Chapter 1: The Diner

I came to a halt as a vibrant neon sign came into focus up ahead. “Hot coffee and flapperjacks, 24/7.” I could already taste sticky sweet syrup mixed with a coffee ending. Snow was falling and the air was peacefully still, with each flake creating its own small sound once hitting the road. I rubbed my hands together and blew hot air into a slit between both palms. That night was the type of cold where it almost seemed burning hot. I smiled through cracked lips and crunched my way through the snow, towards the diner that I decided was an angel.

Steam fogged the windows from the inside out and only a few patrons vacated the place. I opened the door and was welcomed by a familiar tune: Santo and Johnny’s Sleepwalk. I beamed. How appropriate.

“Is it just yourself tonight?” I snapped out of my dream and found the voice that was talking at me. A woman in her late 60’s with white/blonde frizzy hair, bright pink crayon-like lipstick, and a vibrant blue eyeshadow to match her dress and apron. Her name tag said Dotti and I could’ve kissed her on the mouth.

“That’s right, just me,” I said feeling tears well in my eyes. I quickly grabbed a seat in a booth. The seats were plush pink with a light blue trim, and leather yellow diamonds on the upholstery. I couldn’t help feeling like I was sitting on this woman’s face. I chuckled. Why did I feel high right now?

“What can I get cha, honey?” she asked.

I flipped the menu over, front to back, and placed it back on the table.

“I’ll just have a cup of coffee and the short stack please,” The heart wants, what the heart wants.

She gave me a sad smirk and walked back to the kitchen. I looked around and studied everything that was on the walls. A big clock with Elvis in the middle, sat proudly in the centre of the wall above the milkshake machine. His big arm pointed to the 11, and his little arm pointed to the 15. 11:15pm. Best time of day to have a cup of joe and a stack of hot cakes, I reckon. There were black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe, more Elvis, Dolly Parton, Aubrey Hepburn, John Wayne, James Dean, Grace Kelly, and so on and so on. All the greats. The floor was a checkered black and white tile, and the light was a bit hazy. This must be what the inside of a jukebox feels like. I’ve never felt so comfortable. I’ve always been in love with diners. The more grime, the better.

I skimmed over my fellow inmates. A rancher hunched over at the bar who looked like he’d either just finished a work day from hell, or maybe discovered a cheating wife, was staring into his coffee cup, getting lost in its darkness. He had a wrinkly weathered face, but overall looked not too old. I wondered if he was alright and I thought what it would be like making love to him.

Two old birds sat in a booth near the front door. One was extremely wealthy looking. She had on a fur coat of sorts with bright red lipstick, and a giant pearl necklace. The other couldn’t be more opposite. She had dyed maroon hair, a red lip, and was in a raggedy sweater and pair of old Levi’s. They sat in complete silence, each picking at their hash browns.

A plate stacked high with pancakes and a mug with liquid gold was set in front of me. “Here ya go, sweet. You sure you’re okay? Can I get cha anything else?” The waitress looked down at me warily and almost sympathetically.

“No ma’am, I’m okay thank you,” I said. She shrugged and walked back over to the magazine she was reading. Billie Holiday now took over the muffled speakers. I’d never been happier.

The first sip of coffee made me think of mom. She always put the coffee on first thing in the morning and brewed it strong. The pot was filled to the max of 12 cups, so it could be enjoyed at all hours of day and night. Syrup and coffee always lingered in our kitchen, which eventually took over the whole house. My friends used to call our house “The Candy House” because it always smelled of sweets and coffee.

I let the butter sink a bit deeper into my pancakes before swirling it around. I slowly poured that Canadian maple over the cakes and let the steam reach my face. Pancakes really are a true piece of art. My grandpa used to say that good pancakes and a cup of joe could cure cancer- I believe him.

A burning sensation took over my left knee, where the rip in my jeans was. I reached down under the table and lightly touched the swelling and hot surface. I could feel my body tumbling out of the car once more. The brisk air stinging my face, the smack and roll I did into the snowy ditch. The screech of brakes on ice and the burning gleam of brake lights hitting my face. I found my feet after forgetting I had such things, and before I could even understand the pain was in, I ran. The taste of blood filled my mouth, my lungs stung, my head hurt, but this burst of energy came from somewhere deep within my soul, and I ran with it.

Shaking my head, I took a sip of coffee and got back to the pancakes, which were transporting me to better times. I felt light and airy, like dust settling down after a bomb has exploded minutes prior. Ella Fitzgerald now.

