I have loved him for a thousand years and it seems as if I will love him for a thousand more. We are destined to remain apart. But it seems as though I was made out of a part of his soul and he mine. Our love burned bright and kept us warm. And then my world went up and flames. But loving him remains.
It is untamed. Wild and unplanned. I wake these days, deep in thought, recalling the mornings in the Redwoods – the air cold and damp. There was nothing around us, but the untouched forest. Standing there, facing the west, where the Pacific rests between the hills – the brush all around us, wild and untamed. So perfectly beautiful and lonely. This is what it’s like to love him. On a day I least expected him, there he was. We are perfect partners. We think alike. But not. In that place in between, where we differ, he shined.
There are more questions than answers. In the beauty of this wild thing, I long for him. What is and will not be follows me around like a coastal fog. Through the haze I see him. I don’t hold it against him – you can’t tame wild things. I live here in this tension, with what will not be, settling into the cold, wild – alone.
There’s a small roadside – hole in the wall – diner on the far end of the town I call home. It’s called the Hot’n Tot. Yes, really. It’s the kind of place that has stayed open for eons. It’s not fancy in the least. Some of the old booths are a little worse for the wear. But it doesn’t matter to locals, because we’ve been climbing into the booths our entire lives. The food isn’t fussy and the cook doesn’t take kindly to diners who want something different than what’s on the menu. It’s a “you get what you get,” kind of place. There’s an old, but entirely charming, mid-century diner sign that welcomes tourists, on their way to San Francisco, wine country, or along their winding path, up or down Highway One. They see the quaint sign and the full parking lot and they know they’ve stumbled on a rare gem – in a state known for its pretentious ways. Of course, most of those people don’t know the real California. The California that’s the real deal, is nothing at all like you think. Up and down the San Joaquin Valley and in small, one-horse towns and down country roads – that’s where the real Californians live. The Hot’n Tot is a real slice of Americana.
Years ago, I asked Manny – the owner, if I could work here on my summer breaks. And though I’ve long since graduated, I still work a shift or two when they’re really busy. My Grandma finds this unbecoming. That’s what you get when your mother’s parents are wealthy, old-world Mexicans. I’m not sure why working at the diner is unbecoming, but mucking stalls with Granddad on the ranch, isn’t. But whatever, I don’t make the rules. My Mexican Grandma does. But when I’m at the diner, it reminds me of the best parts of my childhood. My grandparents and my parents are wealthier than should be allowed. I never knew what it was like to go without. But my Granddad worked hard at ensuring me and my sister didn’t take our privileges for granted – in spite of the snobby ways of my mother, father, and Grandma. Granddad used to take me and my sister to the diner in his old beater ranch truck, on our school breaks or during the summer. My mom has never been known to like kids. The second school wrapped up, she shipped us up the coast or across the country.
Those days on the ranch were the best days of our lives. My sister and I learned every inch of the land. We were taught about the plants and the vines my Granddad raised with care, for wineries all over northern and central California. We played in the dirt, mucked stalls, and followed my Granddad’s every step, when he was moving cattle from one valley to another. It was idyllic in many ways. When we were at the tail end of primary school, my dad moved overseas for a tour. He was a Marine. Mom refused – RE-FUSED – to move us to Japan. We packed up our lives and moved home to California, from North Carolina. It was then that I grew to appreciate the Hot’n Tot and the back corners of rural, real California.
Now that the cold wet of our central coast winter has given way to the warmth of the sun and a wild breeze blowing off of the Pacific, the diner fills with our neighbors and the first tourists of the season. I always work the first full weekend of the start of the tourist season. Grandma still hates that I do. But the clank of the pots and pans from behind the swinging doors, that lead to the kitchen, and Paul’s gravelly voice announcing service, is as comforting to me as the scent of my granddad’s tobacco pipe. I cannot help myself. At the end of our day, after one of the busiest starts to the season, in my recent memory, the servers and line cooks take a seat at the bar stools in front of the lunch counter. Manny and Paul cook for us – usually a weird mix of Mexican and American food. It’s the only day they cook for the staff like this. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
I settle in next to Mary, a server that has been working for Manny since I was a girl. As we stuff our faces, quiet falls on the diner. Even Manny and Paul are quiet now – and they’re rarely quiet. The door to the diner opens suddenly, the bells jangling as the door swings open. None of us stop and look up – not a one of us. We are all consumed by the food. As she has in years past, Manny’s wife, Lola, has brought us homemade tortillas – flour and corn. And as I’ve grown up doing, we sop up our food with the flour tortillas and scoop the shredded beef up into the corn tortillas. I dip my corn tortilla into some beans and shove an unladylike bite in my mouth. The guest clears his throat. “Excuse me?” he asks.
He’s broken the spell. “Oh gawd. Not another one,” Mary says under her breath. We all turn to see who has interrupted the spell…