A City On His Map

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“What would leave you satisfied? Not happy. Satisfied. Happiness is asking too much.”

Joseph sat beside me at the bar, looking directly into my eyes, in his way — which is, and always has been, disarming. His beard was longer and waxier than the last time I’d seen him, but his soft, blue eyes remained the same — forgiving. He understands me.

Since I moved to Albany, I’ve missed him. Sometimes, I am sure he is the only person in the world with whom I can be completely honest. I sip my club soda and take a long moment to process his question. I’ve devoted the last nine months to seeking out my own happiness, and so, to dismiss that, disregard it, and consider only what’s sufficient — not ideal — is a murky state of contemplation.

We sit together, two authors, in the glow of the bar’s TV screens and twinkling Christmas lights, while groups of co-workers from the surrounding office buildings file in, slipping eagerly into the empty bar seats beside us and order each other shots of tequila to kick off the long, holiday weekend. Though this is a popular time of year for reflection, with Joseph I need no special season, he has always allowed me ample space to unpack myself beside him. We are non-traditional in every way, and this, is perhaps the thing I love most about us. But, it is that balance of convention and its polar opposite that keeps us level, only sporadically, on our cosmic see-saw.

This year, as I’ve transitioned from place to place and job to job, I have felt little pieces of myself slip in and out of my own orbit. I am a messy Universe. And, I haven’t made out the big picture just yet. Gravity hasn’t yet locked my planets into place. And, I think, that is the kind of story that Joseph loves most. But, it’s never been my entire story. As I searched for his answer, dipping my straw in and out of  my soda’s rising bubbles, my honesty felt somehow difficult to locate, even to lay it before him, someone who has never judged me. We have sat together at many a bar. Walked together across the better part of Brooklyn. Stared out from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at the New York City lights. Stood, faces pressed against each other, in a heavy, Summer rain. And, spent hours telling each other stories — in words spoken, on paper, in texts, in jokes, through music, and in epic GIF storyboards. He can make me laugh and cry in the same sentence. And, in the short time I have known him, he has never failed to answer me truthfully. So, I knew, I owed him the most honest answer I could find inside myself, and, I also knew he would wait for it, whatever it was, patiently.

“I think I’d be satisfied with being really loved. Taken care of, in a place that feels like home. — If I can ever find that place.” Even honesty can sound incredibly sad and cliché when you open your mouth to speak it. I looked to Joseph’s face for his reaction. A reaction to a complicated story, distilled down to something almost too simple. His features remained, as ever, soft and kind. He knows me, and my story, in a way that I’m not sure even I understand. And, as a storyteller himself, he sees the trap in mine, the same one I have been writing over and over again for years, where I am the heroine that never needs to be cared for — because her super power is that she’ll always take care of herself.

But, sitting beside Joseph, a person who has been a strange and beautiful mirror for my heart, I feel a kind of dishonesty in the story I’ve been telling. Because, when I break it down, my story is not a collection of observations, but rather, another means of self-preservation. I’ve taken care of myself, not because it’s what I wanted, but, because I’ve been living in such a way that it has become dangerous to be anything other than independent. When you’ve been burned so many times, it will teach you to stand back from the flames. But, there will always be a part of me that seeks out the heat.

“It isn’t wrong to want that, it’s completely natural.” He said deftly, tipping back his whiskey and water, as if he’d known my answer all along. Maybe because he too has avoided the heat. But, he manages that problem by skipping town. For him, staying in the same place too long is its own kind of pyre. Love, is built into the cities where he resides and the people who move with him, beside him, in all of them. It has always appeared to me, that, for him, love is a place he will always be seeking — an eternal and romantic quest — though, he would never label it as such. I frequently find myself in envy of his journey and, more than that, his ability to easily let go of the things which I have so desperately struggled to hold fast.

Sitting beside a person who understands you completely and cares for you profoundly, it can feel indecent admitting that you want someone to see you, to care — to love you. It doesn’t feel natural. It feels like asking too much. Needy and impossible. And, after walking through the entirety of this year, I see how my pursuit of happiness has often confused itself with my own never-ending quest to be self-sufficient. Admitting that I want, and have always wanted, someone else to seal up the leaky holes in my little boat, is one of the hardest things I will ever do. It feels like asking for Divine intervention. Something that Joseph will elegantly argue — does not exist.

