What hope did I ever have?
I didn’t stand a chance.
You have my heart in your hands.
What hope did I ever have?
What hope did I ever have?
I didn’t stand a chance.
You have my heart in your hands.
An excerpt from a novel in progress, A Thousand Years.
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…
Last summer, bits and pieces of a novel started floating around in my head. That’s often how it starts. A song, a flash of an image, a smell, a memory of the ocean, or camping in the Redwoods – whatever. Sometimes it’s a phrase that comes to me and then before I know it, a story forms.
It can (and often has) taken years for some of these to form. I have a file folder on my laptop with several different novels. I’ve mentioned this before. Because I can’t write them all at once, I write as much as I can – when an idea comes to me. I store it up, so to speak – for a time when I can finish writing the thing.
I’m a “seat of the pants” writer and don’t care much for outlining every little bit of a book. It’s in my head. But as a writer who writes character-driven novels, the plot is secondary to the development of the characters themselves. And so I find that the overall outline in my head is enough.
But I digress. In October I started writing A Thousand Years. And then in November, I wrote the bulk of the 50,000 word novel. It was complete – but not. As I began to edit it, I found some pretty serious issues. But far more importantly, the book just wasn’t coming together in the way that I expected it to. Something was missing.
I’ve had a really hard time letting go of it, however. Though I did consider throwing the baby out with the bath water. I started working on another novel to see if it would catch fire and I could set this novel aside. It just did not. A Thousand Years was still it. This novel is one that’s truly on my heart to write. I’ve prayed some quick, but desperate prayers to God – show me how to make this work – I asked over and over. Well, I think He has. And I am grateful.
I’ve yet to write a summary about this novel – but I’ve shared bits and pieces here, including some of the poetry or short fiction that’s found here. Any post with a tag of “A Thousand Years” fits somewhere into this novel on my heart. While many of the scenes I’ve shared here in the past, are now being altered to fit my re-write – the heart of the novel is the same.
And what’s the heart of the novel? It’s about the messy and complicated way our lives don’t follow a linear trajectory. In the midst of the mess – finding love, family, and healing is possible. One of my favorite gemstones is an opal. Opals are beautiful because of the cracks and fissures in their surface. The messy & complicated in life could certainly mar our lives if we allow it to. Or it could actually be what makes us the best version of ourselves.
I am excited to finish this draft and see what comes next for A Thousand Years.
You weren’t there
As fear expected. The sting
no less painful in this victory.
I could love you a thousand years,
And never reach the end.
“The longing will just have to do.” – Joy Williams
Here’s a little diddy from A Thousand Years. . .
I didn’t ask the hot football player out. And he didn’t ask me out either. I was a little confused. But then again, I’m not exactly batting a thousand in the dating department, so I chalked it up to harmless flirtation. And then, a few weeks after our opening, on another Saturday we were open to the public, Nolan returned. I was about to give a tour of the winery when he showed up, looking hot as hot as he had the day of the opening. As sometimes happens, in the chaos that is a family run business and being a single parent, Jackson ended up with me in spite of the fact that I was working. Nolan jogged over to my tour, after my Granddad pointed him in my direction. I smiled, because I couldn’t help myself. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I blushed too. He is quite the sight. All 6’4 of him. He is so very different than Gray. Gray is lean and average in height. He is fair-skinned, with the prettiest blue eyes I have ever seen. Nolan has dark brown hair and the deeply brown, warm eyes. He’s also got a pretty magnificent beard. And though I couldn’t tell the night we met, today – his white collared, long sleeved shirt sleeves are rolled up, exposing an arm full of tattoos on both arms.
“You got room for one more?” he asked.
“If you’re willing to babysit,” I say, mostly joking.
“Sure thing,” he says, making his way toward me from the edge of the crowd. He puts his hands out to Jackson and without hesitation, Jackson goes to Nolan excitedly. I’m a little jealous actually.
Throughout the tour, Nolan and Jackson stay close. I’m not going to lie – watching my son with a man – someone other than family or the men on the ranch – who I’ve known my whole life – is an experience I didn’t know I’d need to prepare myself for. I’m oddly emotional. I stuff the feelings and we finish the tour in the tasting room where I ask one of our tasting room staff to take over.
“Do you want to join the tasting?” I ask Nolan.
“No. I came to see you. I wandered off the night we met and lost you in the crowd somewhere around the time the fireworks started. I had every intention of asking you out to dinner. I’ve had some work obligations the last couple of weeks so this is the first I could get back.”
“Well thanks for hanging out with the kid again. I was totally kidding when I said that, by the way.”
“No you weren’t.”
“I wasn’t?” I ask.
“No. I think you were testing me.”
“Is that right? Why would I be testing you?”
“To see if I’m an asshole athlete or if I’m as nice of a guy as you want to believe. And the answer is yes to both. I also know you want to have dinner with me. So, how about it? Will you have dinner with me? This Saturday?”
“I will. If I can find a babysitter.”
Nolan laughs. He’s a cocky one that’s for sure. “You have babysitters crawling this place. And a nanny. So shall I pick you up at 6?”
“That sounds like a plan,” I say, smiling. “I can’t be out too late, you know? I hope you don’t take it personally if I turn into a pumpkin, early.”
“I understand. I mean, not exactly. I don’t have any kids. But I get the gist. I’ll have you home at a reasonable hour, I promise. How does Deetjen’s sound?”
“Perfect,” I say. “Thank you for coming by and babysitting for a few minutes.” I put my hands out to Jackson – who never turns down an opportunity to be held by his mama. Except he turns away, by turning into Nolan, putting his arms around his neck. But then, as if it’s a joke, he giggles. “Jackson Ford, you brat. It’s time for a nap, Bubba. Come on.” Jackson giggles again and then Nolan tickles him. Pretty soon, Jackson is in fits of laughter as Nolan teases him and pretends over and over that he’s dropping him.
Becky, Jackson’s nanny, breaks the spell. She’s just arrived for the day and as I’ve asked her to do, she takes charge without asking for direction. “Hey kiddo. It’s time for your nap!” Becky, one of Jackson’s favorite people in all of the world, is enough to break up the laugh fest.
“Looks like the boss is here, Bud. You have a good nap, okay?” he says to Jackson.
Becky reaches for Jackson and whispers, “Say bye-bye.”
Jackson, my sweet boy, who babbles a lot, but rarely speaks clearly, says, “Bye-bye!” It’s as clear as day.
“Always full of surprises,” I say, kissing him on his cheek. “Bye, bye baby,” I say.
“Bye-Bye, ma-ma!” he says waving. The tears well up in my eyes and spill down my cheeks. This kid. I blow him a kiss as they walk off toward Becky’s car. Sometimes the littlest things take my breath away. I can’t believe he’s mine.
Before I can wipe my tears or figure out what to say, Nolan reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief. Such an old-fashioned gesture, from such a tough looking guy.
“Here,” he says. He doesn’t take his eyes off me. He reaches out and puts his huge hand on my arm. He squeezes my arm a little. “I’ll see you Saturday evening.”
“See you, Saturday,” I say, smiling. I clearly don’t know where this is going, but for the first time since Gray walked out on the life we were building, I’m ready to find out.