Like a swallow to Capistrano, every year I return to the Bay Area for the Big Game, the annual football match-up between Cal and Stanford. This year the stakes were even more exciting because Cal does not, as has been the case in recent years, suck. In fact, not only do we not suck, but we're good! We Bear fans don't quite know what to make out of this change in fortunes, so unaccustomed we've become to decent football-playing.
I came out on Friday, on an early flight for which I woke up at 4 in the morning in order to pack, since the Career Panel had kept me out late the night before and I was too wiped out to deal with it when I got home. So maybe because of the exhaustion I was a little raw. And maybe because the semester has gone on so intensely for so long I was also a little worn. And maybe not knowing quite what my future holds, or where it will hold it, had also drained some of my emotional fortitude. And maybe none of these things mattered and the weekend was just weird.
But it began well. After I landed I rented a car (Alamo lets you pick the car you want, so I chose a blue one to show my Cal spirit) and drove up to San Francisco to have lunch with a friend at an organization I much admire. It was such a positive experience: I enjoyed her company, and I was very grateful for having her support in shaping my career. Back at her office I was also conscripted to help out on one of their projects and that has me extremely excited because it's doing the kind of work I hoped to do when I went to law school in the first place.
Then I headed further north to Marin County where I was due to have a Huey Lewis and the News-esque moment. I didn't travel all the way to California just because Johnny Colla was planning to have a concert, but I thought it was awfully nice of him to schedule one so conveniently for me...
It was at Rancho Nicasio, a restaurant (dinner theater?) up in the Marin hills. I drove up after the sun had set, which is too bad because it's a gorgeous drive during daylight. I ended up sitting at a table right next to the stage. At first I thought that would be fun (I hate having an obscured view). Then the show started and I immediately emotionally bonked.
It was the oddest thing. There's nothing more certain in my life than his music - I ALWAYS respond to it. But for some reason, once that show began I was suddenly overwhelmed with the sensation that I did not want to be there. That I didn't even belong there. I should have been off working on that cool law project - THAT'S what my life was about. What was I doing going to this concert? I wasn't like anyone else there. I didn't have a boyfriend/spouse/significant other to dance with, like it seemed everyone else did. I wasn't a local and/or neighbor like it seemed everyone else was. I wasn't even (I really hope) one of his uber-fans who danced all night up front and brought the band their beers. I was there, alone, and suddenly I couldn't figure out why.
And the worse I felt, the worse I felt. There I was, right up front, being a vortex of negative energy, and that didn't seem fair to him. Part of me wanted to sneak out the side door to go get my head on straight. Part of me wanted to sneak out and not come back. Eventually, near the very end, I warmed up a bit and went out onto the dance floor and flaccidly danced. I felt like my soul weighed 15 tons, I could hardly move. On top of the embarrassment, I also became worried that maybe the magic of his music has started wearing off and no longer would work for me. Given how important his music is in my life, this change would be awful. But this is probably not the case: my troubles occurred because I do so respond to his music. When he tells his story my mind starts to wander. It kicks up mental dust in my mind, scattering poignant particulates throughout my brain. I was just in no condition to process them, so I got overwhelmed and shut down.
Things improved after the show, though. I chatted a lot with the guys in his band, people I'd met before but hadn't seen since before going to law school. I apologized for being a wet blanket but they weren't too bothered by it. I also talked with another friend I hadn't seen since before I'd started school either, and it was good to catch up with everyone. By the end of the evening things felt much better (mostly). Still, the whole experience felt unexpectedly strange. Little did I know that wasn't the last time that weekend unexpected strangeness would kick in...
The next day I headed over to Berkeley. My friend has, for years, hosted a tailgate party in the same spot in the middle of campus so there's a whole bunch of us who know to converge there on Big Game Day. As we've gotten on with our lives and scattered to the wind I rarely see many of them, so it's nice to have this occasion to bring us back together.
After dining on yummy ribs, I started walking up to the stadium. It seemed like a perfectly innocuous journey... for the first 20 feet at least. Then, there at the top of the stairs, I suddenly nearly bumped into my ex-boyfriend.
I always thought it inevitable that I would run into him somewhere. It's not that big a world, and we'll both be (at least roughly) working in the same industry eventually. But there??? He IS a Cal grad too, but he'd never gone to Cal games except at my instigation. And on this particular day there were 70,000 other people converging on the stadium. The odds that I would have run into him right there, not even six feet away, seemed quite slim.
But there he was. I was initially too stunned to know how to react. The way we were situated though meant that while I saw him, he hadn't seen me. The question then was whether to say hi or not. To my retrospective chagrin, I immediately became befuddled by the relative pros and cons of doing so. It was ridiculous, the same self-doubting garbage that had infected the relationship. But by the time I'd shoved it all to the side and decided to say hi like a normal person, he'd already peeled off to take a different route.
I wasn't inclined to follow him, but then further up the hill I could see our paths would once again converge. As it happened I ended up in front of him, but not in a position where I could just turn around and say hi without it being massively awkward and contrived. But HE could see ME and say hi if he wanted. He didn't. He peeled off once again and was lost in the crowd of 70,000 people.
I couldn't decide what to make out of this. Part of me was disappointed. Part of me was relieved. I'd sometimes wondered about what would happen when I saw him again - since I knew it would happen someday - and how I would feel. I just didn't expect to find out quite so soon. But maybe it was all just as well: that neither of us could cut through the crap to just say hello like normal people makes me think that neither of us was really ready to.
The encounter did seem to fit the strange emotional theme of the weekend though. And I still wasn't in good shape to be able to easily shrug it off. But there was a game to go to and so my attentions were soon preoccupied by more pleasant things. Cal tried to make us nervous by only leading by 10-3 at halftime, but then it squashed Stanford to a pulp in the second half to win 41-6. We still have the Axe, the trophy from the annual match-up, and we all daydream about what sort of Bowl game we might finally get to play this year...
After the game I went down on the field with three friends, and then accidentally lost all of them in the crowd of thousands of celebrating fans. Had I realized my friends all needed to leave so soon, I wouldn't have lost them so readily. I would have said good-bye at least, but I figured we'd meet up again when the band marched out. But they'd apparently all left by that time. It was disappointing, but I did bump into another friend I hadn't seen yet down there on the field. Then I went to Bowles Hall where the band always serenades the crowd and saw another man from my past. I'd had a crush on him for a while but fortunately (on retrospect) he was such a complete jerk so early into the acquaintance that it was pretty easy to get over him. Though it's been years since we'd last spoken, an already poignant weekend didn't seem like a good time to change that.
I walked down afterwards to meet up with my tailgating friend while he was packing up his car. We were in the center of campus, which is up on a hill on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay, with a view straight out the Golden Gate. I suddenly looked up and caught a spectacularly gorgeous scene. The waning hours of the afternoon had given way to a most provocative sunset, one that was begging me to stay when I knew I had to leave.
Posted 11/25, written earlier.