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Location: Ohio, United States

I am on a fantastic journey, embracing life with everything I've got!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Final Days of Barbarianism

I’m still reeling from a major life transition, caught between two worlds and trying to move forward as best I can.

If it hadn’t been for those final days in Santa Barbara…days that were like the rich, sweet, mouth-watering icing on the “cake” that was my life there…perhaps things would be different. But I’m sitting here with the sweet taste still in my mouth, reflecting on what an impact that city had on my life. Especially those wild, spontaneous, final days of unpredictable and unadulterated fun.

Santa Barbara was so many things to me, I don’t even know where to start.

Santa Barbara was healing. When you’re caught between the silent strength of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the unstoppable rhythmic power of the Pacific …you can’t help but feel the energy charge. You feel old wounds slowly begin to heal and disappear. You develop an innate ability to focus on the now, and the endless possibilities in your life.

Santa Barbara is flat-out freakin’ BEAUTIFUL. Wherever you turn, there is a view. The mountains, the palms, the streets canopied with tunnels of Italian pines, the Spanish architecture, the shops and galleries and cafes and fountains…a virtual feast for the senses. A window looking out on State Street is writer’s paradise…between the assortment of people one can watch passing by outside and the colorful conversations going on inside, there is always plenty of fodder for story scenes and ideas.

Santa Barbara makes it easy to stay fit. Between the beach walks, the mountain hiking trails, the ethnic restaurants, and the sparse fast food chains…one can eat healthy, get free exercise, and hardly ever crave the hibernation and comfort food that accompany long periods of cold and gray.

Santa Barbara has a lot going on in the way of theatre, music, yoga, dance classes and other cultural events. However, there are more places in its downtown nightlife that cater to the twenty-somethings and college kids. As a forty year-old woman, I yearned for a man who didn’t need to drink a lot in order to have fun, and who found great value in staying home, snuggling in, cooking dinner and watching funny movies together. I’ll be damned if I didn’t manifest this very man in the eleventh hour.

“Hey Alex, want some apple pie?”

Ah, the question that launched a beautiful friendship. One of the most extraordinary friendships I’ve ever had in my life, actually. I’d just returned from a cross-country flight from Ohio (after a whirlwind tour of NYC, Ohio and North Carolina) and was exhausted. Thank goodness I stopped to check my email before heading to bed, because that’s when he peeked in and saw me home.

“He,” being my handsome, affable neighbor from two doors down. The man who, for the longest time, was known as “cute single dad neighbor.” He’d moved into the complex during the previous winter and often had his eight year-old son living with him there. My first impression when I saw him was “very friendly, very lovable…but wounded heart.” He always had a bright smile and a hello whenever we’d cross paths. Listening to the empathetic and genuinely caring way he talked to his boy, I knew he was a really good dad and therefore possessed a really golden heart. I admired him from a distance until one night, under a lovely full moon, we stopped to talk on our balcony and he shared about his recent divorce. I offered him compassionate words about having been there for siblings when they all went through that sort of heartbreak. I also told him I thought he was doing really well for himself, all things considered.

Later, when spring turned to summer, we met up at the pool a lot and got to know one another. I learned of his very extraordinary (there’s that word again) career that entailed setting up special events at famous places with scenery, balloons, draping and various media. When he wasn’t doing that, he was doing carpentry. Never a dull moment and never a day of cube farm slavery. An artist in his own right, who was not moody—but very grounded, confident, humble and hilarious.

“You whistle a lot, so you must be pretty happy,” I told him one day as we shot each other with squirt guns in the pool.

He just gave me an evil grin and replied, “Or crazy.”

I knew then that we were going to be very good friends. We resonated with one another. I understood his whacked sense of humor, and he understood my appreciation for men who could make me laugh. Our night of apple pie and a long talk until 1 am sealed the deal.

My neighbor has a very unique name, so to protect his anonymity, I will henceforth refer to him as “Mike.” This is what my friend’s son insisted on calling him all day on the 4th of July when we all hung out at the pool. My friend does look a little like a Mike, so it works. He also looks like a brown-eyed, younger version of Chris Isaak…in a small way.

When Mike finally found out that I was leaving for Ohio at the end of summer, alarm registered in his eyes. “You are? Did you tell me that already???”

“It never came up,” I said sheepishly, and with a hint of sadness. I was hearing Alanis Morissette’s Isn’t It Ironic playing in the background of my mind, and it stayed on “repeat” for the next three days. And then I actually met Alanis the following week. Isn’t THAT ironic?

Knowing that we only had a month and a half in which to enjoy one another, Mike and I launched into a blue streak of fun. We took his son hiking up to a local swimming hole in the mountains. We laughed at stand-up comics and old episodes of The Office until our guts hurt and our smile muscles went numb. We watched a couple of movies and took turns falling asleep in the middle of them. He cooked me Chinese dumplings and basmati rice, and I made him veggie wraps and root beer floats. We stole snatches of conversation at the pool in between laughing at his son’s crazy waterbug antics. (His son was adorable and had one of the most amazing personalities I’ve ever seen in an 8-year-old kid).