Next year, Joseph is moving to Spain. And, part of me wants to disappear with him. To cross continents. To get lost with him, walking through musty museums, our footsteps lost in the hum of foreign tongues. To wander through old, unpaved, and narrow streets together. To experience freedom over contentment — freedom from contentment. To stand beside him, taking pictures of a Universe that is so, incredibly far away from my own. To discover the world outside me, before committing to dive into the immeasurable depths within me. But, part of me knows how dishonest that would be — to myself.

He didn’t try to comfort me in a conventional way as he watched the tears well in my eyes, but, in his indescribable way, his manner alone, quiet and steady, he became my comfort. Reliable and steadfast, I know I can always sit beside Joseph in silence while he speaks volumes. For someone who has spent his last decade traveling, in constant motion, there is no one else I know who can sit so, perfectly still and look at you as if you were the only city on his map.

On the corner of Joralemon and Court Streets, I held Joseph close to me, a force of gravity, even if only in that moment. A planet that, though unruly, will always remain a gem in my galaxy. “Come visit me in Albany soon.” — “‘Kay,” he says. “I will.”  — And, I believed him.

Love is strange and, often, appears in unexpected places. But, sometimes, it can, and will, appear in the one place where you expect it to be. And so, we must go there. In the New Year, and in every year — we must go to that place. For me — Within. For Joseph — Spain. And, as time spirals on, we’ll continue sealing up our leaky boats, alone, until someone shows up to help us with the work, and perhaps, one day, to stay. Someone who will see us, care for us, really love us, before sailing away to some new Universe. — A place that feels like home. — If we can ever find that place.

 

 

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Meatloaf at The Ritz

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Here at home, Jolly-old-England is known best for their afternoon tea service, antiquated monarchy, and, the occasional wonky tooth.

I mull over these stereotypes, and others, as I walk the streets of London.

I quickly become aware of the fact that, here,  I am the undignified American. When I stop into a drug store, I fumble through my change purse trying to make correct change for the cashier. He rolls his eyes when I make a self-deprecating joke about being a dumb American. He’s heard this one before, and, he’s not amused.

Brash, outspoken, unapologetically irreverent, unintentionally funny, and unavoidably emotional. — These are things that are said about Americans abroad. And, perhaps these were traits assigned to me by some of my UK counterparts, but, when I catch myself laughing a little too loudly with my friend at a hotel bar, I realize, they happen to be true.

I met up with my client (and friend) at several fancy venues over the course of the weekend. And, despite wearing the nice dress I purchased just days before flying out, I still felt kind of scummy. And, I started to wonder why that was — I wondered, what about my American-ness was so worrisome? Even a nice dress couldn’t cover the bits of me that felt too revealing here.

At first, I was sure that it was politics. Given the wretched state back home, I was worried, at least in part, about how I might be perceived. Would they think I liked Donald Trump? I was worried about being seen not just as an American person, but, as a product of America. I feared my own ignorance. What did this place and these people know about me that I didn’t? — London is old and has dignity. — I am young and have none.

When, I realized, that’s just it. None of us has dignity, really. We remain so, so small in a world where we fight so incredibly hard to be enormous. But, Humility has the power to level us. Humility goes beyond the feelings inside us — it places us in the Universe.

We all have questions about how we look from the outside. We wonder who we’re supposed to be, and how we can assimilate with others — and within ourselves. But, it’s when we let that curiosity become fear — we lose our Humility.

And, as I close this month of reflections on Humility — what it is, where we find it, and what it means in our day-to-day lives, I’m led back to what has become the reoccurring theme, in this, my Year of Happiness: Fear never amounts to anything good.

All the worry and fear around my American-ness reached fever pitch on Saturday before I entered my client’s event. The one I’d been so excited to attend. The one that meant something big for me and my business. The one that had brought 40 women together to celebrate their incredible drive and success. The one that asked me to face the reality of where I stood — in that moment. And, facing reality is daunting for all of us.

