May 5, 2012

an unsent letter

april 26, 2012, a better day than this one.


on my first morning in the desert, I sleep fitfully, as usual, and wake early, also as usual. the hotel is very quiet. I put on a swimsuit and creep down the steps to the pool, where I slip into the water and trace circles around the perimeter in lieu of laps. maybe half an hour passes. a woman and her little boy come in. he says hi to me in that way small children have, somehow both gregarious and shy. I'm tired, or maybe just tired of circles, so I pick up my book and a towel and I move to the hot tub. as I read, a man walks through the gate, a little toddler boy in tow. the man is in a jean jacket. the little boy has huge eyes and dark brown hair. as the man fiddles with his cell phone, the boy, probably no older than 2, cries "piscine! piscine!" over and over again, which is how I come to realize that they are french.

I towel off and leave the pool, change into a new set of clothes, walk to the front desk and ask for a bike. the one they give me is silver, the seat adjusted all the way down. it isn't a quick-release, so I just leave it. when I pedal, my knees come comically close to my chest. it has coaster brakes. I take a test spin through the parking lot and then shrug my shoulders and pull out onto the road. being on this beach cruiser on a four lane road is so absurd and funny, but I just pedal to the light and signal and turn, and the traffic mostly falls away, and then there is just me and the low-slung houses, all the plants a mystery, pebbles in the yards in lieu of grass. it's overcast, and surprisingly humid for the desert. the air smells like so many flowers. except for my knees, I could pedal down these streets all day. something about the houses and the yards and the rooftops feels intensely familiar to me, almost nostalgic, and I don't have the faintest idea why. the mountains are pressing down from all sides, looming in gravelly silence.

a hummingbird flits from a nearby plant. I pedal very slowly, rapt, and it hovers in the air, just feet from my bike, its bright purple head flashing in and out of view.

I go a mile or so and then come to a screeching halt when I realize I've passed a sign for stables. I backtrack and get off my bike, walk into the parking lot, lock the bike to a post. there's a sign that says "stable office," so I follow it, feeling ridiculously dressed, like an impostor, in a red tank top and running shorts, carrying, of all things, a coach purse. there's nobody in the office, which is covered in dust, but there's a dog lying just outside the door. a heeler, maybe, caked in dirt, friendly but uninterested. I reach down and he sniffs my hand once, then goes back to whatever he's watching for. I stand in the door frame and look around, waiting for anyone to notice me. tied nearby are about a dozen horses, all of them saddled, wearing rope halters. they're well-fed, bordering on chunky. their tails are swishing the flies away.

the dog suddenly gets up and trots towards the mountain, alert, tracking something. into view come three horses and their riders: two women and a man, their guide. the women wear tall boots and breeches -- english riders, like me. at the same moment, a man in a golf cart rounds the corner, another dog in tow. we talk; I ask if they'll take me out by myself, and what it will cost. we talk about my horse, about the summer heat, how they take the horses into the mountains once it gets too hot.

back at the hotel, I lock up the bike and change into a swimsuit, then go back down to the pool, which is still largely unoccupied. I read a magazine. I read my book. I flip onto my stomach, then onto my back, then onto my stomach again. this goes on for six hours.

then, night. I'm in this huge bed, a bed so large I can sleep totally sideways without my limbs falling off. I feel tired and a little restless, wondering if I should go back for a late swim, but not wanting to wash the saline out of my hair again. I want to go for a late walk, but don't know where, and mainly I just wish I had a porch to sit on, a rocking chair to rock in. I'm not lonely, but in the morning and at night I find myself missing the quiet comfort of sitting next to someone on a porch, mostly not talking, looking down the road or out to the beach or off into the woods, wherever the view leads. I think often of my family, of the late july beachhouse, of the afternoon lull when we sit on porches, rocking, sunbaked and tired; when we ride our bikes to one end of the island, admiring the houses; when we walk to the other end of the island, looking for shells.

for me, summer never comes fast enough or stays long enough. I think I would be content to live my life barefoot, barely-clad, sweating lightly, swimming in rivers, listening to the locusts in the trees.

on my second and last morning, I still can't sleep. I loathe air conditioning, and wish I could just prop open the door, let in the breeze, fall back into bed. I get up and pack my bags and rent a bike again, pedal furiously to the barn. the sun bursts free of the gloom. the sky is a deep, impossible blue. I get there too early and scratch the neck of a buckskin gelding who keeps threatening to kick the horse next to him, whose name, I will learn later, is pete.

my guide's name is amy. hair bleached blonde, jeans, boots, spurs. next to her I feel like a fake, dressed in the closest approximation I can muster to riding clothes, which is just bermuda shorts (my longest) and tennis shoes. but when we get onto the trail she says, "want to lope?" and I nod -- this is why I paid for a solo ride -- and we let our horses loose down the sandy path. later, we walk through the mountains and talk about tahoe, where she used to work, and what it's like to live in the desert. our horses walk among the rocks, picking off rogue bites of what looks like inedible brush. when we descend again, she says, "there's a long patch here where we can gallop if you want," and I grin, even though I have actually never galloped a horse in my life. she urges her horse forward, and rocks are flying off his hooves and back at us, and my horse, mouse, is heaving over the sand, and I drop a stirrup but just leave it, let it dangle. her horse spooks at something on the trail and she pulls up, checking behind her. "you okay?" she says, and I'm fine, and off we go again. it was the best part of the ride.

when I came back to the hotel, I packed my bags and put them behind a pool chair, then I checked out and snuck back to the pool, where I stayed, illegally, for four more hours.

maybe this whole ridiculously long letter is my way of telling the story of how suddenly, the world feels almost unbearably beautiful. last weekend, biking until the sun had crisped my edges, until I was covered in bugs; the radiant sunshine, the collective euphoria of everyone who was outside -- I thought to myself, 'this might well be the best day of my life.' this morning, leaning back against a pool chair, staring up at the flowers in the trees overhead, I thought the same thing. there is cotton candy! there are beautiful dogs, and people with their arms draped out of car windows, banners that flutter in the wind. cool bedsheets. there are friends who you don't talk to for ages, and then there they are, giving you back to yourself. puddles and moss and lilacs, dancing and jokes and hot pink nail polish, loved ones who stay up until 2 AM with you because you are sad. I cannot get over it -- I cannot.

I read a book of short stories in my hours by the pool, and in the middle of them it struck me that we live our lives so casually, without urgency. why do we do that? lately, I find myself constantly wondering, is there such a thing as a right time and a wrong time for something? or is there only now?



  1. Just coming back to say that I keep thinking about this letter and your little vacation described in it a lot over the past week. It made me stop and take time to write in my journal last weekend. I miss this kind of long-form observation and delving into the non-digital part of how I write. Thank you for sharing it :)

  2. aw, thanks, j! I wrote it by hand (as an actual letter) over the course of three days. it felt good. I don't do it much either, anymore, except in letters.