Making promises

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I promised something the other day. A promise so promising that the little hairs raised on my arms. It was not without a bit of hesitation- the tug I felt was a nagging reminder of my habit of over commitment. I get so excited about things and ideas that I overcommit myself. I’m invincibly capable and optimistic, I’m also flighty and passionate in spurts. I grant myself naps as easily as committing to 10k runs (note to self, T-7 days til the next one).

I’m sitting at the bar in my favorite restaurant; the place where I go for my birthday, the place I recommend to strangers, the place I take myself on dates. I’m lounging alone, shamelessly slurping truffled tagolini through my teeth, twirling pasta onto my fork with a spoon, savoring sips of Montepulciano between bites.

There is an ebb and flow to restaurant life that engages the best parts of me. I love the hustle and flow of hospitality; the service and care of food and wine, moments punctuated by clinks of glass, sounds of voices filling the space. It’s the rolling of an ocean of little moments of bliss. What an amazing industry this is.

“They treat the grapes like it’s an Amaronè,” Jen’s schooling me as she pours me another glass of wine. “It’s honey and sunshine,” she coos while pouring herself a taste. Jens in work mode, she’s speaking in the dignified respectful tone of voice she reserves for guests. I’m just her friend here in the midst of all this energy, contributing my commentary via written words and appreciation.

I’m writing a bit between courses, pondering the things that make us better. I’ve promised 10 min of writing a day- each day, until the 21st. I am desperate for the nudge I need to write regularly again. Honoring myself is one thing, honoring my friend’s faith and admiration is another. I adore her. I’m better because of her. I’m writing this on my phone in a restaurant at 11:30pm because I respect her- and am hopeful that this; like every other thing we’ve collaborated on is a brilliant success. Legendary tales of epic proportions. Magic between magical people. Also- I respect myself. I want to set goals and not only meet them, but crush them. I want to be a writer, but writers are only writers if they write.

I’ve decided to give myself permission to succeed- taking my wildest dreams and taming those damn stubborn fearful beasts into docile lap kitties. It is possible. I’m wrestling with doubts and fears- nothing more. I’m capable of whatever I want. Overcommitted or not, my playing small does not serve the universe.

I like this. All of it. The challenge, the spontaneity, writing to be better; to honor something bigger. It feels right. It tastes good. One step, one bite, one sip after another.

Going to war

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“You drive?” Rita asks me. A few of Haitham’s friends had taken me to lunch out in Casablanca while he was working. Were about to leave and it’s the first English I’ve heard in a 10 minute conversation. I answer a distracted, “Of course.” Doesn’t everybody drive?

“Ok. You drive.” She gets out of the drivers seat and I immediately panic. “Wait. What?” I attempt. She slips into the car next to us with a few friends and speeds off, hand waving out the window through the dust. I stare after them, mouth hanging open.
“You have your license on you?” Kenza, her little sister, is still with me looking at me expectantly from the back seat. I slowly unbuckle my seat belt and slip out of the passenger side. Is she serious?

Miami has earned the title of the worst drivers in the entire country, three times that I’m aware of and the worst of what I’ve seen there pales in comparison to the terror I’ve felt here as a passenger in Casablanca. Every stop sign, light, lane marker, roundabout, pedestrian, and speed bump are merely suggestions. If you need to turn left? You drive into traffic and honk til they honk back and possibly slow down. Need to cross the street? Just run into traffic and hope they stop long enough for you to escape to the other side with your limbs intact. Oh, and watch out for the bikes. There is an army of tiny motorcycle thingys that dodge and weave through it all like little curveballs waiting to take out your side mirrors and possibly small children.

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Haitham drives a very nice, very, VERY fast car. I’m completely confident in his skills behind the wheel. Yet I clench everything straight down to my butt every time he hurls up behind slower drivers and honks the customary Moroccan three honk, “get the hell over or else” warning with simultaneous light flashing and swearing in Arabic. I melt like an opossum every time we survive a maneuver. Don’t they know this place is a death trap??? Also, its been a good three years since I’ve driven a stick shift. I get behind the wheel and think, “Holy fucking shit.”

I’m shaking internally and can’t seem to sort out my feet on the gas and the clutch. I know what awaits me. I’m going to war in a tiny Peugeot.
“Are you ok?” Kenza asks.
I breathe deeply and nod. “Yep, just need to get my bearings, it’s been awhile since I’ve driven a stick shift. It’s like riding a bike though, right?” I laugh nervous and realize I’m using a cheesy American saying. Jesus, I can be so Midwestern sometimes…
“But not today,” I think to myself and hit the gas.

We careen out into the fray and I follow Kenza’s directions. She’s a bit scattered and I’m getting more and more frantic. She ponders whether to take a left or just go straight as my panic level starts to hit atomic bomb strength.
“You don’t drive?” I ask nicely.
“No. I got into an accident.” She explains, ramming one balled fist into her palm. “I hit a wall.”
“Ah, right.” I spit out barely breathing, not cognizant of which lane I’m in or what direction I’m going.
“Let’s go to the mosque?” She suggests.
“Absolutely,” I agree thinking that praying is in my best interest as of right now.

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As it has been explained to me, the mosque in Casablanca was the idea of the 5th king. Whether they liked it or not Moroccans contributed money to its being built and the result is an incredibly huge infrastructure of staggering height and intricate details. Fountains surround slightly tiered steps, so as one appears to float downwards to the entrance, intricately placed brightly colored tiles adorn massive archways all around. It is the biggest mosque in Africa.

Despite the size of our landmark, we miss the turn and spend a good three to four minutes in and out of the north and south sides of an unlit, death trap of a tunnel. We finally careen around a pile of cinder blocks marking the entrance, and the usual pack of street kids scurry to harass us for a parking fee as soon as I pull the emergency brake. No matter where you are, there is someone to collect a coin in exchange for telling you how fast, and in what direction to turn your wheel, all while keeping an eye out that you don’t hit another car whilst parking. Honestly?…I think Miami needs these people.

