A Parched Soul

Somewhere between the smoldering heat of California’s Central Valley and the unbearable sunshine of Los Angeles, when driving down the interstate, you see perfectly plowed fields, fighting to stay relevant in the parched land that spreads for miles, pockmarked with sinking earth and dried, almost black vegetation. There are no birds. Inside the very thing that is responsible for wrecking the fine balance of nature’s perfection, the sun feels like an oven.

Outside, the heat even in late March is unbearable. It reflects in the distance. But as the car zip-zap-zooms, the sun, like a lazy pasha, moves a little bit. The perfectly plowed rows in fields that will play host to seeds of California’s dystopian future become bands that are an oscillation of light and color. The dust bowl looks bright one moment and dark for the next three. It’s an appropriate reflection of my state of mind.

During the past three weeks, I have oscillated between depths of despondency and brief moments of clarity. It is the worst feeling in the world. And yet somewhere deep down I know that with every end comes a new beginning. But for now I feel what no founder should ever have to feel: the pain of burying what is essentially that one thing you have loved more than anything or anyone, including yourself and even your life.

This loss isn’t like a throbbing pain you feel at 10 degrees below, when you have a femur broken in 10 places and reset with the help of metal. Instead it is like that moment when hot oil jumps from the frying pan, falls on your arm and takes a few seconds to singe your skin. Loss sneaks up on you, late at night, when you are watching a 2003 episode of Top Gear for the 150th time on Netflix. Except you are not watching: You hear muffled noises, see shape-shifting colors, but nothing quite makes sense.

It shows up as the memory of a colleague’s child coming to visit you backstage and calling you “Mr. Om!” Or that moment when you woke up in the hospital to the smiling yet petrified faces of two true believers. The feeling of loss arrives, unannounced, when you click on a link.

I have been running from one place to another, San Francisco to New York to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Francisco to now Seattle, hoping that new people and new places and a packed schedule would let me avoid what is inevitable. I am taking photos of other people smiling, for it is easier to hide behind their smiles. I am running from the reaper man of the soul, desperately trying to avoid that moment of quiet when everything comes into sharp focus. That moment when I have to face reality. The reality of what is gone and perhaps will be forever.

That moment came last night, sitting alone in a hotel room overlooking Seattle’s waterfront. After a great meal at the home of two of my dearest friends, where I played with their 10-year-old, I came back to an empty room. I thought I would fall asleep, but a call jostled me out of the half-sleep state. Later, lying on the bed, I could hear the rain, but I didn’t see it. Much like my heart, which cries while the eyes have no tears. They are just tired of seeing the movie that started more than 13 years ago, again and again. And like those freshly plowed fields, oscillating between dark and light, light and dark.

Nick Bilton, who lost his mother to a quick fight with cancer, sent me a quote from her favorite book, Alice in Wonderland: “Don’t worry, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” This drought of the mind and soul will end — eventually.

A letter from Om

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