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Looking back: it was the best of times

“History will be kind to me,” said Sir Winston Churchill, “for I intend to write it.” The real quote is actually longer than that, but you get the idea.

The view from my little deck of the condo pool and hot tub, which went down very well with the younger natives!

The view from my little deck of the condo pool and hot tub, which went down very well with the younger natives!

That’s what I’ve done in this Zinzins volume, write the collective history of our beautiful blended family. I moved out of the family home on April 8, 2010. Within the year, I started elaborating on the earlier online photo album (www.zinzins.net) assembled during our years together. I took other photos from those 16 years, annual updates for friends and family, occasional letters and emails, even homework sometimes, added them to the bare bones of the existing site, and turned them into a real history.

But I’m not trying to monopolize that history: I don’t know most of it! Marie-Hélène and each of the children had his or her own perspective on everything, his or her own experience of everything. It is the oddest feeling when I confidently recount some anecdote or other to one of the children, to be met with a blank stare and a question: “do you mean when . . . .?” I’ll think about it, and dimly recognize that it’s the same event seen through different eyes.

Inside the disused Union Pacific railroad tunnel over Donner Pass

Inside the disused Union Pacific railroad tunnel over Donner Pass

As time went on, Marie-Hélène’s and my perspectives became increasingly out of sync, and we ended up in a long, dark and cold tunnel. I even found that tunnel soon after we broke up, at the top of Donner Pass, a disused railroad tunnel that was part of the first transcontinental railroad. A father showing his son the trains passing through Colfax one Sunday morning (echos of my father showing me the trains rumbling through Stapleton Road station in Bristol on other Sundays) told me about it and where to find it. It begins in a ski resort parking lot, and runs for half a mile through the mountain and then for miles around tight turns and through disused snow sheds before joining up with the existing track.

The beautiful view coming out of the disused Donner Pass tunnels, with Donner lake in the background and a yellow submarine on a rock in the foreground.

The beautiful view coming out of the disused Donner Pass tunnels, with Donner Lake in the background and a yellow submarine on a rock in the foreground.

Since that original transcontinental line over Donner Summit was closed in 1993, and a new longer and straighter tunnel opened in its place, this disused tunnel sits there long and cold, with rails and sleepers removed and snow and ice on the ground inside for half the year. That’s where Marie-Hélène and I were by the time things drew to a close. It was too cold and dark to stay.

Coming out of the tunnel, I’ve been rediscovering the shining times that preceded it. The light of day is such a dazzling thing as you come out of a tunnel. You blink and you squint and then finally you can open your eyes again.

The shining times burst out on occasion, just as this post is bursting out on a solitary Saturday evening in my lonely condo on Mount Hermon Road in Scotts Valley, with the traffic roaring by the open French window and Thunder Road (the Live in Barcelona 2002 version) playing as loud as I dare on the stereo.

Beatles again! Our 2010 summer vacations were already planned when I moved out. Tom, Charlie, Alex and I visited the Hard Day's Night Hotel in Liverpool, where they showed us the John Lennon Suite.

Beatles again! Our 2010 summer vacations were already planned when I moved out. Tom, Charlie, Alex and I visited the Hard Day’s Night Hotel in Liverpool, where they were kind enough to show us the top-of-the-line John Lennon Suite.

This was not the place to tell the story of what happened to Marie-Hélène and me, and of how, after there was so much love, we ended up in a long, cold, dark tunnel going nowhere. You can see some of that story here, if you look closely, but that’s not what this website is about. It’s about those shining times before we got stuck in that tunnel, the ones that reappear now that we’re each out of it again.

One evening somewhere between 2000 and about 2004 – I can’t place it any more accurately than that: it didn’t seem significant at the time – I was walking up Cooper Street in downtown Santa Cruz with my very own group of unruly children. I don’t think that they were all there: maybe we had been to see a film at Cinema 9 on Pacific, and not everyone had wanted to see it, maybe we’d been out for a meal which did not interest all of them, I don’t remember.

This shot of Christmas 1996 in Rambouillet gives you an idea of that whirlwind of energy, here on a couch with friends.

This shot of Christmas 1996 in Rambouillet gives you an idea of that whirlwind of energy, here on a couch with friends. Alban and Daphne are on our left, Tom, Nick and Charlie on our right.

I do remember that it was a cold, damp and grey evening, with halos in the cold night air around the street lamps. For some reason, I looked back over my shoulder. The children were making noise, laughing, running around, as unmanageable as ever, as distracting as ever. I loved those times, every one of them, every hundred yards in every town and city, in every supermarket and mall, along every beach and trail, that we ever walked with that bustle of movement and warmth chatting and laughing and yelling and fighting for position around us.

What had caught my attention was a man on the other side of Cooper Street staring at the children. I could feel his longing, even at a distance, and wondered what he was longing for. Then I think that I saw who he was, and understood, and felt a kind of shock. I’m reluctant to tell the story, because that man may not have been Neil Young, the rock’n’roll hero of my youth, and if it wasn’t I would want to presume. I may have been projecting.

Marie-Hlne took this one of the full moon at dusk in January 2010, from our home.

Marie-Hélène took this one of the full moon at dusk in January 2010, from our home. Dusk had fallen on our happy home.

But even if he wasn’t, that longing glance meant something very important. For whatever reason, maybe because he didn’t have children, maybe his own children were less lucky than ours and couldn’t tumble noisily along together, lighting up the neighborhood, that man staring on the wintry downtown street was aching for something that he couldn’t have and that we had.

Even if he was a rock god, overflowing with talent and with millions of fans and millions of dollars and a life that all of us envy, he did not have a group of unruly children running like excitable puppies up the street. And we did.

And they’re all still there, and they’re all still in good health. How lucky can you get?