I keep my eyes down and purse in hand like Kenza tells me to as she barks Arabic to the guys. Not in a bad way, the language itself is just a bit abrasive. Plus, I stick out in ways I don’t even know. I do know that everyone that can, immediately speaks English to me. I’m not fooling anybody.

We explore the grounds of the mosque, it’s closed to the public at this hour. Dozens of people are just hanging out, and I totally get why. It is a place of utter peace and beauty. Kenza is a doll and takes a ton of pictures of me. She is so supportive and encouraging, “Anything you want to do, let’s do it,” she prods. I adore her immediately.

We leave the mosque, the peace of it follows and I feel more relaxed as we get back into the car and Kenza hashes out change from a 100 dirham. To my surprise the guy scurries off and brings exact change right back. “Maybe not the scavengers I thought,” I think, scolding myself.

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We head next to Old Town Casablanca. A assortment of stalls where Kenza tells me, “They sell everything.” Crossing the street is an adventure in itself. I stop curbside and wait for people to slow down. She looks at me strangely and leads the way straight into traffic explaining on the way, “They’ll never just stop.” We skip past cars, dodging our way into the old stone structure.

They do indeed, sell everything. Silver tea sets, lamb skin leather bags, fresh oranges and counterfeit designer bags. It’s surreal and gorgeous. Time has left this place. The goods have changed, but this exchange has been going on here forever. I’m very aware that I’m an observer, but I’m also incredibly charmed. This is a different world.

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Kenza bargains with a vendor for me while I stand and smile holding a few beautiful leather pouchettes for souvineers. As we leave, we both rush right into traffic and she laughs with me as we skip and dodge moving cars. “See?” She says. “You’re Moroccan now!”
“Haitham will be so proud!” I exclaim, feeling suddenly quite capable.

Behind the wheel again, I remember how much I love driving a stick shift. I even recognize landmarks. The buildings and places are slightly familiar on the route back. I relax a bit, and just drive, following Kenza’s directions. Someone roughly cuts me off in a roundabout, and I honk a few times and throw up a hand barking, “Ayyyy, come on!” Kenza smiles at me and we both laugh.
And just like that- I’ve totally got this. I shift into third, smile, and drive.

Taking a shower

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“In English? Ahh no….” Haitham says. He says that every time we sit and open menus inevitably written in French. I wonder briefly if he is humoring me, trying to make me more comfortable. I haven’t really seen him and it’s become a bit awkward between us.
“Meat or fish darling?” He always asks the same question, and I always give the same answer.
“You pick love, I eat everything.”

He’d picked me up a bit earlier, frenzied and distracted. It was the middle of his work day. Dressed and ready, I felt like a little doll in his dollhouse, excited to be chaperoned through the next outing. He had a lot of unexpected problems that had kept him at work non stop, and I’ve spent my time in Casablanca alone, waiting for him. We were both feeling the strain, wanting our time together to be amazing and having circumstances make that impossible. After lunch, it’s back in the car, and back to his place where I’ll sit and wait until he is done with his day. I feel like I’m barely moving through each day, not participating as much as I’m smiling and nodding at the right times. I don’t know how to be me here. It is all so unfamiliar.

Later, I pace his spacious apartment, peering out to the courtyard imagining throwing a dinner party for our friends under the open sky. Despite it being beautifully furnished, it is nearly empty of personal items. There’s a couple novelty party hats, DVDs, and one pair of pajama pants, but that’s it. I sit under the skylight on the velvet couch and run my fingers along dust on the coffee table, leaving my mark. There isn’t much for me to do but wait. The internet has been forgotten and disconnected. TV only chatters in French or Arabic. The fridge holds cocktail mixers and a few things that needed to be tossed out. The only thing in the laundry pile were sheets and towels. A deep discomfort forms in the pit of my stomach. I don’t understand. “He doesn’t live here,” I think.

It would take me days to get the courage to ask him about it. By then, the thoughts had been ruminating in my mind too long. Especially when he would repeat his customary “I’ll be back in 10 minutes,” which meant anywhere from two to three hours. My thoughts always spiraled…He’s in an accident. He’s not telling me everything. The over abundance of cosmetic products worry me. The stripped bed and lack of personal artifacts stress me out. As does the fact that he doesn’t get ready here. Where the hell am I?

“This is where I stay when I need some time to myself,” he explains after I’d finally blurted out my discomfort one morning as he was leaving. “I’ve kept this place for years but mostly I stay with my parents,” he continued, no doubt perplexed by my outburst. I deflate a bit, not knowing what I expected him to say. Of course he does. That’s the norm here. It’s totally normal for people to live with their parents until marriage. I thought back to the beautiful pics he’d sent from his parents terrace. I’d probably stay there too.

The next day the phone ring splits through my half nap; he’s back to collect me. He’s still distracted from work and doesn’t tell me where we are going. I couldn’t know and don’t really care. Being with him punctuated my day, and I was still hopeful our time together would turn magic again. We speed through the streets and end up at our friend Fatim’s house, the beautiful girl in the red dress I met in Miami. I’m starved for the familiarity, so excited to see her.

“I can’t believe the girl from the elevator is in my living room,” Fatim laughs and sets down a tray of glass decanters filled with three different types of juice. It is beyond surreal. We’re seated in a gorgeous plush room. It’s my first taste of a visit to a home. More drinks and food are brought out by a woman. She nods and smiles at me, eyes cast down.

We’re sitting sipping fresh orange juice, and Haitham’s phone rings. He grabs his smokes and excuses himself, and us girls launch straight into girl talk. We hash about our ex’s, hopeful conversation about how maybe we aren’t damaged from the things we’ve been through, but I know I am. My imagination spins out of control at the slightest hint of absurdity.
“How is everything?” She asks me and I wonder what to say.
“He’s very busy.” I continue carefully, “I don’t even think he knows how stressed out he is. I think this stress level has become normal for him. It’s just too much.”
She nods. She knows.

Other friends show up. I’m enthusiastically introduced, everyone wants to meet the American girlfriend from Miami, except I’m unable to communicate other than through smiles and nods. Everyone speaks French. I sit, sip, and pretend to relax, like I’m not feeling alone in a room full of people.