When we step out of our Humility, we step out of our same-ness. And, when we other ourselves, that is where our fear thrives. Instead of reminding ourselves of our similarities, our crazy-brains race to find ways that we are different. I tell myself: Maybe I am too brash, too outspoken, too irreverent, too  funny, and too emotional. — How will others read this? I’m doomed. — The sad American.

But, the women from the event started to trickle in, greeting me in their warm British accents. The air in the room began to shift. We recognized each other from Facebook. We embraced. We kissed each other’s cheeks. We made happy little shrieks and squeals. We shook hands. We laughed. We exchanged our business cards and stories about our struggle. We took notes about our dreams and determination. We celebrated our diversity. — And, we found solace in our same-ness.

No one at the event was worried about Her Majesty, The Queen or Donald Trump. We were there for each other, listening to the words in the room, not the voices in our heads telling us to fear all the things we didn’t know.

There was enough space in the room for whatever emotion I felt I wanted to bring into it. And, it felt good. Simple.

Humility isn’t a complicated thing. It is, perhaps, the simplest. Humility and fear are just mirrors for one another. And, to remain humble, you must remain small. You must find joy in what makes you, fundamentally, the same. And, you must find laughter in what makes you different.

And, after all my worrying over politics, it wasn’t Donald Trump that confused and baffled those I met over the course of the afternoon. It was our food that troubled my new friends from across the pond most.

“Is it true that, in America, you eat something called ‘Meatloaf’? It sounds disgusting.” I nod at her, “Yes. It’s a pretty popular home-cooking standard.”

“Oh God.” She says in her delightfully British accent. “And, it’s really made of meat?”

This Stretch Of Road

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Meeker Street/Morgan Avenue Exit — It wrecks me.

I’m driving home from an amazing weekend when, suddenly, I see it coming. I pump the brakes. — But, it’s too late. — The horizon hits me hard. Breath knocked from my chest, I gulp for air. The thick, orange sky cracks me open, impales me, my guts spill out across the console, soaking the floor mats, seeping into the metal frame, and drip out onto the highway.

Our old Lombardy Street apartment, still remains, unimpressive and industrial, a concrete ghost hiding behind McDonald’s golden arches, staring at me, the highway level with its window eyes.

This darkening sky is a memory I’d long forgotten. Sitting in traffic on the expressway, the smell of gasoline and rubber — the smell of the city. I remember this. We were always returning. From weddings and weekends and snowboarding trips, tired and achy, with blisters and bruised knees, longing for the comfort of our big, red couch. — Drinks in front of the television set in my baggy, black sweatpants. Meeker and Morgan was the exit I waited for, my socked feet propped up on the dash. Meeker and Morgan announced us — we are home. We were home.

The sign is the same. Green, with peeling white letters. The sky too. A color that mixes the blues and whites of winter, but where its line meets the Earth, warm reds and yellows pool beside the sun, warning me that in just a few weeks, days, moments — Spring will arrive. Too soon. All this time. Gone. All this pain. For naught. And you, erased.

I think about the past too much. I know that. I probably talk about it too much too. How things looked and felt. How the air smelled. How, back then, home was a place — not a feeling. I beat myself up for doing so much wrong. Wrong jobs. Wrong people. Wrong comforts in the the wrong places. But, this highway can’t be blamed for any of that. There is nothing to change in this place. Nothing that makes it better. Nothing that can make it disappear. Nothing that can make it right. It is its own place, free of my assignments. I cannot erase these miles. It will always be here, this stretch of road. The sign is just the sign. The sky is just the sky. And, neither of these things will bring him back. Nor I.

I tell myself  — This is it Sarah. The moment that, for better or worse, you need to just let go. I pick up my phone off the passenger’s seat and snap a photo. Capturing it in my hands so I can try to release it. The light. The traffic. A deep breath. The exhale. — He’s gone. — Let go. Please. Sarah. Please. Just let him go.

The sun sinks lower. And, I have passed the worst of it now. — Metropolitan Avenue. Wythe Avenue/Kent Avenue. Tillary Street. Cadman Plaza. Atlantic Avenue.

