Thanksgiving is next week and I’m sitting in a house with a Christmas tree in every corner and snowflakes dripping down the front windows. It’s spectacular, but it feels a little off.

Winter won’t make an appearance for me this year. No snow, no cold. No branches stripped to naked bark, with tree trunks outlined by brittle grasses frozen at cockamamie angles or ice-veiled ponds and frozen cubes of water rushing along a river’s current. No pleasant crunch along the bottom of fuzz-lined Sorrels as I step across the porch in the morning. No winter.

Flathead Lake, November 2012

It’s strange to sweat a little in November, to feel the heat and humidity of the day as it turns the corner to noon and continues to gain temperature till the sun goes down. Not to 30 degrees, but to 70. After the sun disappears is when I remember where I am in this year. That’s when the cold air creeps up from the bottom, fog descends inland from the ocean, and cool moisture lays its heavy hand on my face.

But when I think about it, that’s also a bit like Montana’s spring and summer. When the cool air would sweep across the valley, slowly filling in pockets of air with temperature loss until evening out against the hillsides.


Climate urges with it the oohs and aahs of each season. I never really noticed how even keeled it was in Coastal California until I left and came back. The seasons are more subdued here, a little less spectacular. They blend  from one to the next without the epiphany that symbolizes a year’s noticeable move into a different season.

The symphony of colors is mild because they are always there. The moments that made me appreciate nature for giving life are not here. No bursting of spring wildflowers that holds the earth captive for mere weeks before taking leave, no gigantic supernatural burst of fall’s oranges that takes over every tree in sight until the leaves succumb to winter and fall to the ground, leaving the world bare and brown until the snow melts and the world heats up.

Thinking about that now, makes me appreciate that spring follows a barren winter to give the world a reminder that nature shares it’s berth in color.

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As I forget the things that life has taught me, those lessons reach back up and slap me in the face with a wakeup—if you want to call it that—that people don’t change and neither do I. Somehow, I fall back into a seated position with my head heavily in my hands, and I shake it back and forth in wonder at how life has trespassed across some unwanted path, yet again.

It sounds depressing, but when you step away from it, it’s not. It’s just a part of life. It’s the part that gets you to a better spot, a better place. It realigns you and your movements. At least, to me, that’s what those lessons are for. Without them, I think it would be hard to look at life in retrospect and see where you’ve been and where you want to go…but I digress.

It’s constant. Cycling. Circling. Forever bent into a curve that repeats. It’s not always the same, but generally it’s similar. As I roll along, I am faced with the same lessons scattered along the timeline of my existence. They live on a bell curve that pulls me up and down along a path.

The people who wander in and out of my vision, the people who I allow in and out of my subconscious, those who I devote my time and energy to, are occasionally the ones whose behavior throws me back and for some reason, although it’s happened before, it leaves me stunned.

Usually, it’s just life—outside of my home, outside of my personal space, away from the place I hide in safety and curl up to think. But this time, it was different, it was something I couldn’t run from. The reason I am between houses, and left in the panic that only I can push myself to when I have a goal to reach, is because I gave a person I trusted too many chances.

My landlord, who had become a friend.

I hesitate as I write this because I feel like I’m betraying some sort of unspoken trust that is her story, but then I realize that this is my story too.

We all have cycles and tendencies, which I have already touched on. For me, it’s trust and a desire to help someone I see flailing that gets me into trouble. I put myself out too far, I give too much of myself to another, and then feel tremendous guilt when I pull away. It’s always been that way. I can remember my mom getting upset at me for doing it when I was in elementary school.

There are, of course, other Camillia-cycles too, but we’ll leave those where they are.

For this person I rented a room from, her circular path always veers back toward chaos. It’s her bell curve and constant existence. I listened to the stories she told me and in the six months I lived with her, I watched her go from the top of her curve to the bottom, go from new habits to old habits, and in the process, because we lived together, her life became my life.

Near the end, it was just too much for me.

Her spiral, in my opinion, started with a job loss. She wasn’t fired, but was let go because the orthopedic surgeon she worked for was downsizing. That was almost two months ago.

During that first month, I watched her get depressed. I tried to reach out, but the empathy that I can usually muster for those going through rough patches had run out. I couldn’t be there for someone I felt wasn’t there for herself. I started to step back and inevitably got sucked back in.

In the first couple of weeks after she lost her job, I held a little birthday weekend camping trip in Big Sur for myself. She came with me, and we drove up to meet my friends. For me, there were two sides to that weekend—a great little vacation and time to talk to people I hadn’t seen in a while and also one where I saw a side of my housemate that I hadn’t seen before. Without getting too far into it, I don’t think either one of us was happy at the end of our three-day trip.