The topic was our friend Amin and his sister. Their father had passed away unexpectedly about a week before, and the hush this left amongst the group was palpable. They were sorting out heading over to console the family, and Fatim graciously stopped to explain the whys and how’s to me, “When someone we love- friends, or family, has something bad happen,” she paused looking for the way to explain in English,”We share each others pain.”

I’m struck by the tenderness of this. It’s such an incredibly different culture from my own, and I’m regretfully unfamiliar and unprepared for it all. But this? This idea resonates with me deeply. Their foundation is built on a deep resolve of respect and loyalty. I’m drawn to it, wanting to ask more but not sure of the questions.

We all leave and again, as we get in the car I’m not sure where we’re going. I’m surprised when we pull up to a house and I see everyone there too. He brought me to their house? I stiffen with discomfort, aware that this family and their grief is an incredibly personal thing. Haitham senses my discomfort, and takes my arm in his, “We’re going to spend some time here. It is important. This is what we do.” I nod not having a choice, and hastily re wrap my scarf to cover my shoulders. My hair is down, I’ve got makeup on, I’m all wrong for this. I feel uncomfortable. It’s not fair, I wasn’t told I’d be here! I wanted to explain, to pull on his arm and beg to go home, but couldn’t. Instead I walked into a beautiful home full of family and friends to be together; to share their pain.

The hair stands up on my arms from the raw beauty of it all. The house itself is incredible, spacious and ornately detailed, every inch luxury. There are about a dozen women traditionally dressed, hair covered in beautiful wraps with matching Jilbab dresses surrounding the widow who is dressed in all white, as is customary for 40 days after her husband has passed.

Amin greets me like an old friend. Only a few weeks ago we were out partying in Miami, and now somehow I’m in his home in Casablanca with his family. I can hardly begin to absorb it all. He is incredibly kind, bringing me in close with a hug. A wonderful host, he is the one to introduce me to everyone new. I nod, smile, and to everyone in turn kiss both cheeks before perching on a velvet settee in the corner. Tiny china plates with perfectly folded napkins are placed before everyone and giant curved platters follow heaped with pastries and almonds, served one after the other. Next is mint tea, it is ever present in Casablanca and there is nothing like it in the world. I look around at everyone tucked into hushed conversations. What am I doing here?

After a bit, Amin brings his mother over to meet me. Incredibly humbled and grateful to be there, however inappropriate, I bow my head unable to communicate my condolences. “Meaghan,” Amin says, “This is my mother. Mom, this is Meaghan.” Everyone is silent, watching us. She looks at me and smiles, “American?” She laughs and breaks the ice. Everyone laughs, and she continues in beautiful simple English,”Welcome to my home.” In this moment, I admire her strength and understanding. We are just people, in uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations and I’m grateful for her bit of humor. I’m grateful to be there to share it all.

In the car on the way home, Haitham and I are silent. Despite the fact that I’m on vacation, I’ve found myself in the thick of real, raw life. I’d hoped to experience Casablanca to it’s fullest and I had. I was living life here, real life. Emotionally exhausted, in limbo, a bit lost- headed back to the dollhouse I tilt my head back against the head rest and breathe.

Back at the apartment that he doesn’t use, I feel the weight of everything; my friends loss of his father, my loneliness, Haitham’s absence and the longing for our connection to reappear, the unfamiliarity of it all, my desperation to be appropriate…

In Casablanca there is a thin film of red dust that travels with the wind. It covers everything; the buildings, cars, people, the insides of my nostrils and throat. As I wash it off me later, the dirt from my feet pooling in the bottom of the shower, I finally break down and cry.

Walking home

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June 11, 2013

Wincing, I peel very slowly- a two day old band-aid off my left heel. I mentally calculate that its been through three showers and note to self… gross.

I have bravely, impetuously been breaking in new shoes to wear all over Europe, trying in vain to save myself from the mistake I made years ago with my pony hair zebra print flats. They left my feet so battered that I had no feeling along the side of my right big toe for years. Although, I’m not faring very well now I surmise looking at my bandaged toes.

It’s one of the things on my increasingly long to do list. It seems every time I cross something off, I remember something else. Buy plug converters. Make sure passport has enough pages. Pay old parking ticket, and for that matter- where does one park a car for the summer?

I am spiraling from an elated high, the anticipation of a summer of certain life changing adventure- way down to logic and foresight. What if I run out of money or don’t have anywhere to stay? Or worse…what if I get kidnapped and chained in a basement somewhere??

“….And she was never heard from again..” my friend teased me. I was overanalyzing while chowing on pre movie pizza, drinking happy hour wine. I was, as usual, obsessing.
“Stop!” I laughed, swinging my glass of Sangiovese. “Didn’t I get enough shit when I was swept off by the last Moroccan?” He looked at me and rolled his eyes.
“Only you could say something like that.” He was right. Leave it to me to meet Morocco, the sequel.

Last Saturday, I strapped on sassy ankle high boots, black leather short shorts, and sashayed to meet friends at a Lincoln Road hot spot. As I approached the crosswalk, I noticed a trio emerging from a cab, two guys, and a girl with a fabulous red dress on chatting in French. We all waited at the crosswalk and I strode on to Juvia, a restaurant overlooking South Beach. Best place to sip champagne. I stepped in the elevator and as the doors began to shut, an arm swung in from the side and caught it. The same people from the crosswalk step in, laughing amongst themselves. Once in the restaurant, I met with my friends just in time for them to want to leave. We headed instead to Segefredo to sink into couches and cocktails, one of my favorite places to sit and watch the South Beach parade; runway if you will. After all, it was Saturday night.

My friend had been waiting for a guy to join us all night. Not uncommon, most of us locals operate selfishly and consistently on what we refer to as “Miami time”, which is about an hour to an hour and a half late. He finally arrived and introduced himself to the group. She looked pointedly at me at some point and said, “He’s from Morocco.”

