I drink rarely. But will freely admit that I love beer. In an almost irrational way. You know those people who can tell you about the soil that grapes grew in and how the temperature impacts the final flavor of wine? I’m almost, kinda, sorta like that, but with beer. I used to be able to drink a beer and tell you what region the hops were grown in and in what order they were added to the fermenting brew. I love beer.
But I love love more. And a good story.
As I think about loves long past, and the stories they have given me, I am drinking a beer that I made years ago. 3 years ago.
Which tells you a few more things. I’ve had a day that requires a beer. I drink rarely, so that’s A DAY. There is no beer in my house. Also, I am disorganized and tend to stash things in places and forget about them. So imagine my surprise, and glee, when I opened the cupboard in which I keep the pet food and saw a box of beer that I made years ago, and forgot about.
3 years is more than a lifetime, if you’re a beer. And if you are a newlywed who, three years ago, was newly single after a long marriage to an alcoholic with whom you had once brewed beer, but stopped, for obvious reasons.
I love brewing beer. The whole long drawn out process.
Thrilled to have found this dusty booty, I put the beer in the freezer, sure that it would soon be cold enough to do the trick. Cocky or desperate? Or both?
I fed the cats. And as I was feeding the dog, the beer came full circle in an emotional way that I had also forgotten about. I am a sloppy emotional housekeeper as well.
The dog arrived with a man. At a very particular time in my life. I was newly single after a long marriage and then a way too-long relationship that was most easily characterized as fantastically uptight, controlling and pretentious. I was in the far part of the boomeranging rebound, and trying to shed all of the uptight that was still clinging to me. So falling for a broke hippie with narcissistic tendencies who thrived in chaos on the edge of destruction must have felt, at the time, like a sort of emotional balance.
The man and the dog were in town visiting mutual friends, and I fell in love with the dog. I knew the dog was supposed to be mine, and eventually, he was. In the mean time, I also fell in love with the man.
He had spent his last dollar driving from the Bay Area to Seattle to try and find a home for the dog who could no longer live with him, seeing as the dog had a propensity to kill sheep, and the land was shared with someone who was trying to be a sheep rancher.
The night we met, we spent together. Talking, and eventually sleeping. On an uncomfortable futon with a party raging above us, and the dog chewing Star Wars action figures until dawn. He was uncomfortable also, but with no rush of hormones and sexual curiosity to buoy him through the strange night.
We, all three, man, dog and I, walked to coffee the next morning. Me wearing his coat, and me buying coffee.
He drove back to the Bay Area, leaving the dog behind with friends. Eventually, in the tides of drama that so often follow delusional wanderers and their friends, the dog came to live with me. I swear, the dog and I looked at each other like we had known this all along, we just had to wait for everyone else to come to their senses. That said, the day that I came into the house to “rescue” the dog – the house, again, waking from a raging party, children’s toys strewn about, children crying, adults sleeping – didn’t seem anything other than an arrogant rescue. I felt like one of those missionaries that goes into a rural African tribe to teach kids about jesus, for their own good. Everyone in the house wanted the dog gone, except the man who was currently curled up, sleeping with his arms around the dog, half passed out. It had been a hell of a night.
Actually, it was a night about which I would write other articles, that would change my life, but that is, indeed, a whole other story.
The dog was mine now. (He always had been, we just hadn’t known it.)
The man and I were in touch by phone and email several times a day to talk about how the dog was doing. Somewhere in there, we convinced ourselves we had feelings for each other. We had so much in common. Well, we both loved Burning Man, and nature. That’s about it, as it would turn out. But when you’re horny and looking for change, that’s really quite enough.
What we didn’t have in common was probably the lure. For me, he was a chance to be less uptight, less in control, less….. Less me. Me hadn’t worked out all that well in the past, so why not try something completely different? Where I had a nice house, all the spoils, lots of responsibility, routine, expectations…. He, he was flotsam and jetsam in his own wake. He lived off grid, had his own standards that were unlike any I had ever seen.
6 weeks later, the dog and I drove the 14 hours to see him. By that time we had written about the sex we would have, the love we had, the potential we had. Their reunion was jubilant. As was ours. We thought we were in love. Hell, maybe we were. It’s really neither here nor there, it was simply where we were.
Where I was was paradise. A few hundred acres in the Sonoma Valley. He was born and raised in a hippie commune, the real kind, not the yuppie-hippie kind. He lived in a home that his dad had built, surrounded by woods that were interspersed with other homes built by other families in which generations had been raised. It was the opposite of anything I had ever known, or told myself I needed. There were films made about them.
We gathered fire wood. We explored the bay. We planted gardens. We made plans. Life plans. I genuinely believed this was my future. Living off-grid making art and being one with the land. I loved his family, they loved me. This was “it.”
Oh, beer. Right. Beer. We both loved beer. We planned a Burning Man camp around our love of beer, which was going to include kegging lots of beer to be served frosty and frothy on the playa every day at happy hour.
