you want. I'll take the job here, if you want me to. I'll stay here and work there."

Then I say, "Or I'll drive to Nashville without any idea of what will happen next."

And just like that, the whimpering shuts off, and I realize what I've really been afraid of.

-- -- --

I was thinking about fasting before, in reference to taking the job or not. I didn't know if I'd actually be able to pull it off, though...whether I'd be in enough serious doubt to sustain the fast.

But now I think I'll do it about going to Nashville. And the peace I have at that thought is marvelous.

Why, then, am I inhaling bread and butter? Because peace is not the same thing as rational certainty. In fact they might not be able to coexist.