“Sweetie, you want to use the phone and call someone?” piped Dotti from behind the counter. With a shake of my head, I got out of my seat and went to the bathroom. Quietly I closed the door behind me and looked into the mirror. I let out a huge sigh and put my palms on the bathroom sink. The face staring back at me was almost unrecognizable. This woman had a dirty face, messy hair tangled with dirt and weeds, dried blood at the top of her head, and smeared red lipstick. These people must thing that i’ve just been gang-banged in a suburban. I turned on the tap and splashed some water on my face. Now I understood Dotti’s concern. My thoughts drifted to Eddy for the first time in about two hours. What his face must’ve looked like as I threw myself out of the car. I imagined his light blue eyes transforming to that dark hazel. His confusion and hurt projecting in his cries out to me as I ran through the abyss. I’ve never heard a man yell out like that; let alone Ed. Suddenly, I felt spit coming up in my mouth. Shame was what I was afraid of, and here it was hitting me square in the face in this tiny diner bathroom that reeked of lavender. The poor man. All he ever did was love me and try to understand my irrational behaviors. Truth is, I didn’t have an excuse for what I did. I just knew I needed to go and go the way I did. I spewed in the sink and walked back out to my booth.

The two old birds, the rancher, and Dotti, were all staring at me. It was as if the music had stopped and there was a spotlight following my steps. Pausing at my table, I filled up my coffee, and walked over to the rancher. I just needed to talk to someone. Maybe hear about someone else’s pain to forget about mine. It was selfish, but this new person I was turning into didn’t care.

He wore one of those Stetson cowboy hats. Like the ones bull riders wear at rodeos. A black felt one with a buckle on the side. The black almost looked brown as it was covered in what I assumed was dust. I slid into the booth, opposite to him, and he didn’t even look up. His eyes were still fixed on his coffee, swirling it around with a spoon, clinking the sides of the cup. I looked at the buttons on his denim shirt. The right pocket had the name, “Lolito Ranch” embroidered in green thread.

I cleared my throat a little. “Erm, hi there. My name’s Renee..” I said with a timid tone.

He looked up finally with the greenest eyes I ever did see. Dark circles shadowed underneath, and a suggestion of a dip could be seen in his lip. He smelled of nicotine and cinnamon and I wanted to know more.

“Ma’am,” he tipped his hat, just barely, and his eyes went back to his coffee. There was a faint pink lipstick mark on the lip of his cup and I wondered if it was Dotti’s. Something told me he wouldn’t share his name, so I gave him one: Cowboy.

“Coffee’s pretty good here, huh?” I said.

“Best in Bridgeport,” he slurred.

Bridgeport.. so that’s where we were. The last place I remember passing through was Carson City.

“What brings you to Lulu’s Diner?” said the cowboy.

“Mmm, I was on my way to LA, but there’s been a change of plans, so i’m headed to Kelso.”

“Kelso,” he smirked. “Why in god’s name were you on your way to LA? You tryin’ to be a big movie star?”

I took a slow sip of coffee and smiled. “Maybe, what’s wrong with that?” I remembered all the times I would tell Ed that I wanted to stay in LA. If not LA, then at least anywhere California. It was always a dream to be amongst the woozy atmosphere of Hollywood and venture out. Even to walk around for hours. Stay out all night. Eat pancakes across town. Drink gallons of coffee and write. Sleep on a beach. Work in the day for less than minimum wage at a cafe to save my soul for the things I loved. Anything. He never took me seriously when I shared my dreams of writing, or acting. Spending nights somewhere doing standup or attending an Improv class. I wanted to use my voice and release it into the world. To slather it across Hollywood and see who would have me. Ed was a ‘realist’ as he used to say, and time spent dreaming about such things was time wasted. He was an office manager and was asleep by 9 every night, without fail.

“So what do you do?”  I asked Cowboy.

He let out a sigh and raised a finger in the air to the waitress for a top-up. “I’m a rancher,” He squinted and tipped his hat to Dotti after she filled him up. “I’m just on my way to Borrego Springs to see my old man.”

Borrego Springs. The only thing I knew about that place was that it was in the middle of the desert. I always fantasized about traveling to the desert. Getting swallowed whole in its vastness. Staring up at a big sky and hallucinating on mirage and dehydration. How romantic. I felt aroused and terrified. Not in the way that I wanted to fuck this man. I was impressed with myself. Without even thinking it through, I quietly asked, “Can I come with you?”

He didn’t even look up. I watched the corner of his mouth slightly lift into a crooked smile. “Ain’t you got anything better to do, Miss Hollywood?”

“I’m figuring it out. Plus I’ve always wanted to get lost in a ghost town. Maybe this’ll spark some creativity. Maybe i’ll pick up a pen and write something.”

There was a long and uncomfortable pause. That same smirk stayed on his mouth but there was no doubt an ocean of sadness in his eyes.

“Well, alright then,” he mumbled. “You gonna tell me what happened to your face?”

I got up from the table to go and grab my bag. “Nope.”