Immediately stirred up, I tune in. My ex was from Morocco. I believe when he told me he was from Casablanca I immediately asked, only half joking- “Is that a real place?” I had to look it up on a map. Not a proud moment.

As we were settled in talking, drinking, socializing- more friends approached. I looked up in disbelief. It was the people from the crosswalk and the elevator. I threw my hands up in welcome laughing, “I feel like I’ve seen you everywhere tonight, right?” I stood to double kiss everyone hello, they laughed with recognition, and the chemistry of the group elevated a notch. Turns out, they were visiting from Casablanca.

One of the guys sat right by my side. We began to chat, his face revealing more than he knew. I immediately recognize this trait, I can rarely hide my thoughts. Whatever I’m thinking or feeling is all over my face. On him it was so endearing, this man was interested in me, I realized with a grin. He was disarmingly handsome and had an incredible accent. We alternated between small talk between ourselves and the conversation between the group of us. My summer travels came up.
“I am going to Europe,” I said. “For four months.”
“Ooooooh nice,” he exclaimed. “Where to?”
“I thought about Morocco,” I said honestly. I’d wanted to go there since I’d dated my ex, but with him it would have never happened. It might have well been a fictional city from the movie like I thought.
“You should come,” he said effortlessly. His friends chimed in, “Yes yes! You have to, you’ll love it,” they exclaimed. I beamed, suddenly excited. It was so foreign to me to hear. Almost like I hadn’t been allowed to go.

I told them about London, Dublin, St.Tropez and Paris, to which he remarked- “Paris? I have a place in Paris. Let me know when, and you can stay there. I’ll call my guy. He’ll meet you with the keys.”

I breathed in sharply. Was this a joke? Had I really met another handsome Moroccan who speaks 5 languages and has a place in Paris? Seriously? Yet this guy was different. He was so open, natural, easy. There was no anxiety, I didn’t feel like I was being tested, or was walking on eggshells like I did with Marc. He seemed genuine, open, like his heart was pounding out of his chest.

“You know,” he said slowly, eyes cast down. “When I first saw you at the crosswalk, I felt like lightening had struck me. I said immediately to my friends, ‘Whoa whoa whoaaaa. Look at this girl, she is amazing. This is my girl.’ ”
They all laughed and teased telling me the story. Our story.
“Her legs!” The girl in the red dress exclaimed. “It’s your legs,” she’d cooed as I’d stood there oblivious.
“Then we got on the elevator,” he continued. “And you were there too. I didn’t know what to do. I lost you in the restaurant. I looked everywhere.”
“She was sitting down,” the girl exclaimed. “I saw you,” she smiled at me.
“I kept asking, where is my girl?” He continued. “Where did my girl go? You left before I knew it.”
“And then you arrived here,” I continued, clapping my hands, loving the story.
“Yes,” he laughed again. “They were coming here to meet up with everyone” he said gesturing to friends of friends, our little group considerably expanded. “But I was heading back to the hotel. I was done, just so so tired. Then I saw you,” he looked at me and smiled. “It is destiny. I was supposed to meet you.”

My heart was now thumping out of my chest as well.
“I feel like I found you. I was calling you my girl before I’d even met you,” he reached down to take my hand, and I let him. I sighed, resigned. I know full well I have no defenses against this. Romance of this caliber is what I’ve come to expect from happily ever after.

“I don’t know anything abut you,” I said, shy the next morning when I picked him up at his hotel after a night apart. (I am a good girl).
“Ask me anything,” he laughed. My mind was blank, where to start?… We settled into the drive and silence. He chimed in after a few minutes, “I know how I feel when I’m with you. The rest, we will learn in time.” I relaxed, his ease contagious. I realized I felt the same. No need to make it stressful. We just were. We were together because we wanted to be, headed out to spend the day on a boat with friends. My hand was in his, smiles on our faces.

The next couple of days were a romantic whirlwind. Tiny moments seared into my memory. The two of us standing waist deep in the ocean, his thumb and finger tilting my chin up to his face and saying, incredulous “I’m falling in love,” as I melted. Coming back from a morning run to him tangled in my sheets. My heart pounding, watching him sleep while thinking, “Is this him? Is this my person?” Leaning my back into his chest with his arms around me, stretched out on a chaise lounge ocean side, watching the waves and feeling the rise and fall of his breath.

Plans were made, things were whispered, Sinatra was sung. We had a blast enjoying every minute we could. All too soon, I took him to the airport. As we parked, my favorite song magically began playing. Etta James, “At Last” had us suspended in a perfect moment. Even though we were running late and delirious form lack of sleep, we sat for a moment and listened to the song til the end. I’d brought a card to write a love note in, and was carrying it with me through the airport pen in hand, unable to think of a single thing to say. Standing in line, I used his back and finally penned; “Although we are apart, it is our destiny to be together again,” and tucked the card into his backpack.

I walked by his side until I couldn’t anymore. We hurried our goodbyes, neither of us wanting to have to say them. I turned to leave, disoriented and completely lost suddenly. I turned the wrong way and walked with purpose until I realized I had no idea where the parking garage was. I turned back and as I passed him again, I hurried, embarrassed for being so disoriented and flustered. I finally found my way out to my car and sat for a bit, trying to get my bearings. Had that just happened?

I don’t know what happens now. For the first time in my life, I am free. I’m single, I have no obligations for the next four months, I’ve sublet my place and am prepped to travel the world and write about it, one meal at a time. I was very settled into the idea of a summer alone, exploring…. and now this.

“We will travel together,” he shrugs as I try to stifle the thrill this brings me. He has such grandiose ideas of travel, “I’ve always wanted someone to share the world with. I want someone to travel with me.” My insides tugged with recognition, hadn’t I said those exact words myself? Haven’t I felt just that as I stood before a thousand memorable moments and soaked them in solo? He speaks 5 languages I don’t know, but this language I knew. This subtle longing for your other half is familiar to me.