The trip ended badly. A side-trip to Morro Bay and a fist fight pretty much threw that weekend into my own personal record-book of things I’ve never experienced before. Not to worry, my housemate and I didn’t fight, but there was a fight involving her, that ended with a couple black eyes.

Two nights later, her ex-boyfriend broke into the house and “stole” her wallet. She was dating someone new and her ex started harassing and stalking her, badly. He harassed her friends and family, both via phone calls, text messages, and Facebook. He made threatening remarks and had come into the house un-announced and un-invited several times over the preceeding two weeks.

I had called the cops on him once. That evening when I came home, I finally convinced her to call the cops on him herself. She did, filed a report, and he came back to the house later, so we called the cops again. Turns out, he had a copy of the house key, and that’s how he got into the house.

To me, this is not normal behavior. Not during a relationship, not after a relationship, not ever. This is a series of events that also goes in my record book of things I’ve never experienced before, and to put it frankly, it had nothing to do with me, but because I lived there, I got to be a part of it.

The next morning, I changed the locks. I started to feel weird about making sure the doors were always locked. She said she was working on filing a restraining order against her ex, and she changed her phone number.

After a couple weeks, I thought she started acting really strange. She would come in and out of the house without saying hi to me, she couldn’t look me in the eyes, was always locked in her room. I really started to worry that her depression had spiraled to a point where she needed help, and wondered what I could and should do as a friend.

Then, one night I saw her pull up with her ex. I found out she had been sneaking him into the house and not telling me. The reason for her strange behavior clicked. Obviously, I wasn’t supposed to know—maybe it was the late nights she had spent hiding from him, or all the crazy things I had witnessed, or the cops. Either way, I kind of lost it and let my anger take over. He is a thief-harrasser-stalker-crazy person who had mentally abused her. To hear it from her side, now, “we abused each other. It wasn’t just him.”

Tell me, is this something you want in your house, in your life?

For me the answer is an easy, exasperated, agitated, infuriated “No.”

It’s not safe, he’s volatile and unpredictable, he’s capable of awful abusive things when he doesn’t get his way. And now, I don’t trust the person who I pay rent to so I can live in a room in her house. Wonderful.

So, I gave her notice and got out of there. It was a weird transition. It’s not like I despise her or anything like that. In fact, I feel lighter now that I’m no longer in that situation. And now that I’m on the other side of it, I can see why that’s her cycle. It’s what she’s used to. For her part, she understands why I don’t want to be around it and don’t want her life to be such an intimate part of my life.

“My friends are used to my drama,” she told me.

It’s not the first friendship that drama destroyed for me. It’s not the first time my empathy for someone has run out, or I willfully decided to remove myself from the life of another. For me though, it was the first circumstance like that I’ve ever experienced.

Warning signs for big disasters are always there. I remember taking mental note of the ones that shot red flags up for me and made me think that I wanted to get out of that living arrangement much earlier than the beginning of November. But I didn’t do anything about it, they were just thoughts without action.

And those big diamond-shaped yellow signs that signal danger up ahead, are part of my intuition, but for some reason, I usually choose to ignore them and push through. For some strange, cyclical reason, I feel like human connection and kindness are more important, like a simple human relationship will fix all the problems in life.

It doesn’t. And my stubborn behind always learns things the hard way.

Pulling splinters

Looking for a rental is always—always, always, always—a gigantic pain in the rear. However, in all the places I’ve lived, which include Santa Cruz, Aptos, Ukiah, Kalispell, Whitefish, Missoula, Bigfork, and the Central Coast, nowhere compares to here.

It’s like getting a million little splinters in your finger from running it along a carefully sanded wooden plank. And they’re so fine and soft that you can’t grip them to pull them out. And each listing you look at drives the splinters further into your skin.

Perhaps things have changed for me a little. I now have a dog in tow, but I found places in Missoula, Bigfork, and Kalispell just fine. And they were actually affordable.

It seems like every listing I look at on Craigslist.org either says no pets or specifically no dogs. Or if they do allow dogs, the weight limit is 25 lbs and breed restrictions apply. Ok. Great. I can pay you, but because some idiot owner was either A-irresponsible or B-their dog mauled someone and it made national news, my dog and I are apparently not allowed to rent ANYWHERE on the Central Coast.

Not in San Luis Obispo or Grover Beach or Pismo Beach or Arroyo Grande or Nipomo or Santa Maria or Orcutt or even out in the country. And, what makes it all the more splintery is the number of people who have ads in the “housing wanted” section of Craigslist.

They say things like:

“Help Us!”

“Please. Somebody Help Us.”

“Looking for Pet Friendly home.”