Now, it’s just me and the BQE. Gasoline and rubber. My blood dripping thick drops onto the dividing line. Driving away from the feeling I called home.

Without him, the sign is just the sign. The sky, just the sky.

 

 

A Daughter Of The East

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Since leaving Portland, I find little comfort in my place.

I’ve been a New Yorker. I’ve felt its pulse. How the city surges and creativity bleeds up through the asphalt in the heat of summer. How the Winter wind gets in your bones and teaches you, that parts of you — were always cold. How Spring emerges in Washington Square Park from tulip bulbs that have ached, for long months, to paint the city with their color.

But, now, my New York moments have become frequent realizations that the place I once belonged — the home that once called out loudly for me — has quieted, and only loops the hushed whispers of my past — dreams for another life.

So, on a random Friday, without a plan, I find myself driving.

I end up in Kingston, New York. — Not on a total whim. — My cousin, more like a sister, who knows me better than most people care to, told me ages ago, that she thought I’d like it here. I pay a quarter to park the car next to the U.S. Post Office and step out into this cold winter day. — She was right.

In upstate New York, I can move with ease. Trees are a more common sight than people and every few miles, the scent of a wood-burning stove fills my nostrils and I am reminded that life can be simpler than subway maps and overpriced high-rises.

Kingston, on the Westerly side of the Hudson, is colorful. Narrow streets lined with bright buildings that are old, but not tired. Kingston breathes.

And so, I breathe with it as I walk around the Old Dutch Church, clutching a cup of hot Earl Grey, out onto a series of little streets which meet one another at curbs that are adorably uneven. The town feels tiny and boasts wood framed, two-story buildings proudly. Each one a New England-y version of the saloons out in the Old West, adorned with decorative, quartered-wagon-wheel fixtures at the corners of each squared-off porch.

Every street corner is regulated by four-way-stop-signs and a flashing red light. Though, I patiently wait at John Street for the Volvo that has the right of way, the woman behind its wheel still waves me on with her puffy grey mitten. And I shuffle, hurriedly, to the uneven curb across the street, waving my thanks with my free hand and gripping my paper tea cup with the other.

This place feels new and old and it floods my heart with it’s charm. I have a moment where I feel like my life is possible again. Real life. — A new apartment building. A new job. A new route to the grocery store. — I could have those things here. I could be OK here. I could be OK. Here. — And, I feel something that I haven’t felt in a long while.

Placed.

I drive through the Hudson Valley and afternoon light hits the mountains, just so, turning them a Holy blue-purple hue that I will not attempt to describe. It reminds me of Sauvie Island, back in Portland. I pull into a gas station and allow my eyes to well up with tears. I let myself pine for Portland. I feel it surge. — All the love I left there. Lost there. Burned there. And, in the parking lot of the Sunoco gas station just five miles out of Kingston, I let it all go and decide –as long as I’m here — it’s time to refuel.

There are reasons to leave the places we love. There is a time to come home and wake your mother in the middle of the night so that she can hold you while you weep. Ruin will sometimes find us, even when we thought we’d escaped it. There are seasons we will lose to depression and bad weather. And, Baba Ram Dass would tell me — Baby, this is all just grist for the mill.

Every now and then, we should take the roads that lead to the places our sisters say we should go. And, perhaps, those are the places we should stay. Rewrite our maps. Discover rivers that will lead us around new curves, spilling out into different oceans. New bodies of water where we can empty out our hearts and make room. Room for bright colors and uneven curbs. Room for new routes and routines. Where strangers with grey mittens will wave us on to what’s next.

Kingston. — On the highway that takes you, in just an hour, to the sister who would have you be happy above all things. A daughter of the East, returns. To this — The Empire State.

Back again, and in the same state as my mother, who once thought she lost me to the wild, wild West.

 

Image Courtesy of:  http://kingston-ny.gov/

 

In-Between-Speed City

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I’m sick. Really sick. East-Coast-sick.

I haven’t had a cold-flu-bug like this in ages. Apparently everything was milder in Portland — including viral illness. — Meanwhile, back in New York…The weather. The people. The attitude. Not one thing is laid back. Not one. Even influenza cannot be bothered with a “mild” setting. Here — it’s all or nothing.