My most independent self thinks I will do exactly as my Irish ass intends, and if he is the man for me, he will be more than happy to support me. Even if I am a fool, I am a fool in love with life. Everything has aligned for a summer of enlightenment in ways I cant possibly predict. I had planned to forge solo, and at times I will. I insist I am not going to be afraid, or lonely (despite past evidence to the contrary- it is not the first time I’ve swan dived off the top branch). I am going to embrace this as the blessing that it is, and frolic the world until my heart is content.

But first, I will go and be with the man who wants to share the world with me. Casablanca, Ivory Coast, Marrakech, Fez- Barcelona, Paris, and and and… working our way to Thailand. Maybe Bora Bora? He calls me from Morocco to hear my voice. My phone pings love notes from him all day. Pics of his friends saying hi, pics of him at the office, pics of him driving. He’s keeping me with him until I can be with him; the whole thing participatory, open, honest, easy. The partnership I’ve always wanted.

I’m a little anxious. What do I fear? I’m not even sure anymore. The man of my dreams being another fake? Losing my gumption to follow my dreams? I guess, yes and yes… I’m also vibrating with excitement. I’m about to embark on the greatest journey of my life to date. Excited, nervous…either way, a mile in my shoes will be worth walking. Blisters or no, I’m in.

Riding a horse

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I am somewhere between deep asleep, and barely awake. Nestled into impossibly soft sheets, thoughts thick, I vaguely register that I’m not at home. Oh, right….I remember, smug. I am on a tiny, selfish 2 day vacay. Wait, what woke me? What time is it?

“Caw!!! Caw cawwww!” My eyes snap open, but I soften with whimsy. I am staring up at the most beautiful crystal chandelier suspended from an ornately patterned soft blue and white ceiling. “Caw!” I stiffen at the sound.

I try and ignore the crow greeting the morning and snuggle back into my cloud. I almost drift back to sleep when it starts again, there’s two now cackling back and forth. I hunker down. Damn it, it’s barely daylight, yet there is no ignoring the crescendo of wildlife now in full morning song. Time passes strangely, “How long have I been awake?” I whisper, suddenly irate. Desperately, I rip the sheets to the left and stumble to the gorgeous French doors leading to my own private deck. Flinging them open I screech, “Really!?”

Five. There are five little bird heads that turn to look at me with mild amusement. Feathers unruffled, not one of them moves.  We stare at each other for a few tics. I am one with nature… The awkward one who wandered into the wrong circle and is now getting death stares from beady little eyes. I need to assert myself otherwise they just might attack, I think, sleepy and delusional. I’m the human here. I get close enough to grab them and start batting my arms. “Shoo!” I plead. “I wanna sleeeeep!”

They take flight like lazy fat black flies at a Midwestern picnic, just barely.   Scattering at five different points amongst the rooftop and trees, one continues to give me a piece of his mind. Not entirely confident he won’t come back and peck my eyes out, I steal back into my room to sink back into sleep.
“Never more,” I say softly.

When I wake again, it’s from a blissfully deep sleep. I don’t know or care what time it is, and I know exactly what roused me. Strains of Beethoven are floating up through the floorboards. I cocoon into a light sweater and tiptoe downstairs.

The house is massive, every detail charming. Room after room exquisite and completely unique. Fresh flowers, deer hide pillows, paintings wallpapering walls, antiques and kitsch intermingled amongst endless nooks, inviting you to gather or relax on a whim.  Every single inch is elegant and well cared for, the place radiates welcome. It feels like home. I notice there is no latch on the wooden screen door I press open, heading down to the boat house. But then, why would there be?

I walk barefoot, warm thick grass under my feet. Flies dive bomb, zinging by with a tiny shrill song. Birds twitter and flit, fat bumblebees hum, and I’m breathing fresh air like I can taste it. Everything is shaded under a canopy of massive trees hung with thick spanish moss. Slats of sunshine flicker through branches as a breeze breaks. Peaceful, I think I may never leave here. Suspended up high on the deck scouting for gators in the pond below, I notice an ant not noticing me, abruptly marching across the wood with purpose. It motivates me to get moving myself. We’re going horseback riding.

I feel like I am 10 years old again, riding in a golf cart down sandy dirt roads to the pasture. Two smiling dogs are running behind us, tongues flapping. “They prefer to run,”  my friend laughs with a shrug. We pull up to the picturesque stable and out trots a little black orphaned calf hungry for food and attention. We coo and squeal, petting her velvet nose and knuckling her between her floppy donkey ears. The old sweetheart of a ranch hand walks up and hands me her bottle with a toothless grin. She sucks it down like a frat boy bonging beer and I laugh. I’m in love.

Four chestnut horses are saddled up waiting for us. I claim mine and put the bridle on her myself, wrapping my arm over her ears to drop her head and guiding the bit in her mouth with my other hand. It’s probably been 17 years since I’d done that with my own pony in my own backyard. Everything is flooding back, the intermingled smell of horse, hay and leather grounding me to the present and resurrecting my past all at once.  I swing up onto the saddle with ease, feeling pretty bad ass. I’m glad I wore boots.

We saunter off to tour the ranch, the familiar sway of my horse lulling me into bliss as we venture off the path. It’s hard to tell if we’re getting a backstage pass or not. The trail comes and goes, the four of us ducking under low hanging branches, horses maneuvering around decaying logs. My chivalrous friend pulls a magnolia off of a tree and hands it to me smiling, answering my unasked question of what the intoxicating smell is hanging in the air. I pull up my horse to pause and pluck fat blackberries off a bush,  popping them in my mouth.

Does it get better than this? My mind wanders. Later I know there will be cold beer, food on the grill, everyone with nowhere to be gathered around the ten seater wood table in the kitchen, kicking back beers and taking turns on the soap box telling stories. I smile, totally marinating in my vacation.

The low sun is making everything glow golden, the day having crept by without anyone noticing. We round the corner and startle a herd of cattle. Thick grey Brahma bulls bully little black cows and calves across acres and acres of grass and palm trees, bellowing deep moos to each other back and forth.

