When I was five years old, I found a gold pocket watch buried deep beneath the snow in the backyard of my childhood home in Weeping Water, Nebraska. I thought it was a shiny toy and tossed it in my top dresser drawer. I don’t know exactly when I learned that it was not, in fact, a shiny toy but a ladies pocket watch valued at $6,000. I carried the treasure with me through many moves. It is a 1862, 24 karat gold Waltham women’s pocket watch – like something George Sand might have worn around her neck as she wrote a story on a manual typewriter. I carried the watch with me when I moved and moved again until I found a watch repair shop in Lafayette, California – a place I lived for less than a year – who swore to repair it to its original authenticity. The part in question was the pin that connects the beautifully designed cover to the body of the watch. Originally, it was 24 karat gold and every watch repair shop I visited over the years suggested using a gold plated pin, which would have taken away from its authenticity. Then, by chance, I found a watch repair shop who was thrilled to see such a rare piece and who had a contact in Chicago that made those pins in 24 karat gold.
I left the watch with the repair shop.
Then, I moved. And moved again. And yet again. Every once in awhile, I would call the shop, and update my contact information hoping that they would finish repairing the watch and return it to me. I called them from Los Angeles, from San Francisco, from New York and from Singapore.
The watch had been with the repair shop for ten years by the time I moved to Portland, Oregon. Over the ten years, the watch repairman’s mother passed away, the shop in California burned down; and for a time the watch was lost in Chicago with a watch repairman who was replacing the pin.
While working in Portland, I decided it was time for me to get back the watch I dug up in the deep Midwestern snow when I was five years old. I called the shop with my original claim ticket and told them that my father was celebrating his 70th birthday and I wanted to give it to him as a special gift. The story was, well, a story. They returned my call only to let me know that the watch was ladies pocket watch and, it was not yet finished.
About the same time as my latest inquiry, I was working with a woman: Michelle. She was my employee and I don’t know why but I knew she was a woman who could make things happen so one day I walked across the hall, shut her door and said, “I was wondering if you could help me with something?”
Michelle and I had one of those “fastly” made friendships that happens just a few times in one’s life. We had not worked together long when I said to her, in an earnest, naive voice, “Do you think there is a way that I can be in a relationship with someone but never, ever have them see my thighs?” I knew we would be friends when she said, “Probably not” without pause and without shame.
Before Michelle agreed to call the watch shop in Lafayette California, she said, “Honey, I just don’t think they have your watch. It has been ten years. They probably sold it.” With that in mind, she called the watch shop and said, “This is Andrea’s mother and it has come to my attention that our cherished family heirloom is in your possession. We need this returned immediately.”
Two days later, well ten years and two days, I received a phone message that said, “Hi Andrea, this is the shop and your mother called. We will have this to you within the week.”
The watch arrived in perfect working order in ten years and one week.
A couple of years after moving to New York I met a woman who was smart, funny, and much younger than me. She had moved across the country to live in New York for one year. I admired her because she was brave. I don’t remember the first time we met or how we became friends but when we met, I felt like her friend and her sister. While I admired her, I also wanted to be someone whom she liked. My relationship with her was a tension between vying for her acceptance and a desire to protect her. We spoke daily. We would get bagels and sit on the bench in the warm spring sun talking about our jobs, the men we dates and the challenges with our friends. We had a lot of fun when we both lived in New York going to bars, to the beach, and doing all of the things young people do when they move to New York. During the short time she lived in New York, far away from her friends and family, she became pregnant and together we went to the doctor. That day defined my relationship with a woman with whom I would end up sharing a lifelong friendship.
There are times when life’s big shit cuts through the other shit and creates an unarguable definition of relationship.
Over the course of the many years since we have been friends, there have been times when our relationship experienced tremendous stress. One such time it resulted in what looked to be a permanent parting. While I was living in Africa, a mutual friend’s mother passed and I reached out to my friend to make sure she knew of the death. After a few emails, I was sitting on a veranda in Africa calling her via Google voice surrounded by complete darkness during a power cut listening to her laugh, her trepidation and our new relationship.
