There are two sides to a lot of things: Coins, Doors, Roads, and in this case... Recollections.
We are coming up on our third full week here in Oregon, and I can't believe it's gone by so fast. The stress of arriving without a plan and no one to reach out to threw us immediately into this tunnel, with no light at the end. But slowly, one by one, everything we needed began to come our way. We found a job miraculously, that has helped us not only survive the last few weeks, but also to make $1000.00 to put us back on the road. We've met the most incredible people there; politicians, musicians, artists, PR rockstars, and soooo many more. We have had a house to sleep, shower, and cook in every single day. Our schedule has been so packed that I almost forgot what it was like when we arrived here in the City of Roses.
In his blog entry, Zac wrote about "that night" in Eugene, where he had what can only be described as a paranoia-induced panic attack. I thought it would be worth it to describe a few other details of that night, and a bit of what it looked like from my side of the looking glass.
That morning, we arrived in Oregon by noon and picked up a hitch hiker halfway up the I-5 who had a guitar strapped to his back. He rode with us for two hours talking about music, listening to John Butler, and sharing stories of life on the road. He wasn't like your typical hitch hiker being that he was our age, well dressed, and had recently showered. But I trust anyone who travels with an instrument instead of a bodybag, so he came along all the way from Ashland to Eugene. When we made it to the U of O campus, we let him out of the car and called my friend Ben to let him know we had arrived. What had previously been an excited old friend had quickly turned into a belligerent fool on the phone. Apparently, Ben had indulged in all the luxuries a Duck's tailgate has to offer; free Mexican food, unlimited beer, and all the tequila a twenty-something can afford. By the time we found him in the middle of the street we had made over a dozen full circles between four streets on campus following Ben's slumbering directions. We picked him up and he was able to tell us how to drive to his house from where we were, which turned out to be about 30 yards away (go Ducks). Ben passed out within 5 minutes, so I put away the groceries that we had bought and asked Zac if he wanted to go out to dinner. I had seen a bar up the street next to the frat house that let me use their shower earlier that afternoon. At the time, it seemed like any ordinary dinner, when it suddenly occurred to Zac that this was the second time we had ever been out to dinner together since the first night he spent in Hawai'i. We sat there for about three hours talking about Australia, his friends back home, where they had met, and where they were now. The day before we had made it through a 12 hour drive talking about everything two people could possibly think of. It was one of the longest and best conversations I have ever had. This dinner was somehow a continuance of the same dialogue. There was still so much to say and ask each other. He held my hand across the table the entire time. It really doesn't get more romantic than that over been and nachos. On the walk home from dinner Zac looked over at me like he never had before. His face was so lit up, and if I had known what was coming I would have paid more attention to capturing the feeling between the two of us. Now, he describes this as one of the best nights he has ever had with me, but for me it was something different.
When we returned to Ben's house his roommates had made it back from the tailgate, wondering how Ben got into his bed and who these two strangers were in their house. We explained how I knew Ben, and they invited us in the living room to clear the bong before they ventured out to the bars. We all smoked and started talking about Burning Man, and how it lead us up to Oregon to look for work. The guys couldn't get enough of Zac, his stories, and his accent. Before long they invited us to come out with them, and I went to the van to change into more comfortable shoes. When I came back 5 minutes later, everything had gotten a little silly. Zac started laughing... a lot. He missed the entire conversation where we all agreed to go out together. He got up and headed toward the back lot, telling them we would see them in the morning, and to have a good night. I was confused. Were we not going out with everyone? Why was Zac so nervous? Was I just stoned and missing everything? I followed him to the van and asked him why he didn't want to go. That's where things began to spiral down. Immediately he felt bad for not understanding that I was just changing my shoes. He began apologizing and laughing more, in the way he does when he is nervous. I decided to not make a big deal of it, and changed the subject. I don't know why (and I will forever wish I chose a different topic) but I began asking if he and his family had ever done puzzles together. His eyes grew big.
I asked again, "Have you ever done a puzzle Zac?"
He opened his mouth and started breathing heavily, his eyes were bigger now and he wasn't blinking at all. He adjusted his seating position frantically and here is a rough paraphrasing of what followed:
Zac: "You have to tell me it!"
Anna: "What? What do you mean?"
Zac: (louder) "YOU HAVE TO TELL ME THE DISEASE!"
Anna: "Zac, what are you talking about? Come on. You're scaring me." [ about 10 seconds in I realized he wasn't trying to be funny ]
Zac: "You know!"
Anna: "I know what?" (Zac grabs my arm, hard, like he's scared too)
[ I immediately began scanning my brain. Bee stings! He's allergic to bees! Maybe he's having a reaction! ]
Anna: "Do you need help? Do you need to go to the hospital?"
Zac: "Yes, you have to tell me it!"
Anna: "Babe, I don't know what you mean. Should I drive you to the hospital?"
