Three weeks in April and May returned me to the care of many of the most important people in the world to me, conveniently scattered across the state of California, each of whom I have known for over 20 years.

Bay Area

My time in Palo Alto found me staring into the fields of Sunken Diamond, perhaps the closest thing I have to a man-made spiritual center of my universe. While it’s surrounded by the every growing machine of greed in Silicon Valley, on the field, it’s baseball. And when I say baseball, I say it with the reverence of the opening lines of Bull Durham.

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The first game with John, Kathy, & kids was special. John and I became friends skipping CS107 Friday afternoon classes to watch baseball. Over the last 28 years, he and Kathy have been my support during the most difficult times of my life. It’s nice to watch an evening ball game when everyone is healthy and happy. The second game with Sameer ended in a loss but the experience was no less meaningful. We say ‘brother’ and not friend — which given his depth of care for his family is no small word. It’s been a long time since we’ve ‘had a catch’, but the rhythm of our friendship always picks back up the same way you’ll never forget how to snap your wrist.

In San Francisco, Steph has been my host for over seven years on my trips to San Francisco. I really do think of ‘su casa’ as ‘mi casa’ (maybe too much at times). As a super cool bonus, I had the chance to visit Strava headquarters and check out all the bikes in the bike room.

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Dinner with Sundeep, who was my intern almost 20 years ago, has been an always-just-in-time tradition for many of my smoke-jumping trips into San Francisco. Since he’d just lived with me in Manly for a few weeks back in Jan/Feb, this catch up was less “news” and more just being.

The Danimal’s 40th brought a handful of people together from all over, but Dan and Neel were two of my three closest friends for over a decade in Austin. Seeing Dan in his new home was a gift of serenity — he and Xan have managed incredible challenges and it’s a treat to see how they’ve built a wonderful life. While a 50-lb pig roast isn’t really the thing for a vegan/vegetarian, the entire weekend was fantastic, capped off by my third baseball game in two weeks.

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The real Northern California

The next weekend, I had the chance to see Dad’s side of the family in Northern California, including Uncle Cy and my cousin Diane (the original owner of the kidney I carry around with me). My visits are always the same: I stare at the incredible trees and river and wonder how my life can contain more of this. I follow my Uncle Cy on some hike where keeping up with him (now in his mid-80s) is a challenge. I get to spend time with Diane.

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Southern California

A quick hop to LAX gave me a few days with Vic, Elaine, and little Bryan. It’s amazing how kid-unfriendly I am in general and yet my friend’s kids have an effect on me that I’d prefer to deny. A friendship that will celebrate it’s third decade in just about a year is not something to overlook — each of us goes through a universe of change, and I don’t underestimate how lucky I am to have Vic, or any of my friends, still a part of my life.

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Traveling further South in California, I was thinking to myself that I hadn’t seen Kiyon in over a decade, then realized I had seen her about a year ago. But that really didn’t count since it was just lunch in neutral territory. This time I got immersed into her family’s life (including a little league game, aka baseball game #4. The game on the field was actually the most dramatic and interesting of the trip). Our conversations which hiking along Torrey Pines felt identical to the dorm room talks of our frosh year. We are still trying to resolve who we are, how we relate to our families, our lives, our work, every single day.

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I’m okay

Part of this trip was getting to see my friends, but an equal part of them was getting to see me, after the events of 2017 (I’ll blog on this in a couple months). That I’m okay, that I might be a little different, and changed, but that I’m in general, “okay,” and the same BJR they’ve known for decades (both the good and the bad parts).

Reflection

While I don’t think California will ever by my home again, I am at home with each of these people who have been at my bed side after my first diagnosis, pre- and post-transplant, who put me back together after two divorces, who have celebrated and mourned each event in my life, and who have saved my life again and again and again.

Given the changes ahead for me, I am lucky to have had this time, to sit, and not rush, in the presence of the keepers of “me” — the ones who could tell you better than I who I really was, and who I am. So many times our experiences feel half-formed when we visit families or friends, because we set ourselves up with expectations of miracles of ‘connection’ instead of just being. I know it’s shocking to hear that coming from me. But this time, I wasn’t Bryan, I wasn’t BJR. I was just me.

As the trip ended, and I buckled my seat belt, ready to head back to SF to catch my connection to Sydney, the 60+ year old therapist next to me offered me some edible pot. Ah, California.

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