One Friday afternoon in Southwest Iowa, I heard, “Go to North Dakota” and within two hours I packed two cameras, several lenses, two pairs of underpants drove north. I had a basic idea of where I was going but only a basic idea.
In Iowa, I zipped off the off-ramp into a construction zone and was immediately pulled over. It is rare that the Hybrid will go fast enough for a ticket except for in a construction zone. The officer asked, “So, where are you off to?” and I told him. My authentic exuberance charmed him and my ticket was greatly reduced.
After I visited the protest, I became miserably lost. After finding the road, which would take me home I stumbled upon expansive fields of sunflowers. Of course, I stopped my car along side of the road to take a photo of the fields of bright yellow. As I stood on the side of the road, empty of traffic, noise and distraction, tears flowed down my dusty cheeks. The striking contrast of the dusty landscape of North Dakota, the yummy blue sky and bright yellow sunflower faces caused my eyes to leak uncontrollably. Maybe it was visiting a group of thousands of people who were united for a cause, maybe it was appreciating living in a place where people can protest without being shot, where voice has a place or maybe there is something powerful about absorbing beauty alone. The beauty of the human spirit and of the sunflower faces was mine to love and love it I did. On a highway alone in North Dakota there was freedom to weep shamelessly at beauty.
I chose to ride my first century in Vancouver, Washington in the Spring. Spring in the Pacific Northwest is cold and rainy. I started riding when my sister got sick with cancer. She called me at work on a Tuesday and said, “Hey this is funny, I have a boil on my sternum.” By Friday, it was stage four breast cancer and within 15 months she was dead. I started riding a bike while trying to make sense of this new chaos.
I rode the Spring Century alone. I was new to riding and did not yet own any rain gear. In fact, my gear was mostly second hand and rather shabby. At the half-way point in the ride, I had the choice to turn around or to finish and I chose to finish. It was raining and every time I bent my head forward a puddle of cold rain would fall out of my bike helmet. I didn’t have long-fingered gloves so I wrapped my cheaply made jacket around my fingers and pedaled forward with the intent of finishing my first century.
At some point, after the half-way point, I was alone on the highway and a semi-truck passed me leaving me covered in mud. I popped a snack in my mouth for imaginary encouragement and kept pedaling. An older cyclist pulled alongside me and said, “Hey, how are you doing?” I said, “I keep talking to myself and that conversation is not going very well.” He said, “How about I ride with you for a bit” and we talked as we rode. I don’t remember what we talked about but he kept me company and the inner conversation I was having quieted. At some point he told me how many miles I had left and what I could expect and I finished the ride.
The following Monday morning, I emailed a male colleague who was an experienced rider and asked him if he finished the ride. He said no that he and his riding buddies turned around at the half-way point and then, he asked if I finished. I said that I had finished. He replied, “Respect” and our friendship was forever changed.
I was a kid who, every other weekend, packed a bag and waited for my father to pick me up for our weekend visit. These visits were stressful. My father was recently sober and a devoted member of Alcoholics Anonymous and most of my weekend visits were spent in smoke filled rooms full of confliced adults revealing their most intimate thoughts.
My father drove many cars throughout my childhood but one that he had for a long time was an off-white, two-door Pontiac. By all standards, this was a cool car. It had a vinyl, plastic bench back seat where me and my three brothers and sisters would slide around as he quickly turned a sharp corner. It was about an hour drive from my mother’s home to my father’s home every other weekend.
One particular weekend, while I was sitting in the backseat, miserable from the heat and the incessant fighting that was now part of our family fabric, I silently thought, “Please please please radio play a good song and maybe everyone will listen and stop fighting,” and then Queen, “I Want to Break Free” came on the radio and, Dad turned up the volume so high that everyone stopped arguing and started singing together, “But life still goes on,
I can’t get used to, living without, living without, living without you by my side, I don’t want to live alone, hey God knows, got to make it on my own, So baby can’t you see
I’ve got to break free.”
We probably fought when the song ended but I don’t remember…..