So we brewed. Lots and lots of beer. 5 kegs worth. In one epic weekend, we brewed about 40 gallons of beer. One was a clone of La Fin Du Monde, a recipe I had come up with. One was an IPA, one was a porter, one was a Hefeweisen, and lastly, against his wishes, a jalapeno pale ale from a recipe I had first made with my ex-husband a decade before.
The beer babies were all fermenting, their gasses escaping through the air locks and I drove back to Seattle leaving him to keg it all when the time was right. And that was the last that I heard from him. He didn’t answer my calls, my emails, my texts. I asked mutual friends if they had heard from him, and, no. I checked Facebook, there were photos of him around town, but still, no contact. He just disappeared.
Not a word.
I was hurt. I was angry, I was all of the things that you’d expect. But I was also pragmatic. When someone does something like that, it’s not a relationship to fight for, per se. I wanted to know, “what the fuck,” but….
And I did love him. I was worried. I was still arrogant enough to believe that if he understood what he was throwing away, he’d change his mind. I wanted to make sure he knew. I mean, how could he hate himself so much to believe that he didn’t deserve this amazing love we had? (Ugh, I could choke on that line of thinking now, but it’s sooooo…… typical.)
Oh, and I wanted my beer. (And the rest of my stuff that was down there, in the house that I thought I was moving in to.)
8 days later, I put the dog back in the car to drive back down to Sonoma to get my stuff, and my beer. I hadn’t spoken to him. Not so much as a text message followed his last ever communication to me: A song, via Facebook, “You’ll Never Know How Much I Love You.” I had no idea what I’d find when I got down there. I did know his schedule – such as it was – and hoped to swoop in, get my stuff and get out without him ever knowing.
I was not so lucky. When I got there, he was there with a friend, packing my stuff to send to me. I think he thought I was crazy when I said I was also taking the beer. But they were my carboys, my recipes, I brewed the beer, I bought the ingredients. I wanted the beer.
After a surprisingly small amount of conversation ( though, really, what was there to say?) I put the beer in the back of my Subaru wagon, in milk crates, with blankets around it. Keeping the temperature of beer constant when fermenting is pretty important. It doesn’t, for that matter, like to be jostled a lot either. The idea of driving it back to Seattle was kinda bonkers. Decision making with a broken heart. And a battered ego.
But I did it. Drove it all the way home. I was half afraid someone would call me in as a potential terrorist, with all the carboys and airlocks and mysterious shapes covered under blankets, and me driving 5mph under the speed-limit with my dog in the look-out seat.. The clanging of glass carboys filled with beer was an ominous accompaniment. The air conditioner went out half way, but we persevered, my beer, my dog, and I. I tried to drive in shade whenever I could. I decided to drive through the night rather than stopping half way, so that the beer would have the cool night air.
I got home, set them up in my kitchen where they fermented another few days until the yeast had exhausted itself and the bubbles finally ceased. By that time, I had washed and put away all of my other belongings that had been in the Sonoma house. The down slippers for a house that was not heated except by a wood stove. The extra head lamp for a house that didn’t always have solar power to make it through the night. The overalls in which I had planted gardens and brewed beer….. Those are all still in my house. Artifacts of a heart and hopes.
Eventually, I bottled it all – sure that the whole Burning Man camp thing was well gone also. Drank most of it over the course of the next year, and forgot about the small box that is still in my pantry as we speak.
I learned so much from that “relationship.” I tried so hard to be open-minded and go out past my comfort zone into the unknown. I learned that I can do that. And that I don’t need or want to.
And that I can love beyond reason and with great risk. I can love outside of my expected patterns. I hope to always be able to do that.
Back to today. It’s been a day. Nothing spectacular. The joys of parenting teens. Mine, my teen that is, is extraordinary and wonderful and I am thankful on a daily basis that she’s mine. But she’s still a teenager. And it was one of those days.
But now I’m home alone. Just me and the dog. And as I went to feed him, I saw the beer. The beer that was brewed with the man who once loved both of us, who told us he was there for us and loved us and would care for us. But tonight it’s just me, the dog, and the beer.
I put the beer in the freezer. Fed the dog. Called my husband while the beer chilled. Filled him in on the goings on with the daughter that was mine and is now ours.
There was a group of neighborhood prowlers spotted and I am home alone. The dog went off like an alarm protecting crown jewels, and I looked to see two shadowy figures melting into the darkness as the many stairs from my door delivered them to obscurity of the street below. Good dog. Thank you. We’ve been through a lot, he and I. And he still cares.
And now the dog and I are on the couch watching Dr. Who, and I’m drinking a damned good jalapeno beer. Marveling at how connected it all remains.
We’ve all aged well. The dog has mellowed, the beer has sharpened nicely, and me? I very much appreciate who I am and what I have.