Yes, they are families, couples, and single people who have pets—oh my—and are looking for a place to rent.

I’m not the only one, but at least I’m not where they are just yet, I haven’t reached that level of desperation. Yet.

I call bullshit. Yes mom, bullshit.

You, housing and apartment owners on the Central Coast, dying to rent out apartments that I’ve seen posted day-after-day on Craigslist, advertising the greatness of said poop-hole and looking for a renter, could at least consider someone with a pet. “Sorry, no pets considered” is not really an apology, at least it doesn’t sound like one to me.

Some of these ads even say no overnight guests allowed, no drinking, and on and on and on.

Or, my favorite; which allows pets, but, in exchange for a reduced rent of $700 a month, you who rents this amazing place (it’s pretty sweet) also commit to part-time work as a property maintenance person on 5 acres of land, at least 13 hours a week and whatever else the owner sees fit to assign you.

I also saw a room rental listed for $500 a month, where you also are a caregiver/cook/cleaner for the owner of the home. How does that work? I’m sorry, maybe I’m upset, but that doesn’t sound reduced to me.

I’ve seen ads that are still listed (or have been re-listed) from when I first moved here in January.

You people are missing out. There are responsible pet-owners out there who won’t allow their pets to soil your place, who will take their pets for walks, who know their pets well and love their pets, and who train their pets and spend time with their pets.

You are essentially discriminating against them, against us. America is not a land of freedom, when the quintessential man’s best friend is not allowed to step foot in a freaking rental.

This is just one of the things about housing that makes living here so hard. It’s a great area, but are you property owners trying to get all pet-owners to buy homes or leave? News flash: we can’t afford the homes because they’re getting snapped up by investors who bid the price well above asking, and the housing inventory is so low that the prices are being driven up anyway.

I’m sorry if I sound a little callous, I’m more just frustrated. As a journalist, I’m sure I need to see things from the other side of the fence, however I’m so fully integrated onto this side of the fence that all I can do is offer my opinion.

Come on home-owners and property managers. Lets rally for renters who can do what you’re asking and not discriminate against them because they own a dog.

Kick in the pants

Maybe I shouldn’t write about some of the things I’ve been thinking the last three days. I’ve been so angry, upset, and full of anxiety, my body vibrates at times.

That’s not normal, at least not for me.

It’s like this mixture of boiling blood, adrenaline, and fear of dealing with something unsavory all rolled into one gigantic ball of poop. That’s right, I said poop.

Let me tell you a little bit about where my week is headed as I only have about 10 minutes before I have to pick up the phone and call Mr. David Walker at Firestone Walker Brewing Company for a muy importante interview about his kick-ass brewer Matt Bryndilson. But that’s for another day.

Today, between work and soccer practice, I have to—wait, no, I get to—drop two bags of stuff off at Goodwill or the closest thrift store I can find, go purchase a padlock, and finally rent a storage locker. It, by the way, is not near my house because apparently there’s a high demand for those lockers these days. Everyone is full up.

After practice, I will attempt to move some of my boxes into the newly acquired space that will hold all my items for the next month. Practice ends at 7:20 p.m., storage closes at 8 p.m. I will then go back to my house and continue packing until I go to sleep. Then, in the morning, before work, I will attempt to hit the storage place again.

You see, I only have a small BMW with which to transport stuff until Friday, so the trips won’t be efficient or fruitful, but as the tortoise relayed to the hare, I suppose “slow and steady wins the race.” On Thursday afternoon—that’s tomorrow—after soccer practice, I will need to finish my box-stuffing mission and be ready for help to arrive. Friday morning, hit work early, and leave by 11 a.m. Then, with help from my beautiful and talented friendly assistant with a huge diesel truck, I will empty my currently occupied space and fill—most likely to the brim—my newly rented storage facility.

That needs to be done before 3 p.m., because my friend needs to pick up her kids from school. Cleaning comes next, I need to rent a shampooer and go to town on the dog-hair infested carpet, scrape poop—I said it again—out of the backyard, and vacate the property. My hope is to never step foot in that house again.

But wait, there’s more. I will then get in my little BMW, with my dog, and head straight to the Bay Area for a quick visit with my folks and to drop off my pooch for a couple of weeks. On Saturday I will come back down to the Central Coast, and possibly make cookies with my talented friendly assistant, before hitting the sack early because I have to be in Arroyo Grande for a soccer tournament at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning.

If that’s not jam-packed and stuffed full, I don’t know what would be. Why, you may ask, am I doing all of this in such a harried manner? Well, that, my friends is the first part of the story, which I’m not quite sure how to tell yet, but it will be the next installment on my blog…