by Kirsten Judson
When I discover I like someone, I find myself continuously searching for things that will make them feel good. I have to remind the person (and myself) that what is happening is real. Through gifts, travel, and poetry I begin to create a life that becomes all about love. Inevitably, I swell to fill the spaces. As my therapist puts it, I “throw love bombs.”
A vital ingredient for one of my “love bombs” is traveling. I facilitate intimate memories by interlacing new experiences, breathtaking landscapes, and sensory overloads. This is easy in Southern California, a place where the abundance of nature generates impressive jaunts: desert, beach, pastures, vineyards, coasts. On one occasion, I decide to take my lover to Santa Barbara.
The Route 1 coastal drive puts you in a dreamy, psychic state: one that makes you miss your passenger from the driver’s seat. I extend my arm to graze her thigh: I have to remind the person (and myself) that what is happening is real. Traveling north, the roads are adorned with greenery and wildflowers become a technicolor dreamcoat. The sun glares between branches, rays finding our faces, resulting in a gradual burn. Oh woman, a genuine smile and sweet chuckle. Oh California, a contentedness, between us and nature, that is mutual.
At the winery we play cards underneath the shade of coastal oaks overlooking the vineyards. The trees are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the space we occupy between them. She speaks of things I never knew. I listen. We charm the sommeliers. Or is it just her? I am learning I can be the quiet one. Together, we fascinate.
All day we drive past pastures: past grazing cows, past lounging sheep, telephone wires, pink wildflowers, yellow flowering shrubs. Every idea I have is nostalgia. Looking up, clouds swell, layers form, the scrub jays fly. They follow one another. I find solace in their patterns. Migration. On this occasion, I am two inches taller than I had been. Tonight, I have twice as many stars in my sky. My body rushes with newness and safety.
Soon enough, that cocoon of security and comfort is ripped apart when we are not let into a Funk Zone bar. We are making out in the queue, sunburnt in white linen. A queer Nancy Myers scene. A young, shaggy-haired surfer boy wearing a ripped Quicksilver T-shirt approaches us. With his laid back attitude, I imagine he’s going to tell us they are out of the pork belly. To my surprise, he simply states he cannot let us in. He cannot let us in for what reason? Because we are two women making out? Yes, apparently so. I’m astonished that the women who just charmed sommeliers could be refused service at an average bar. I am dizzy, confused, sucked into a maelstrom. Once surrounded by all-encompassing nature, I am now in the epicenter of solitude. What happens when you cannot stick up for yourself when you know it’s the right thing to do? This horrible timing, one of those moments when you know you should speak, but the silence echoes. Everything is unspoken, yet felt.
It takes several minutes to realize I am biting back tears. Now seeing everything from a different place. The wait staff on intercom, watching our moves, communicating amongst one another, “don’t serve them.” We’ve become nameless. Instead of seeing a world I cherish, I see only a world that cannot cherish us. What happens when you can’t stick up for yourself when you know it’s the right thing to do? I create a futile interlude.
We drive back to Los Angeles in silence, the Desert Island Discs podcast reverberating against the ruffled drone of traffic. Roar of tires passing by, the 101 becomes dark and dreary. I can hardly keep my eyes open. I speed home, surveying for sorrow, praying for green. No time for the sun, the gradual burn.
Unspoken tension permeates; she dumps me three months later. I’m no longer wrapped up in the colors of the sunset, no longer standing with a rose in my mouth. How can I make a stone flower? Now instead of seeing a woman I cherish, I see only a woman who cannot cherish me. What happens when you can’t stick up for yourself when you know it’s the right thing to do? I create a futile interlude.
One second I was holding you in bar queues, the next I was left in the thoroughfare. Was it something I did, something I didn’t do, something I should have done better? Perhaps I should have created a stronger love bomb. Serenity and beauty are only surface attempts to bandage a place of rejection. I cannot change these memories or fill the spaces with a golden sunset, a drive through the vineyards, a bouquet of flowers. I cannot convince myself that the city that once brought me love will continuously show me acceptance. I cannot convince myself that the woman who once brought me love will continuously show me adoration. I did not consent to be refused. I did not consent to be hurt. Now I must reorganize my memories so I don’t look at them too closely. I do not want to identity with a specific sentiment. What was once safe on Sunset Boulevard now drowns in Santa Barbara.
More than a few times I have felt the jolt of losing access to a lover. It feels like a crime against nature, a kind of torture, to be robbed of that presence. But loving a place, someone, who cannot love you in return is not failure... it’s one of the most fearless things you’ll ever do. That’s why I will never stop visiting Santa Barbara; that’s why I will never stop dropping love bombs.
Kirsten Judson (she/her) is queer, a writer, a producer, a poet, in no particular order. She lives in Los Angeles via New York. Find more of her musings on Instagram @sorrymsjudson.