Antsy, I know we’re close to finishing the ride, and I’m excited to go fast, like a little kid. The path widening in front of us, I trot up to get approval from the owner. He laughs and gives us the nod. Smiles wide, my friends and I urge our horses into a canter and tear across the field. The horses know exactly where they’re going. My riding skills rusty I try and sink my weight into the saddle and go. The rhythmic thump of hooves is exhilarating. This is freedom. Laughing, thrilled and alive; we ride back to towards the barn, right into the sunset.

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Writing it down

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Back in September, I was driving late at night, suspended over the ocean on the causeway, top down, music slightly louder than my singing…. Utterly content, belly full of food and wine, I felt invincible. I felt like I was capable of whatever I wanted. Of course, the question popped into my head- What DO I want? I mean really truly deep down want in my life? I grabbed my phone, hit record, and began to ramble whatever thought went through my head. Keep in mind I was slightly cocked.

This- is that ramble of thoughts. I listened to it today- going through old voice memos on my phone. A little funny, a little scattered, I’d completely forgotten about it. It’s been 6 months- and it’s curious to see what’s come true and what’s coming to fruition. Regardless, it feels like a time capsule, a nod from my subconscious. A “Hello future self” letter to me, from me. A little reminder to keep me focused on what I want to surround myself with, who I want to be.

Sept 19, 2012
1:41 AM
Things that I want;
I want perfectly soft scrambled eggs. I never want to eat burnt toast. Bread should crackle like it does in France. I want chewy bacon. I want medium rare steaks.

I want pants that fit correctly. I want heels that are the perfect height, and never give me blisters. I always want my hair to look absolutely amazing.

I want my women selfless, kind and generous. I want my men to be slightly unavailable, completely loyal dashing gentlemen.

I want to be able to travel anywhere I could possibly want to go. I want to be able to make my job photography, writing, food and travel.

I want to be held to the highest regard because I am completely respected. I am admired, and I am trusted. People want to be around me, people want to be me, people want to be with me. I want to be important, but I want to be completely unaffected by it. I donʼt want to be an asshole.

I want to spend the rest of my life from here on out with the man that I am supposed to be with. I want to be with somebody that I adore as naturally as breathing. We’ll bring out the best in each other, inspiring and supporting, each the others biggest fan. We’ll reciprocate all that is good, build something strong. I want us to be stupidly, ridiculously consumed with love. We’ll have our own language; our routines, habits and inside jokes invent our own universe amongst everyone else here. I want the world to be ours, and I want our world to revolve around each other.

I want to write. I want to have the diligence and perserverance and patience to be able to write things that are really important. I want to be able to write things that are unimportant. I want to be able to write whatever comes to my mind, have the wherewithal to be able to continue it, and pursue it in a way that is consistent enough that I could do something like a blog or a book or a movie…. I want to be able to submit that to somebody and have them say, “Where have you been? Youʼre revolutinizing things! You are brilliant we are going to publish this immediately! We couldnʼt be happier.”

And to this I will say “ Yesss yess yesssss….”

Eating lunch

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“Beautiful day today,” I tease my waiter. The air is too thick, the breeze smells like rain. The sun is taking the day off, which is fitting since today is my day off too. He laughs, “It is!” he insists regardless, with a velvety french accent.

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“Days like today remind me why I left Paris.” He gestured towards the sky, “The Sunshine state, as they say. No?” I blush. I’m here at my fave little french cafe because I miss Paris. Hungry for my European escape to start, restless for another month, I’ve sought comfort here. French music plays in the background, dangerously sexy accents fly across the kitchen, the smell of pan au chocolate hits your face as you walk in the door. It’s the most romantic little spot. I’ve frequented for years, always on days like today, a little cloudy, a little rainy. Perfect for a bottle of rosé and hours languidly picking at pâtés, walnuts and cheeses. I have every intention of indulging in every last last sip and bite of whatever I want. 

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I am one of three patrons here this afternoon, each of us in our respective corners. All of us, I shamelessly note, has a bottle of wine to ourselves. The owners are French- I’d met them years ago watching the World Cup at an Irish pub. I think one is here now, with an ever present cigarette in one hand, espresso in the other. It was like he’d left Paris for Miami, but brought a chunk of it with him, just in case.
 
The feeling I get being here, is exactly the feeling I get in Paris. I am an observer, and I am alone. I don’t know what it is- but I am almost always alone in Paris. My first of many visits was 6 years ago, Paris being  my first venture into Europe. I was fresh off of months of work aboard a yacht and was ready for my own adventure. 
 
I arranged to be there for weeks, leaving Michigan post Christmas, flying to Paris for New Years, and returning to Miami. It was such a thrilling idea in theory. Only now, years later, will I admit that I was lonely. 
 
I had planned everything leading up to my arrival and very little of what I’d be doing there for weeks by myself. One night, tired, lost and disoriented, I finally sat in a doorway trying to muster the courage to go eat solo again. A woman in a gorgeous full length fur coat walking a tiny white dog passed me, then doubled back. My jaw dropped at her presence, which filled the doorway (and probably all of Paris)  with assertive grace. She began in rapid French, which I meekly interrupted with, “Je ne parle pas français”. She asked me, in lovely English, where I was going and I told her I was looking for a restaurant. She quickly beckoned a right, left, right, and finished with a flourish, pointed finger in my face,
“In Paris- only meat, never fish” before rushing off into the night. 
 
I acclimated to my role of observer, and became familiar with places that are still favorites of mine to this day. One of which is a little Irish pub right by the Seine River in Saint Germain. I went one night to hear a band at the suggestion of the bartender and now friend, Eddy.
“They’re fantastic” he promised. 
 
Arriving early, I sat in front with the little red journal that I kept at all times, penning little snapshots of my time there for safe keeping. The bar filled, and the band took their place, the singer joking with the audience over his microphone as they tuned guitars and checked sound. As they began to play, and my Guinness started to slip down my throat, I warmed and sank into the music. 
 
It was a great night. The band played to the crowd, the crowd played to the band. Toasts were made, songs sung by all bonded us in the moment. The singer grabbed his mike, and as he started transitioning from one song to the next his eyes locked onto mine. 
“Where are YOU from?” He questioned. 
 