And, maybe that’s what I missed so much about this place. The limitless energy. New Yorker’s don’t have to gear up like we did back on the West Coast. Because, here, there is only one gear — Badass.

I remember when I first arrived in Portland, how people were taken aback by my candor. I said what was on my mind. To the point. I never pussyfooted around. That bothered a lot of people out West. They expected something more dilute and demure. They also thought that I walked too fast. And, even though we adjusted to each other, I missed New York City’s edge. Its speed. — Its sense of urgency. — There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.

I’m considering moving up to New England, or at the very least, a bit further out of the city — maybe the Hudson Valley. I need an in-between-speed city. As much as I love the hustle, I also feel worn down. I want something easier. Quieter. I try to plot it out sensibly. But it’s difficult. What criteria should be used when selecting a home? I evaluate how I arrived at all the places I’ve been and the things that made me want to stay or go. It seems easy. But, it isn’t really. There are a lot of variables. And, while nothing is permanent — it’s still a big decision. Place can be everything. Mean everything. Place can define you. And, place can make or break your sobriety. — I’m starting to feel that as I slip here in Brooklyn. — I have to be careful.

What does my heart say? I wait to feel the pull.

I know it will take a special place to set my heart ablaze again. I guess it’s just a matter of time.

So, in the interim, I nurse this badass-East-Coast-cold and I tell people it like it is and I walk to work at record speeds.

Because, time — I got.

 

 

 

 

Little Fish, Big Sea

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The subway. It’s revelatory. I’d forgotten.

Every time the conductor cries out “Stand clear of the closing doors!” and the bell chimes, I have a sort of epiphany.

It’s been awhile. But, I’m back on the train — literally and figuratively.

These moments. These people. These — STOPS. I think about them. With every little movement, something huge shifts. Someone changes. A woman turns the page of her book. A kid shoves his scooter under the orange and yellow seats. A guy stuffs a bagel with cream cheese into his face and the white glop oozes out the sides of his Everything and over the wax paper and down his fat, pink fingers. — It’s a show. A glorious fucking show.

I sit on the 2 train, awed. I wonder — Have I been gone so long that these vignettes of mundane existence, these glimpses into the drudgery of everyone’s daily, city commute, have suddenly become the most romantic thing in the world? Maybe it’s because I’ve only been home for a month. And, sure, everything is still shiny and new. But, no, the more I think about it — it’s so much more than that.

I boil it down to get to what’s different and, — I think it’s sobriety. And no — not just the fact that I’m clean and sober — whomp, whomp, patontheback, patontheback — it’s more. It’s one of the side effects of sobriety that have slowly begun to crop up. A kind of gift. It’s something I was denied while I was living here years ago, but now, I suddenly have access. And that, that thing I’ve finally tapped into — is the ability to admire the machine of which I am part.

Here, in  New York City, sober, I have allowed myself to become small again. Something I never could have permitted myself to do before. Back then, I wanted to be a big fish. The biggest fucking fish in the biggest fucking sea. And, blazing forward in my self-obsessed fury — to become and to have and to live and to consume — I missed it. I missed the incredible beauty of living a small life. I never saw these little pieces. The city under a microscope.  I never appreciated the infinite and tiny parts of this incredible and unique place that, without asking anything in return, surrounds and envelops me with beauty and intrigue.

All this. Right here. A big sea. A HUGE FUCKING SEA. And me, somehow, no longer terrified of being a guppy. To the contrary — I wish I were smaller. I want to see it all come up around me. My eyes well up as we clatter through the dark tunnels of the NYC underworld. I keep thinking of all the things I missed while I fought so hard trying to get upstream. — All the pages that were turned, all the scooters that were shoved, and all the cream cheese that was oozing. — And, I missed it.

But, I catch myself and I smile when I hear it again. — “Stand clear of the closing doors!”

And, one last straggler — a man in a suit with a missing button — squeezes through the metal doors and joins our little school of fish and, together, we all dive beneath the waves of the East River.

 

 

Photo: “Portraits, 2-3 Train” By: James Maher; http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/photoblog_view_post/637-portraits-2-3-train

 

Rest, For The Weary

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Weary is a really good word.

