Wednesday, January 19, 2005


A couple of weeks ago, I started the second quarter of the memoir writing classes that I'm taking at the UW Extension Writers Program. At the beginning of last quarter, I wrote about the class once or twice. Since I expect to be working harder at producing material for the class this quarter, I'll probably post some of the quick drafts and sketch exercises, as I did here and here last quarter. This is one such fairly short writing exercise. My classmates will give me feedback on this next week (as I will on their writing). It's a process that I sometimes find painful, and always find valuable, so feel free to leave your thoughts.


In February of 1996, I moved to the California Bay Area to live with Paul. He flew to Houston so that we could make the drive west together. When we finished packing my little teal Prizm, the trunk would just barely close, and the back seat was filled to the level of the windows. Along with clothes and other practical necessities were items too precious to leave to the not-so-tender mercies of a moving company: my camera, some artwork, and my violin. I had wanted to take my black cat, Samantha, but I knew from past experience that she would be miserable - and would make us miserable - on the drive. My parents would put her on a flight to California after Paul and I arrived there.

On the morning of the 25th, we happily set off on our second cross-country adventure. Tucked into the crook of my arm as I backed out of my parents' driveway was a small black shearling teddy bear. I'd bought him the day before, responding to a sudden urge to have something soft and furry to hold while making the trip. His name, from the moment I saw him, was Leap Bear, in part for the leap year, but even more for the momentous move that I was making to be with Paul.

After five days of barreling across the country, watching the scenery change while we talked and listened to music and talked some more, and four nights of sleeping entwined in roadside motels, we arrived in the late afternoon of March 1 at a small apartment complex in Mountain View. The building looked a bit like one of the motels in which we had recently stayed. We walked up a narrow outside stair to the apartment door.

Paul unlocked the door to the apartment that was to be our first home together. I walked in, and stopped just inside the door. Paul followed me, closing the door behind himself. My eyes made a quick assessment: gray carpeted living room, white walls, small kitchen to one side, small hall to the other, not much furniture. The room looked bleak, and suddenly I felt bleak, and lonely, and scared.

"I want to go home," I wailed, and burst into tears.

Paul pulled me close. Resting his bearded cheek against the top of my head, he stroked my back. "Oh, honey, it's OK. I know you’re scared, and you're tired. You've just done a really big thing, moving out here with me."

I was crying so hard that I couldn't speak. I just nodded my head against his chest, and held on to his shirt.

When my crying slowed, Paul took my chin in his hand, and turned my face up toward his. His deep blue eyes were sad and serious. "I love you, and I really want you to be happy here. If you're not, you can go back to Houston." Running his thumb across my cheek, he brushed away a few stray tears. "But would you give it a week, at least? Or two?" I hiccupped, and one corner of his mouth quirked up.

"I didn’t mean that I wanted to go home tonight," I managed to say before the next hiccup came. When it did, we both grinned.

After a crying jag, I get the hiccups. From past experience with my tears, Paul knows this pattern. Sometimes there are only one or two; other times they persist. Paul smoothed my hair back from my face, pulling it into a dark ponytail; we waited. When I hiccupped again, he kissed me quickly, and let my hair fall onto my back. Walking toward the small kitchen, he asked, "Cold or lukewarm?"

"Lukewarm's – hicc – fine." I followed him into the kitchen, where he was pouring a glass of water at the sink. When he turned to hand it to me, I saw that the front of his shirt was damp. Taking the glass with one hand, I drank. With the other, I traced the pattern of tearstains on his chest.

"Yeah, look at that," he smiled, looking down at the his shirt.

"I've gone and gotten your shirt all wet. It's been a long time since that happened." I put the glass on the counter. My hiccups were gone. My other hand joined the first, resting lightly on the damp fabric.

"You had lots of good reasons for crying when we were together before," he said quietly. "We both did."

"Let's plan on not doing so much of that ever again." I traced a small scar on his collarbone, one of several from that time. "I think we've had enough for one lifetime."

"How right you are." We stood for a moment, remembering. Paul leaned down to kiss my forehead. "So, how 'bout we get a few things out of your car, and then I take you out for dinner?"

We brought in my violin, and Leap Bear, and our suitcases. That was enough. I had added something of mine to the apartment. We were ready for dinner.

Paul drove us in his car to a Chinese restaurant near the apartment. The interior of the restaurant was beautiful: simple black and white décor with lacquer red Asian artwork. When I commented on how pretty it was, Paul smiled. The man knows what I like. At six o'clock on a Friday evening, we had the room to ourselves. For a few minutes, we sipped tea, not talking, listening to the quiet music of an Asian stringed instrument. We ordered my favorites: orange peel beef, twice cooked green beans and – though Paul does not care for it – eggplant in garlic sauce. The food was wonderful; we ate slowly, almost meditatively. By the end of our meal, I was sated, calm, and sleepy.

On the drive back to the apartment, I thanked Paul. "That dinner was perfect, sweetheart. The place was lovely, the food was lovely... it was just what I needed."

He smiled, and reached over to take my hand. "I thought you would like it. I wanted to go someplace away from your car, away from the apartment, where we could just stop moving for a while and be together."

We turned onto his street... our street. This time, I recognized the turn. At the top of the stairs, he paused, and reached into his pocket. "I have something for you." He handed me a pair of keys on a small ring. "The small one's for our storage locker downstairs. The big one’s for our door. I tested them when I had them made, and they both work."

Putting my key in the lock, I opened the door to our apartment. This time, the room looked not bleak, but unsettled, and a little bare. It needed some color, some artwork, and a small black cat waiting for us to come home. And that would come; it would just take a little time.

Later that night, I was almost asleep, my head resting on Paul’s shoulder. I thought that he was asleep until he sighed and pulled me closer to him. "Oh, Kimmy, I was really stunned when you said you wanted to go home. I didn't know what to do."

"You did all the right things, Paul. Everything you said and did; it was just right." I reached behind me, and found Leap Bear at the edge of the bed. Placing him on Paul's chest, I said, "Here's Leap Bear. You can hold onto him, too. We can both hold onto him together."