For a most of a summer, Andrea and I stay in my grandmother’s cabin in Inverness. While Grandma travels through Oregon and Washington, Andrea and I repaint the kitchen and bathroom floors, clean the yard and deck, and spend time together.
Most mornings I drive to town where you can see clear across the long finger of Tomales Bay. Sometimes I check my emails, but other times I write about the non-native eucalyptus that thrives in knuckles of clamshell hills, about the thimbleberries along the ridges and leopard sharks in the tepid shallows at Chicken Ranch Beach, about the moon jellies that swim in translucent hoards and the Japanese oysters—Kumamoto; Miyagi; both named for their places of origin—that are grown in the bay. I write bad poems to Andrea that I never show her about the particular and consistent joy of finding her pubic hair on the bar soap.
When I return to the house with hot coffee and half a cinnamon bun for her, she’s often still asleep with the dogs.
Thirty million years ago, the San Andreas Fault began to form. Today, the tectonic boundary is an eight hundred mile rift through California. At its northern end the fault runs through Tomales Bay, a narrow gap of water that separates Point Reyes Peninsula from the mainland. Toward Inverness, it’s short enough to swim across, and at low tide you can walk halfway on the silt-mud. The San Andreas Fault is a transform fault: the tectonic plates on either side scrape past one another. The granite of this peninsula once belonged to the Tehachapi Mountains, located 310 miles South.
One weekend my parents stay with us and we take Andrea to Vladimir’s for drinks. It’s shaped up recently, but back when Vladimir was alive, Mom once ordered a vodka-cranberry, to which he replied, “Get your own damn drink!” followed by requests from other customers. She bartended for half an hour before heading back to the table.
We order four pints and aren’t surprised to receive four quarts.
By the time we finish, I want to swim. At Chicken Ranch Beach Andrea and I strip to our underwear and run toward the water. Because she’s worried about bat rays and doesn’t like shuffling through the mud, I carry her until we’re chest-deep in the incoming tide. We practice launching off each other’s shoulders and swim in circles. It begins to mist but the beer keeps us warm and we laugh and hold hands underwater and sneak kisses while my parents wait on the shore.
At the house, Dad snaps a rag at our wet butts until we scuttle into the bathroom. “You two better take a quick shower,” he calls from the kitchen while Mom stokes the fire, “because I’m opening a bottle of wine and want to make sure you get some.”
Rock is more elastic than you might imagine. It holds tension in its bones, pulls like a spring. When stress overcomes rock’s ability to hold together, it snaps, and tectonic plates heave in the form of earthquakes.
While we might only become aware when something lets go, tectonic plates are constantly moving and holding and stretching and pushing: it’s only sometimes that the stress unpredictably reaches the surface.
“Fuck,” Andrea says, pulling the dust mask around her neck. We have two hand sanders for the kitchen floor: one with no bag to begin with (the sock we duct-taped on the end didn’t catch anything) and another that came apart halfway through. The kitchen is layered in paint-dust. The dogs whine from the other room.
“This is a fucking mess,” she says, sitting back on her heels. “We’re never going to clean this.”
“Woe is you!” I holler, I tackling Andrea. I pin her and, wiping the floor with her back, scream, “We’ll never get it clean. We’ll be here for-eee-ver.” She laughs and kicks. I let her rub a handful of blue paint dust in my hair.
Eventually, we break out rags and brooms and get to work.
At convergent boundaries plates collide. When their densities differ, one submerges below the other. It heats, churns, and releases volatile gasses that swarm unpredictable through the upper layer.
When the two plates have comparable densities, neither goes underground. Neither succumbs, and instead of volcano chains like the Aleutian Islands, we find mountain ranges. The continental plates raise their arms together, upward. The Eurasian and Indian Subcontinent Plates pushed into each other, and their crusts crumpled and compiled to form the Himalayas. They created a layer through which even volcanoes cannot break.
After the summer, I stay in California. Andrea goes back to Oregon, the state where we met. She plans to come back to California so we can move in together. We dream about renting a house near the coast of Tomales Bay—maybe Inverness, Marshall, Point Reyes, or Olema—where I can swim every morning with her dogs and we can hike and have bonfires and go to Vladimir’s and eat huckleberries. I land a job at an oyster farm in Marshall.
At divergent boundaries, plates pull apart like arms spreading. Beneath these rifts—which can widen hundreds of miles over millions of years and form yawning valleys—the lithosphere heats, rises, melts rock, and creates new crust.
We live on constantly shifting ground, but the only time we feel it move is when it quakes. It’s easy to forget, but rock is unstable and our earth is moving.
I cannot catalogue the geology of our breakdown. She’d get drunk and say she didn’t like my friends or accuse me of wanting to sleep with a bunch of guys. I wouldn’t call for days, already living in Point Reyes in a house near the beach, angry she wasn’t there. She wanted me to move to Oregon, but I wouldn’t leave California: I mistakenly fetishized the magic of that summer as bounded to a place instead of a person.
Maybe we’d been moving apart for a long time but had been elastic enough to hold together or maybe our bones had different densities and anyone could’ve told us from the beginning that sooner or later, someone was going to erupt.
One night when Andrea was visiting me in Point Reyes, we fought. We both felt abandoned because we both had been. She was self-medicating and it scared me; I was avoidant and it hurt her. I stepped out of her car and her tires screeched behind me.
We didn’t speak for over a year. Neither of us extended to close the gap. I’ve tried, but you can’t be mad at ground for shaking.
The granite of Inverness that composes the outward peninsula of land on Tomales Bay once belonged to the Tehachapi Mountains, and I love this. I think wild and slow and unfathomable misplacement is one of the most beautiful aspects of the bay. I didn’t realize it then, but my favorite parts of that summer weren’t the place exactly. They were the things that didn’t belong, the things that were misplaced: oysters from Japan growing in California, young women swimming in their underwear as the fog rolled in, non-native eucalyptus in clamshell hills, socks duct-taped to hand sanders, pubic hair on bar soap.
The peninsula that includes Inverness will continue sliding northward, as it should. I want to imagine what would have happened if I went to her, but the only thing I can picture is an incredible and horrific tectonic upheaval that takes Inverness to her—it’s the prayer and the promise and the explanation I never gave. Take my place, but don’t take me.I imagine the entire peninsula detaching from land, leaving West Marin behind, gliding past Mendocino County, past Arcata Bay, past Klamath, past Pelican Bay, wandering up the California coast to Oregon and then continuing beyond Bookings and Pistol River and Coos Bay, until that wayward, waterlusty finger is just a few hours shy of the Washington border where Andrea currently lives. I like to imagine her on Tehachapi granite in Oregon, standing on an impossible, familiar shore, finding my footprints but no other part of me on the sand.
Gina Warren‘s work has appeared in several publications, including Creative Nonfiction, Orion Magazine, Terrain, and Bacopa Literary Review. Her creative nonfiction has been included in the Notable Essays and Literary Nonfiction section of The Best American Essays. Gina is a Ph.D. Candidate in English with an emphasis in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette.