Driving West: Letter to My Boulder Love

boulder

It’s been four days since my last shower. Four days since I had any meaningful contact with another human being.

Finally, here I am. Boulder, Colorado. The happiest place in America. Multiple publications have deemed this city to be the healthiest, happiest and smartest place in America. To prove the point, the city has more bike paths than paved roads.

I have a few friends in town, but they’re not free until the evening. I have an entire day to kill. Shit, I’m so lonely and tired.

I wander through town for miles admiring the blue sky and beautiful mountains so close I could touch them.

I decide to checkout Naropa University. My dream graduate school that I once applied for but never went. What if? Let’s see.

It’s the summer so nobody’s around. I walk into the library. There’s a beautiful girl working the counter. Helping some guy. I sneak away into the stacks of books, into the Buddhist and Daoist section. They have a copy of the Zhunagzi. I read it until I fall asleep. Some time later, awakened.

A war rages within my mind. Two voices. Opportunity and Fear through the lens of self-judgment.

OPPORTUNITY: Go talk to the girl! Learn about the school.

FEAR: But what if she doesn’t like me? What am I suppose to say? I look like shit. I haven’t showered or shaved in days. Maybe, I can just wait for my friends to get off work first….

OPPORTUNITY: For Christ sake, you’re 1,700 miles away from home. You brought a RV. You did all this to force yourself out of your comfort zone. Carpe Diem! GO!

It took me five days of driving far from home for me to do a cold approach, to talk to a pretty girl once again:

Me: Hi, I just got in town and interested in Naropa. Are you a graduate student here?

Library Girl: No, no I’m not. I’m actually an undergrad…..But maybe I can help. What program are you looking into?

Me: Well, I was really interested in the Counseling Psych program. I actually just drove into Boulder last night and volunteering at a Buddhist Geeks conference tomorrow. But I thought I’d try to know more about Naropa while I’m here…

Library Girl.: Oh, well, I have a friend that’s in the grad program, I could give you her contact info. And, actually, maybe my boss would talk to you. He did a grad program here although not in psychology. Do you want to talk to him?

Me: Umm….sure. Yeah that would be great. Thanks so much.

[…. Awkward conversation with the boss in his office about how great Naropa is and how everyone wants to come back and work for them…..]

Me (awkwardly putting on my messenger back over my head and talking at the same time): Hey, thanks a lot. That helped me out. Umm, I know this is kind of weird. But what time do you get off? Are you hungry by chance? I’m starving and my friends in town are busy until late evening….

Library Girl.: Well, I’m not actually hungry….But I could drink some tea! I get off in twenty minutes if that works?

Me: Sure! I’ll just be outside reading. See you soon!

——————–

To The Girl Who Shall Not Be Named:

Admittedly, I don’t remember the full conversation. I’m sure it lasted a lot longer. There were multiple points of time at which the conversation could of & should of just died right then. But, I felt like you kept giving me more rope to work with. Maybe I started the conversation, but you definitely helped to make sure it continued.

Twenty minutes later, we walked to a thai restaurant that was closed. Then another place. Closed. Finally a hole in the wall Asian place. Given your younger age, initially, I didn’t think much of you or us as a possibility. It was just so nice to have company and conversation. But, bit by bit, I became fascinated. You were intelligent, genuine, ambitious, and beautiful. I noted a sadness surrounding your upbringing and life back home. You had a fierce independence born out of necessity that I admired and empathized with. Yet, you didn’t seem to hold the same bitterness about it. I was falling for you.

There’s only a few people in an entire lifetime that I feel connected deeply to. They are so rare and precious to find. The ones where I can just say a few words, but you can hear and understand entire worlds I’m conveying. Where there’s no need for explanation, we just get each other.

After I ate, we continued walking along the Boulder creek. We sat on a bench for hours it felt like talking about our lives and watching a man try to teach his dog to swim.

Soon, it was getting dark and time to see my friend. I really liked you but what kind of relationship could this be? I was planning on staying in Boulder only for a week or less. We exchanged promises to meet soon and parted ways.

Over the days, we meet again and again. My mind and heart became infatuated in ways I hadn’t felt since college. I struggled to hold onto sanity every time one of my text messages to you went unanswered. Once, I wrote out a long message I was planning to leave on your VM when you suddenly texted me back. I later mentioned it, and you laughed.

There was the moment we hung out at the top of a playground rocketship. A little boy who didn’t speak English joined us. I played a terrible magician trying to swallow a pebble and then reveal it in my hand. Instead, I actually put the stone in my mouth and acted like I was choking. Both of you laughed.

Later that same day, we talked on and on into the wee hours of the morning like a movie cliche. I thought you had mentioned a boyfriend before but must of misheard because you were wearing rather short shorts and a tight, revealing shirt. I told you I have a new practice of trying to be honest. And to be honest, I am deeply attracted to you, but I don’t want to ruin any other relationship in your life. You smiled and said you were poly.

I went to sleep that night cuddling with you thinking this moment was truly magnificent. The months and years of turmoil over the RV. The driving 1,700 miles across the country. No matter what had happened or would happen in the future, this moment, alone, was worth it all. And it was. My heart fell like it had blown open. This cold lump in my chest suddenly a blazing fire and sun radiating out through my body. So, this is what it feels like to be truly alive. To be fully present, awake, overjoyed, and to want nothing more from this moment…..well, nothing except for those awkward farts to stop from that supposedly lactose free ice cream. I kept going to the bathroom thinking there was a problem but was just flatulence. I would of been more upset if it wasn’t so outrageous. Why am I mentioning this now? Did you know?

If you had asked, I would of stayed in Boulder forever. But you had a life already set, part of the reason why I fell for you. And I was still a nomad heading to the Pacific. We made loose plans to see each again soon enough.

I’d leave Boulder in a few weeks to begin the next chapter filled with sorrow and hardship.

A few months later, on the way back, I would meet you again. I even proposed moving in together. But you already had plans with another lucky guy.

A year later, I would return to Boulder for the Buddhist Geeks conference once again. But you never responded to my earlier voice mail months before. So, I steeled myself to not contact you.. One of the last days, I walked back to my friend’s house. A good forty minute walk. I kept repeating a mantra, “She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone. Let her go. She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s…” I had to let go of the grief and sadness over that tiny but densely packed moment in our lives together.

Two years later, I would serendipitously be in Boulder again, this time just for a few hours. I sent you a message hoping for nothing. Just curious to know how you were and what closure might be possible. I had deleted your contact before, too painful to read those old messages. I wondered after two years if you still even had me in your phone. You responded back immediately. I was surprised and gladded. I assume you knew who I was. But you were out of town and busy. This wouldn’t be a Before Sunset type story. But, I was happy for you. You were doing well it sounded like. And I must of meant at least something. Assuming you even knew who was texting you.

In the end, it was just a few days together. But I was grateful to let good things pass and having ever existed at all. My heart opened in Boulder. That was a priceless gift.

Driving West, First Stop Pittsburgh

CathedralofLearning

I left Delaware on a Friday afternoon. A storm had caused chaos that week. I remember the electricity was still out at my parent’s house. But I was going west. My first stop Pittsburgh.

I expected Pittsburgh to be an industrial wasteland. Instead, I found a pretty thriving city. I knew one couple in Pittsburgh but not very well at all. They were more like distant family friends. I sent Sara a Facebook message at the last moment before driving off.

I had also tried to find people to hangout with through reddit and couchsurfing. A few people even offered to buy me a drink. Once I got to Pittsburgh, my inner alarms went off. Too weird. Too dangerous. No, I wouldn’t meet strangers via the internet.

Instead I used yelp to look for a hipster bar. I parked my RV. Went to the bar. Had a drink and talked to the bartender. But I suddenly felt nervous, terrified, and lonely. What the hell am I doing? The same thoughts and feelings overwhelming me once again.

I was too terrified to talk to strangers at the bar. I went outside and started calling down my list of friends. Just hoping one of them would pick up. The first leg of the journey, just five hours away from home, and I was getting cold feet.

Finally, one of my friends, Camille picked up. We talked. I settled down.

Eventually, I returned to the bar, talked to a few people. I went back to my RV half drunk and went to sleep. The magical, adventure of traveling cross country. Had I spent two years for this sad experience?

Sara sent me a message. She couldn’t immediately meet me, but her husband, John, could. The next morning we met up in a coffee shop. I planned on leaving after our coffee meeting to Chicago.

John was a most interesting guy. I had only meet him twice before, very briefly. He was getting a Ph D in the humanities and read books of philosophy for fun. It feels oddly rare to meet another Asian/Korean American young intellectual. So many of us end up focusing on just thriving in the world as doctors, engineers, or some other profession. To prove to our parents, to our fellow Americans, and ourselves through our wealth and career status that we belong here. So, I felt an immediate kindred soul in John for doing such an odd career.

We chatted for a few hours about teaching, academia, Korean American experience, relationships, and so on. Towards the end, he invited me to stay around longer at least to see the wife. Remembering the previous night’s loneliness, I agreed to stay the night. Later, I met up with Sara who was going to be a pastor. How interesting, a female pastor. I asked her did anyone ever teach her how to pray? It seems curious that in Buddhist circles in America, there are different meditation practices. Yet, remembering my Catholic days, I don’t think anyone ever taught me how to pray.

I spent the afternoon exploring Pittsburgh by myself. I would suggest skipping the Heinz Museum if you’re ever visiting.

What I took away the most from the 36-48 hours in Pittsburgh was just how much people are good yet how important framing matters in a situation. Here I was. I wasn’t really friends with this couple, didn’t have either of their phone numbers beforehand. If we were living in the same city, it would of been rude and odd for me to just call upon them to stay over.

But I was in a RV driving cross country. That in itself was enough for people’s interest to be peeked. Obvious to everyone, I wasn’t trying to take advantage of anyone. The situation was such that they could help me, and I obviously could use the help. Time and time again, many friends, both old and new, would offer their homes to me, sometimes weeks on end. People want to do good, want to genuinely help others. But, we also don’t want to get hurt or mistreated.

The next day, I’d sail off for Chicago.

I spent less than 24 hours in Chicago. I was on a schedule to get to Boulder, Colorado soon and had already spent too much time in Pittsburgh. So, the next 2-3 days went by in a blur driving endlessly west through an ocean of corn. I worked in the day, drove in the evening, and slept in the RV in forgotten lands.

*——

Photo is the Cathedral of Learning, taken from Univ of Pittsburgh’s site. Quite a cool place to checkout.