And that was that. Dotti filled me up a 16 oz styrofoam cup of sweet joe with a stack of napkins. Immediately I began biting the cup all the way around, making dents with my teeth. Bad habit. I looked back at Cowboy as he was throwing on a brown suede jacket. His boots making a deep click clack sound on the tile, he opened the door for me to pass through first. I took a last glimpse at the inside of my jukebox diner, said goodbye with my eyes to the two old birds who still sat in silence, and waved to Dotti.

You know that feeling when you leave a bar, all boozy and ears ringing from music.. You stumble outside and it sounds as if your ears are plugged or you’re underwater; as if the fun has stopped, the drugs are wearing off, and now you’re tossed back into reality. I felt that a little bit just then. It only just hit me as we were walking towards Cowboy’s blue and white 1963 ford fairlane. I clutched my bag to my chest with a fishbowl brain swimming of insecurities and small regrets. Cowboy opened the passenger side door for me and I nearly bounced off the seats from how bouncy those springs were. His car smelled of cigarettes and horse tack. Fuck I loved that smell. I thought of mom for a split second. Us on grandma’s ranch riding bareback on two paints toward the base of the mountains in Montana. I was just shy of seven.

“Buckle up, Hollywood.” said Cowboy fastening his seat belt. He adjusted the rearview mirror and started it up. It only hit me this man couldn’t have been driving a more inappropriate car in the snow. I wondered if I had any sort of weapon in my bag. A pair of nail clippers? Could you stab someone with that? A glimpse of marijuana wafted in the air as I shuffled and I remembered I had some weed in my bag. I wonder if he was into that sort of thing. He rolled down his window half way and spit out his dip. We made a left out of the lot and made our way South. He fiddled with the dial on the radio until it settled on fuzzy station that played a familiar song: Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia. Ed used to sing it in the shower sometimes. I looked out the window to pure darkness and wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. I was levitating, but outside of myself. I didn’t have the slightest idea what would happen in the next day, night, five minutes even, and this made my heart dance. Wait, how could I just hop into a car with a man who wears suede in snow? Cowboy started to sing along to Bruce and I chuckled quietly; I still didn’t catch his name.

 

Tick My Box

It’s nearly 1am, on a Saturday. (Sunday, I guess technically). The moment I walked through the door today, I ate about three brownies, and fell into an accidental four hour nap. Tomorrow is my only day off, so naturally, i’ll be up for the next five hours bouncing back and forth between my book and podcasts. Tis the season!

It’s funny- these last couple weeks have been extremely challenging for me. I’ve started up at a new job that i’m very up in the air about. I love the people and the industry, but I keep having the sense that it’s not my place. Not that it’s not an amazing company to work for! It’s not you..it’s me.  I left my last job because I had this same wrenching feeling, and hoped to get fulfillment upon entering a new role. I get that a lot though, and it can be extremely aggravating feeling like I don’t have a place yet. Sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyone else seemingly having their “shit together” for lack of a better term, and here I am, floating around, hoping that someday something is just going to click. One can’t help but think, maybe its me? Maybe there is something wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy?

I just quickly want to add here- I’m not one of those people that solely believes in fate, destiny, paths, yada yada yada, BUT, i’m more of a shy believer. Kind of reminds me of the time I bought my first Cosmopolitan magazine at a Walden’s bookstore. They were held behind the counter at the time and you had to ask the person at the til to grab one for you. I was maybe 13, and after mustering up the courage to ask, and letting out a squeak whisper, only to get said person on the loudspeaker asking for more Cosmo’s from the back. I probably wrote about it later in my Harry Potter diary. I had the one where it looked like The Monster Book of Monsters and would actually let out a horribly overly-electronic sounding growl of a monster when you opened it. Also had a key to get into it. Classic. This actually has nothing to do with fate or destiny. I just needed to talk about it.

I think some folks like to play the fate card when they have no idea what the fuck to do or are unsure on how to handle a situation that life throws, but it’s okay! It’s our destiny! It’s our fate.. it will all work out in the end. If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen. I get it. Everyone has to believe in something, right? Somethin’s gotta help pull us through. However, that can be a tricky path to go down. For me personally, relying on fate, destiny, paths, etc, this can cause us to be bleak and desolate. We just exist and stop working at bettering ourselves because we are under the impression that it’ll all work out the way it’s supposed to- lazy, might be a better word. That being said, I can’t help but get a little caught up in some of this mumbo jumbo.  This whole, everything happens for a reason thing.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend whom I haven’t spoken to in a long time tonight that really enlightened me.  We chatted about a topic that was so out of the blue, so random, yet has also been so loudly present and reoccurring for me these last two weeks. A topic that i’ve been silently tossing around in my head and trying to navigate by myself. The topic was simply, following your dreams. I know how disney princess, la-la land that sounds, but it’s fuckin’ true and not taken as seriously as it should. We chatted about how life has this gross way of trying to rip our dreams and real ambitions out of our tightly grasped hands and filling our open, empty palms with distractions that don’t actually matter but are disguised as things that should matter. These ‘things’ are the gremlins that take up all of our time and energy, leaving us with exhaustion and not enough time to devote ourselves to our passions. We’re left confused, ushered on, and following the rest of the heard. Like cows being corralled up for feeding time. Mmm..slop for dinner! By the way, that friend of mine has left his corporatey bullshitty job and has gone freelance now. His lasting words to me tonight were: It’s always fear that keeps you in the same position. But once you break out, life is 1000x better because the universe actually wants you to succeed. Ha! Killer.