Mike helped me open myself up to dating fathers again. In a past relationship, my mate was not willing to love me and his child equally (believe me, I know there is no love like a love for one’s child; however, the two kinds of love are apples and oranges and can therefore be shared evenly) and it broke my heart, so I slammed the door on single dads and locked it. Mike and his son showed me how sweet it can be to share a man’s existing family, and next thing I know, the door was unlocked and open again.

Oh, but there was SO much more!

In my final days of Santa Barbara, I became a vampire!

Mike kept a very odd work schedule with self-imposed graveyard shifts. He drank coffee at midnight and went down to his studio by the beach until the sun came up.

Ah, the studio! A magical place, that. It was like a grown-up version of Peewee’s Playhouse. There were all kinds of props and toys and decorations hiding up in the rafters behind tarps. There were rows and rows of boxes holding everything from hardware pieces to toys. Mike had guitars, keyboards, a trumpet and three different kinds of speakers. There was an office in a loft upstairs, and a play area for his son downstairs. Outside the main room was a complete wood shop with sawdust on the floor. To top it all off, there was a killer sound system resounding through the entire side of the warehouse. Everything packed into that studio chronicled his life thus far. And a colorful life it was.

I never tired of hearing his life stories. World-class yapper that I am, it was rather good for me just to listen for a change. He was always amazed that I cared. Mike rarely asked questions about my life, but when I chose to share something he’d listen and make earnest comments that let me know he’d really heard.

There were also times when we shared long periods of silence. With my cup of midnight coffee I would sit on a stool and watch him work. He slapped shelves together like they were Leggos, and it fascinated me. He was so strong and capable and could tackle just about anything. Sometimes in those moments of silence, he’d come out of left field with a very honest and heartfelt observation about himself, relationships, or life. It showed me what a deep thinker he actually was, and what a brilliant and beautiful mind he was hiding behind a mask of nonsense.

My only disappointment with Mike was that he would not let me in. He admitted to always having been that way, and using his incessant humor to keep people at bay. His humor could be wonderful, like an injection of happiness, but it could also be a royal pain in the ass when it didn’t let up in moments of seriousness. That was okay too, because at that point—with the question of him being a future boyfriend moot—I was much better able to accept him exactly as he was.

Every few days I found myself drawn back to the studio, following him around as he excitedly showed me all his toys and projects and plans for renovation. He’d play obscure songs I hadn’t heard since high school (it was so nice having the same love of music and movies in common) and actually turned me on to others that I swore I’d never like (*Kid rock, cough cough*) There was a perfect spot in between all the mounted speakers where you could literally feel the resonance of the music all around you, every note so crisp and sharp.

“I will forever remember my final days in Santa Barbara as a vampire, hanging out with Mike Hemmingway (also changed to protect the guilty).”

Mike just smiled and said something like, “…and I’ll remember hanging out with Alexandra.”

Then came the final night in my beloved American Riviera.

After I’d said goodbye to all my friends, Mike and I went to a diner and had our last face to face heart to heart. When we parted ways, he folded me in his arms and told me, “Anything you decide to do, I’m sure will work out just fine.”

Those words of faith and encouragement and belief in me sank into my heart and have been lodged there ever since.

I am so grateful for my eleventh hour gift of spending time with a guy as intriguing Mike, doing out of the ordinary things, and feeling more alive than ever before. It was a wonderful note on which to end a beautiful chapter.

Sometimes, I feel that “Mike” was the embodiment of everything Santa Barbara was to me. Beautiful, charming, fun, and so easy to be with…but with aspects that discouraged permanency.

I drove away the next morning, down the 101, and left that beautiful paradise behind me. I saw the familiar mountain range grow distant in my rear view mirror. It was so very heartbreaking, and yet I knew it was what I had to do.

And what I’ve learned, two months later, is that it’s still with me. It’s in my heart, it’s in my memories, it is a slideshow of lovely images in my head as I’m going about my work or everyday tasks or just sitting and meditating. Never before has a place gotten so ingrained in my soul. I am truly grateful I had the gift of Santa Barbara in my life, and that I can always use it for my highest good wherever I go and whatever I do.

Getting all this out of my mind and onto a page was absolutely necessary in order for me to keep moving forward…with all endings come new beginnings, and so far this new chapter of my life has worked out well.

In my next entry, I should probably start mentioning all the new victories I have co-created in my life. I swear, life just gets more and more interesting, doesn’t it?


Blogger bhd said...

Interesting? Oh yeah.

Keep writing.

Love from us!

1:03 AM  
Blogger winter said...


9:57 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Mike! :giggles:

its a step towards the man that deserves the tsunami of love. he is closer to where you are every second. I can feel it.

love you.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Anica said...

That is so great. Keep on writing your wonderful journal. You have a great talent.

2:17 AM  

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