I gave him the- Me?…Really?!? face, tipped up my chin and said, “Miami.” 
“Well,” he laughed looking over the crowd. “Who’s going to buy Miami a drink?” Only then did I turn around and realize that I was the only single girl in the bar. Everyone whooped and hollered like good drunken friends and three shots of Jameson hit my table. Suddenly bashful, I gave one to the singer and raised my glass like a good Irish girl. “This,” he paused for emphasis, looking meaningfully at me. “This song is for you” he toasted and kicked back our whiskey.
 
“And so it is…” he began to sing the Damien Rice song, The Blowers Daughter. Immediately emotional, tears were in my eyes. I love that song, and as it was happening, I realized simultaneously it would be one of the most romantic moments of my life. Years later, no matter where I am, when I hear that song- I am forever the girl in the pub in Paris with tears running down her face; hopeful, romantic, hopelessly lost. 
 
Inspired, I wrote in my little red journal that night, after stumbling home full of life and love I penned, “I can’t wait to meet the man I’m going to spend my life with, so I can tell him how much I missed him in Paris.” It’s a phrase I’ve thought of a thousand times since then. 
 
Thunder begins to roll. Startled, it brings me back to the here, the now. I ask my waiter for “l’addicion s’il vous plait?” It’s fully raining,  drops splashing into my wine and over my plate. As I transfer inside, I change my mind and instead of leaving, I order an espresso and a pan au chocolat. I rationalize I’m not going anywhere. Not anytime soon anyway, so why not? Moments are mine, and this is no exception. I close my eyes, listen to the rain, and relax into my seat. 
 

Making dinner

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I’ve been flirting, lately. A lot. Ill spare you the details about how he is halfway around the world, and how I saw him for only hours…over a year ago. How somehow, we’ve stayed in touch. Sporadically, he will cross my mind. I’ll smile, feeling warmth in my tummy and send him a quick hello from my side of the ocean. The important thing to know is this; if all goes well, I will see him soon.

Throughout the day my phone pings texts from him and my heart leaps. I love when its all new and exciting, when the possibilities are endless. What goes unsaid and unknown is woven into little hopeful romantic daydreams. I am in full girl crush mode, my anticipation level is through the roof. Especially when we start to talk about food.

Today I coyly, yet honestly- offered to cook for him. Sometime. Maybe.
His response, “What’s on my menu?”, stopped me mid prance. I fumbled a response about how I’d think about it and get back to him.

I rarely work from menus. My food is usually a manifestation of my thoughts and environment that moment. Something I saw, something I hope to replicate, refine, personalize. A change in the weather. A trip I took. The way I felt when I ate something, anything. Everything inspires me.

Cooking for someone, to feed someone, is so incredibly gratifying that its almost selfish on my part. It’s satiating feeding people I care about. But rarely do I cook for someone I like. It’s too much pressure. What one expects from a chef (I assume) is fantastically inspired food with perfect technique sprinkled with Michelin Stars. I haven’t disappointed anyone yet, but still. I can’t assume I know what they like, or how they like it. Its also a little intimidating. I don’t always use Michelin Stars when I cook. I prefer rustic and simple, yet one does not want to disappoint when one has upped their own ante.

There are other factors. Although I’m hardly a food snob, I have a hard time respecting overly picky eaters. The phrase “I don’t like it” is only ok for me from a child. And even then I’d respond, “How do you know? You’ve never tried it. What if it’s your favorite food and you’re missing out?”
(Side note- my double standard is this; I will not eat peanut butter. Or ketchup. Or mangos. So there.)

What to make for someone I’m trying to impress on a personal level is very different from the party tricks I pull on a professional job. What do I communicate through my food? My plate? I think of the things I love most when I eat; smoke, fat, meat, crunch, juice, acidity, balance, crisp, fresh, tender. My grandmother’s spaghetti sauce, my Mother’s apple pie. I am always looking for the next perfect bite. Not a thing on my plates is without purpose, everything is there in harmony with everything else. It is my craft, my art.

In the end, when I get the privilege to cook for this man, or when he gets the privilege to eat my food (however you want to look at it) of this I am sure, It will be something beautifully simple and honest, prepared with the utmost attention and care. What I give to other people through my cooking is love, from me. What it will be is yet to be determined, but oh the fun of daydreaming tastes delicious. Plenty enough to hold me over until I can taste the real thing. Until then : )

Crossing the pond

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There is a tiny bookshop in Paris on the river Seine that I love. If you wander to the back and climb the steep wooden stairs, you’re treated to a lovely little library. Rows of older books line the shelves, not to buy, but to curl up with and read at your leisure. An afterthought; a perfect, organic finish to the room, there sprouts an almost unnoticeable tiny nook. It houses a school desk chair and a typewriter; serving only as a suggestion since the typewriter itself stopped working long ago.

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Like leaves on a tree, thousands of scraps of paper are carefully placed at every angle and every way imaginable so that when you sit at the desk, there are incredible sentiments penned everywhere you look. On metro tickets, the back of receipts, scraps of paper are written things like, “Paris summer 2010!!!”, “This is my favorite place in the world”, (and my favorite, which I seek and find every visit), “My Grandfather met my Grandmother here”.

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Last summer- alone, full of whimsy, high from Europe- not wanting to come down- ever…. I visited the little nook and paged through a book looking for my own space to write something. I’d sat in the same place many times before, never writing a thing, absorbing instead. I was intimidated, feeling as if only something significant would do. I looked around at all the new love notes, layered upon the old. Suspended at eye level to my left was the phrase Marc and I had thrown back and forth for my entire trip. It said only, “Where are you?” I laughed out loud and gave a nod to the universe and its candid sense of humor. I sat for a minute soaking it all up and finally penned into a tiny corner of a book page, “If you believe everything can happen, then it will”.

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Now, months later- I conjure that memory in my head. “I want to live in Miami six months- and then travel for 6 months”, I willed silently, eyes gently closed, breathing into the idea. I sat, allowing myself to explore the possibility of what I “want”. I. Me. Only Meaghan.