But what happens when you have so many dreams and so many different things that interest you? How can you possibly narrow it down to one thing for the rest of your life to fulfill your emotional, spiritual, and physical needs? How could anyone confidently answer that question?!

Here I was, in my post-brownie coma, 1:15am, reading an email from the director at Creative Hub sent two days ago, informing me that I had missed the deadline to enroll for my creative writing course that was starting up next week. I felt a huge rush of devastation fall over me. I had been so occupied and caught up in work, doing 6 day work weeks, life admin, etc, that I had completely missed the deadline for the enrollment fee for the one thing that I wanted to do. The one thing that was for me. For itching my creative scratch. Tuning in and logging off. Luckily, he has enrolled me for the next semester, which I WILL be at, and will be 100% ready for. Anyway, after reading that email, I received a random follow from an author on instagram. Her name is Marianne Cantwell and I stared at her name for a good minute because it seemed very familiar. I quickly stalked her profile, as ya do, and discovered, oh! She’s the author of “Be A Free Range Human” that’s been on my “To Read” list for quite some time. I also saw that she had done a TED Talk called “Hidden Power Of Not (Always) Fitting In.”

‘Hmm’.. I thought. First my thoughts in my head of not fitting in, then my random chat with a friend, now an even more random trail that has brought me to this TED talk that was SO relatable. I highly encourage you to check it out, btw.

Marianne talks about “Liminality.” This word is actually a little bit hard to find a definition on the web, or even in dictionaries. Liminal Space is like this massive in-between state. The word “liminal” is actually derived from the latin word limen, which means “a threshold.” During a liminal stage, people hover at a threshold between their previous ways, but not yet onto future ways. This can be anything from, forming your identity, a relationship, a new job, etc. At least that’s my understanding of the word. The way Marianne talks about Liminality, is in a positive one. She expresses that it’s totally OK to be a liminal. If you’re different than all the rest, bravo! This is good! Don’t suppress your differences or the things that make you unique. Don’t shush those attributes. Shed light on them. Pull them up and assemble them. People don’t have to feel like they need to have one main purpose in life or know exactly what they should be doing. Not all of us are like that. What about the others? Those are the badass creative people that inspire us! Those are the people moving mountains and setting themselves apart. The people that seem to have their hands in different baskets, grasping for straws, trying to figure out where they fit in. The only reason, I think, that this causes disorientation, is because we are living in a society that makes us believe that we should all be on a path and stick to that path. Find one thing and stay with it. A little chaos and uncertainty is a good thing. A mess can create beautiful new opportunities that never would have arisen had it been white picket fences and begonias. I fucking HATE begonias.

Well, I haven’t found that “one thing” and I don’t think I ever will, thank you very much. I have such a wide range of interests and things that fascinate me..it would be impossible to try and narrow that down! I love writing, singing, acting, making coffee, traveling, performing, eating, growing plants, being a homebody and alone, but also out and amongst it all, extroverted but also highly introverted, happy but depressed, stable but very emotional.. I have it all. And i’m done trying to narrow that down to one thing.

I think i’m doing the right thing by exploring my creative flares and even if it doesn’t fit into my schedule whatsoever, i’m making it fit, because this is what I want to do. I don’t know where it will lead or what will come of it, but I have to do something! I can’t just waste this and let it rot at the bottom of the fridge. I don’t want any of the other stuff that takes up my day. How is that fair? How does life get to dictate what takes up our time? I’m doing my best to demand the time for myself and I feel everyone should. Fight back on what life tries to claim as “normality” and get back whats yours. This is your life. Not anyone else’s. Not everyone has one box to tick. Or one genre to stick to. Tick all of the boxes! As mom always says and as Anne Rice has famously said, “Don’t be a pawn in somebody’s game. Find the attitude which gives you the maximum strength and the maximum dignity, no matter what else is going on.”

Don’t follow the herd. Don’t follow the line to the same barrier of a  water trough. Don’t let barriers turn into barricades. Venture off and find your own fresh water stream that leads to much better things.

Photo credit: The amazing, Sally Nixon @sallustration