[ his breathing was heavy, his eyes were wide open, he looked so freaked out, and his voice was really deep by now ]
Zac: "Yes. YOU KNOW this disease. You know you have to tell me it!"
Anna: "Hold on Zac, I need to find help. Don't leave the car."
Into the Street: "Hello! I need someone's help!"
[ a girl ran outside from the house next to our car ]
Girl: "Is everything okay?"
Anna: "No. My boyfriend's freaking out. He's not drunk, or on drugs. I think he's having a panic attack, but I'm not sure. He's tripping out!"
[ she came up to the car and asked Zac if he was alright ]
[ at this point, he snaped out of it a little bu not completely. Now, he was acting like a little kid, but not freaking out ]
Anna: "Zac, do you need her to help us get you to a hospital?"
[ he shook his head, then tried to calm down. He laid back until he basically stopped mumbling and the girl told me if I needed anything to call out ]
I sat there trying not to cry, trying to process what had just happened out of nowhere. Is he okay? Did someone give him drugs without me knowing?
I have seen people go out on bad trips, but never like this. Never out of touch with reality. Never out of communication. Nothing he was saying made any sense, and I couldn't figure out what could have happened to him that wasn't happening to me. 5 minutes passed and he began tripping out again.
This time there was a girl outside on the phone and I yelled towards her and asked if she would come over here to see this. I wasn't going to be the only one witnessing this trip, especially since we are travelers living in a hippie van... it just doesn't look very credible to anyone.
She stood there while we asked him questions and listened to the responses that didn't make sense.
This went on for hours, during which all 4 girls inside the house came out to talk to him, and talk to me, and make sure we were alright. I don't remember their names, only that they were all pretty drunk, and extremely helpful. After a little over an hour Zac decided he was going to try to sleep and I laid there in the van, eyes wide open, feeling his entire body shake until dawn came. It was single-handedly the scariest moment of my young adult life. I've never felt so ill-equipped to help someone I love who needs me, or who needs anyone that understands.
Whatever romance had themed the evening earlier was covered up pretty hard-core by this episode. He will remember the dinner as the most he has ever been in love with me, and I will remember that dinner as the last time I saw a sign of that. Since that night, we've spent almost every day trying to decompress from what happened. We have had endless discussions with countless people, young and old, that cared to hear the story and give us their input. He has spent four nights in the last three weeks unable to sleep, shaking just like he was in the van. We've started reading books, forums, texts, and psych journals narrowing down what could be going on and what we can do to make sure he never has to be that scared again. I have to say, I am impressed by his open-mindedness of the whole situation. Everything from scizophrenia to sleep apnea, Zac has been eager to learn about them and practice healthy living down to the T. He's off caffeine, off weed, and almost off nicotine completely. He's been following exercises suggested for anxiety, meditating, stretching, and writing it all down. He's doing everything right, and I... well ... I have to learn to deal with the fact that he is not mine to fix. In fact, the fact that Zac doesn't spend his time in monogamous relationships might be a huge contributing factor to these panic attacks, and that's something that keeps me awake at night, writing in this damn blog trying to make sense of what effect my presence might be having on his life.
I might be making it sound worse than it was, though I am convinced I'm under-exaggerating. Zac's doing really well for the most part. He's having fun and living life like always, but there is an undertone that we can't seem to shake off, and it's breaking my heart a little bit every day. Here I am, selfishly and stupidly wanting these last few weeks to be filled with fireworks and adventure, when there might be a much more important journey for Zac internally. He doesn't have room to be a boyfriend right now. Right now, he needs to spend his time finding his footing, feeling grounded again, and coping with the fact that his family is still 7 weeks and thousands of miles away. Either way, we are still having a great time. It's just, adapted a different meaning than before.
We were driving home tonight from Refuge, and as we were crossing the Hawthorne Bridge I realized something small had crept up on me. The quiet, still feeling of normality. Tonight, I feel normal. Tonight, I feel grounded. I realized how much of our time right now is spent chasing this tiny comfort. Maybe as we transition from stationary back to mobile we will get some hindsight on the last few weeks. Being here has put a lot of things to the test, both individually and in our relationship. We both had a day that we wanted to call it quits, and the other one wouldn't let us go. We both had nights full of so much fun and creative stimulation that we couldn't be happier. We've had moments of love, and moments in quarrel. We've even had time to be bored here, to watch TV, to read books for pleasure and listen to an album twice in a row. Portland has shifted the two of us, in different ways. For Zac, its made him face all of the things he never did before. He's investigating, what I can only picture as, years of stiffled sounds and emotions. He's trying to get a feel for what he wants to do with his life after this, what kind of man he wants to be, and what kind of people he wants to be surrounded with. For me, I've realized that no matter how many times I run away to never-never land, something always brings me back. This trip isn't about romance or finding a person I can travel with for the next few years. It's not about a documentary, or an art project. For me, it's now about learning to listen better, to watch more, to see things for what they are, not what they can be.
Wish me luck.