Until this past week, I’ve never been truly weary before. I’ve been exhausted, tired, drained, tapped out, and spent. Not weary.

Goodbyes are tiring. Traveling is tiring. Road trips, while they are the experience of a lifetime, are tiring. Sitting in a car at a ninety degree angle for sixteen hours at pop is tiring. Yes — even trail mix — is tiring. And, some combination of these things, at random or in succession, leads to extreme weariness.

So, I sit here in a fog. Waiting. Waiting for the moment to hit. The moment when I’ll begin processing all this change and movement I’ve been barreling through at warp speed. But, now, I allow myself the time to rest.

I try to write about home and place. The two things that have always fascinated me the most. They are synonyms and antonyms simultaneously. And, my search for home never started by going to a place, but, instead, by searching within. You must use caution. Home and place will deceive you. I’ve learned too well how familiar things can, very quickly, become foreign.

On the last leg of our trip, as my mother and I crossed over the Pennsylvania border, she said, “This is the East coast landscape I’m used to. It’s so green and lush. It’s beautiful. And, maybe it’s not as dramatic as the West coast, but, this is my home.” Those few, short sentences, summed up everything. My hopes and expectations for this move, the place I hold and have always held for myself in NYC, the sense of myself that I’ve left behind and — the one I’m returning to.

Sometimes, in those TV shows where famous actors or athletes return to their childhood hometowns the host will say, “Stay tuned, and watch as So-and-So returns to the place that made him!” I keep thinking about that. Because, I returned to my childhood home, and, in doing so, I left the place that made me behind. But, having been re-made somewhere else, and returning back home, has its advantages. — It makes everything here look new. Better. Or, at the very least, different.

It’s an unknown feeling. An exciting one. And, when I’m less weary, it’s one I look forward to exploring.

It’s like crossing a state line into something unexpected, but, still familiar. A life that’s green and lush. And, maybe not as dramatic as the one I left behind out on the West coast. But, here I am. And I won’t look back.

Because thisthis is my home. And, weary or not, I’ve arrived.

 

As-Is, Oregonian

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We don’t have to say goodbye. To the people. The places. The things.

We can just let them be. — Who they are. Where they are. As they are.

This is my big lesson in letting go. The one I needed to learn. My unavoidable and inevitable truth.

My mother and I pack up my apartment, and, I wish it were different. I wish that my last moments here, in this place, weren’t tip-toeing around my life’s possessions, all of which are strewn haphazardly across the floor. I wish that the big, black garbage bags — one for Goodwill and one for the dumpster — didn’t sit in the middle of my living room, slinking, dark portals to the sad and hopeless lost worlds that await my unwanted past. But we continue — dismantling this world as I know it, piece by piece.

It helps to remember that — I can come back. Maybe in 5 years. Maybe 10. On a plane, or, in a car. On another road trip — maybe with some new beau, or on business, or I don’t know — with a baby. I can’t know how I’ll return to this place. And, I think that’s the thing that scares and excites me the most. Who will I become without this place? Will I like her? Will I miss this woman I am now? Revile her?

Who can say what I’ll be when I return to Portland? I don’t know. — I can’t know. — What I’ll be wearing. What job I’ll have taken time off from to make the trip back. Until that moment, I will not know whether or not I’ve found the illusive thing I’ve always been seeking.

So, instead, I do it. I let go. — I make peace with what’s here. Now. — Who I am. Now.

The most difficult thing, is this: Letting go of everything. Allowing it all to just be — as is. Not knowing how my dreams will return to me, or, how I’ll return to them. In 12-Step, this is called — turning it over. And, it’s the thing that I have always wanted to do, but, never actually did. And, here I am, — allowing it. Placing it all into someone else’s hands, because I am tired of wringing my own.

No promises or commitments. Just time and space. A strange, uncertain portal to my destination — like the garbage bags, sitting in the middle of the living room floor.

But, that’s the way I want to tie it all up. My sobriety. My love. My city. — My letting go. Memorizing all the people, places, and things that held me together. Keeping them somewhere safe, as I turn, and walk the other way.