It has been almost a year and I am flushed just thinking of the possibilities. My own advice I wrote back in Paris…This is foreshadowing. The foreplay of words. I know it. I’m excited in a way that comes from my instinct tapping me on the shoulder. She’s already seen what happens, and she’s spoiling the ending for me. And yet, not really. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know I’ve set myself up for something really good.

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I’ve learned that whatever I want is certainly possible. I dare to dream. I’m also spontaneous, resourceful and impulsive, so the recipe is there. I’ve thrown myself into unknown adventures so often that the thrill is comfortable, familiar, palpable even. Yet as things come together, the stars align, and everything starts to click into place, I’m still so full of grateful wonder. Do I really get to live this life?

I pass by my vision board, suspended on my wall, every day. The other day, I realized I’d stopped seeing it. Crouching down, as if to press my nose to it, I began to rearrange the magnets to see every detail. I marveled at the beauty of the cohesiveness of the images, like I was seeing them for the first time. I was reading my own treasure map. Fingers gliding across the images and phrases, I wondered how these things would come to fruition. After squirreling away hundreds of images over the year, I painstakingly, purposefully placed pictures that made me feel something, a pull from my subconscious. Perfectly in sync, these pictures were of things I hoped for. Seeing them every day helped guide me to them. That’s the thing, I smiled to myself. Wishes come true.

I have only whimsical fantasies of what this summer holds. For the longest, I didn’t have anything concrete. Except now…Now I have Ireland. After singing loudly in my car, and languidly perusing tour dates stuck in traffic. I now know that on July 14th I’ll be at Mumford and Sons. In Dublin. It is to date, maybe my best impulse purchase, and now serves as the anchor around which my entire summer swings. I’m going back to Europe. It calls! It’s pulling me for something, and I can’t wait to see what.

This means everything. Once I let myself wish for the opportunity, it presents itself. I find when the right things are happening, they are effortless. The elated feeling of sure-footedness and confidence are strong and present. It’s the things that are meant to be, that happen. Although assuredly at their own pace, and at the right time. Being open to opportunities is my key, being patient is my hard part. The journey? That is the best part. Eager and alive, adventurous and willing, confident that everything can, in fact- happen. I am ready.

Pulling the trigger

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“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” -Chekhov

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“Wash your hands,” he says. I look up at him, obedient. I’m distracted thinking about our afternoon. “There’s a lot of lead.” His voice always drops slightly when he tells me what to do, and my body instantly reacts to his octave change. I so want to please him. I’m still strangely aroused by our afternoon. We’d gone shooting.

“No concealed weapons” the door read. I begin to involuntarily shake a little as we stepped into the shop. Camilo scanned the guns lined like jewelry in a glass case and pointed to one. The precise way with which he handled it caused my hands to shake harder. I wrapped my arms around myself, and stared at him, fascinated. He cracked it open and snapped it shut with ease and efficiency. Lining the sight up, he pointed the barrel at the wall to the left of the clerks baseball cap and said, “This one.”

We signed our lives away and I’m startled that they just handed us a gun and 4 rounds of ammo like its nothing. We walked back to the range and he gestured for me to put my earplugs in. Inside, we are the only two. He strings up our first target and slides it back along the wire. Taking the gun in his hand he guides me through each step, how to hold it, what the rules are. He loads the first clip and I step back directly under an air vent. Immediately I miss the heat of him next to me. Chills cover my skin as he pulls the trigger, and my body jolts at the sound. Silently I mouth, “Holy shit.”

Adrenaline churns through me as he expertly fires shot after shot. He knows exactly what he is doing. I’ve never seen anything like it. He is a real life hero. My whole body is shaking from the thrill and fear. I’m excited, terrified and impressed by him. He turns to me with a smile, “Come on.”

I try and breathe normally and shake my body out a bit before wrapping my right palm around the handle and cup my left thumb up under my right like he showed me. My right finger is lined up straight above the trigger, “Don’t move that finger until you are ready to shoot”, he warns me heavily. I nod, meekly. I’m holding a loaded gun in my hand.

My anticipation palpable, I feel my heart pulse in my trigger finger as I pull back gently. The pop is instant and electrifying. I’m trembling as I pull back again and again. I line up my focus and try to breathe, readying my next shot. I’m momentarily derailed by another loud blast. Other people have come in, and are shooting a few feet away from us. Overwhelmed, I look back to Camilo scared and he reaches out to hold the gun down, “Don’t look away while you’re holding it”. I nod needing his reassurance. I don’t want to mess up, I want to impress him. The air thick with gunfire, I finish my shots.

The trigger pulls an empty chamber, and I very slowly lay the gun down on its side. My heart pounds in my chest- I did it. I let the air out of my lungs for the first time in minutes and suck it back in quickly as the others continue to fire shots. Camilo gives me a nod of approval and I beam. He takes the gun and gestures to the door, “I’m going to switch this one out,” he says and steps out.

I lean against the wall, hiding. I begin to count the blasts in my head, my fingers pressed tightly into my earplugs. The sound ricochets around the space. “Come back come back come back” I will silently, needing him to feel safe. The second he returns, I am ok again.

I hover close as he loads the new gun. He slides 16 bullets into the clip, snaps it in and hands it to me, “This one will be gentler.” I nod and try to stand comfortably, breathe and focus. I need to nail this, action movie style. I mentally channel Angelina Jolie and cock my right foot back, drop my shoulders and pull the trigger.

We finish our last round and step out. I am exhilarated but trying to play it cool, this is something Camilo does every weekend. I keep the last target, smug knowing that every bullet hit the bad guy. We got him.

Driving home, I gaze over at him while he toys with the radio, skipping around picking the perfect song. I’m still vibrating from the experience, awake in ways I haven’t been in forever. I’m intrigued. By him, and by the affect he has on me. He drives like the expert he is, fast and in control. I’m completely confident that I’m safe. Smiling, savoring the adventure, I close my eyes, and push my face into the wind.