I will place all these moments into a cranial time capsule. I don’t know that it’s something that I want to write. It’s something I prefer to feel. And, feeling, that’s something I learned to do here — in Portland.

I tape up boxes. I clank through kitchen drawers and cupboards. I clear my cache. I pack up what I need and I throw the rest into the black-hole-garbage-bags in the middle of the living room floor. — I make room for new things. I convince myself to forget about the ways in which I’ll leave, and return, to this place.

In just hours, I will no longer be an Oregonian. And, maybe, I never was one. But, in order for me to leave — I have to believe: I was. I have to believe that in the same way this place made me who I am, it also allowed me to become what it is. Oregon is inside me now. An integral part. Maybe even the central part.

So, I don’t have to say goodbye. — Not even to myself. I can allow it all to just be. As is.

Me. My Oregon. My Portland.

The people. The places. The things. — Who they are. Where they are. As they are.

 

Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/

 

(Un)Pack Your Heart

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I am leaving Portland in 48 hours.

As I pack, I find stories strewn about everywhere. Stacks of old papers. Pictures. Books. Dresses and socks. Keychains and candles. Molskines and mugs.

I can hardly breathe. — So, bear with me, there won’t be bonafide essays for a few weeks. Just travelogues. Notes on a transient life — which has spilled out in front of me like a bag of rice on the kitchen floor.

One thing is certain — we can tell who we were by the things we carry. Tim O’Brien once wrote a beautiful book that captured those feelings I’m only now beginning to understand.

What follows here are snapshots. Truly. There is so much more. Boxing up my life. Leaving this place I love. I sit with it. I look at it. All of it. I lay it all out on the cutting board. And, I cut away the pieces. Choosing the ones I will throw in my pot — and tossing the rest to the side.

I acknowledge these. These that were. These that shall remain.

1. Adam

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His photos are all in one box. I put them there — years ago. A coffin at the top of a closet. The lid was covered with dust. We used to take photo-booth-photos everywhere we went. I still have all of them. The strip above was from our friend’s wedding. He loved me on that day — I remember — and I loved him back. We danced. We sat on cement steps with plates of food in our laps and we laughed. I have tried to throw everything of ours away before. No matter what I trash, I will forever keep this photo strip. Always. Because he was my first love. And, I will never love that way again. And this. — This is what that looked like.

2. Theresa

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My maternal grandmother died before I was born, but I’m told that we are a lot alike. My mother says that she was no-frills. That she said what she had to say when she felt like saying it. That she insisted on eating salad with every meal. — And, that she was a fox. People see my fair skin and know that I’m Irish. But, they forget that her Mediterranean blood courses through my veins too. In the Summer, my shoulders turn her Italian, olive brown.

I knew my grandfather well. And, I knew he loved her real bad. — Even years after she died. — He’s gone now too. But, every time I consider settling on some guy — I think about them. And, I know, there’s some dude out there who’s gonna love me, real bad, even when I’m dead. And, I’m waiting for him.

When I see the picture above, the one with my mother sitting in Grandma T’s lap, I think to myself — we all look alike. And, we’re beautiful. Three generations of beautiful. Theresa’s dead, but she sees me. — I’ve known that since I was a kid. It’s weird. — I keep her pictures in every room so she can watch me. So she knows — her daughter did a really good thing.

3. Dad

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My dad is, and always will be, a strange bird. But, there’s no guy in the world who will ever love me more. Growing up, he used to listen to a lot of classical music. Opera, symphony, choral — all that stuff. He had bookcases full of classical recordings. One day, he was just over it. Suddenly — it was all Bob Dylan — all the time. He used to pick me up at play rehearsal in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and blast Blood On The Tracks like it had been released that day — every day. If we’re being honest, I’d rather not admit I know every track by heart — but, I do. My dad gives me Bob Dylan postcards and books. It’s like, he’s telling me — subliminally — if I get Bob, then, I’ll get him. That alone is enough to keep my interest. I don’t always acknowledge it, but, I love that my Dad is weird as fuck. Because, I am too. And, it’s nice not being so alone in my weirdness. He’ll watch an entire season of any HBO show I want — in 1-2 days. When I sold my complete series of OZ DVDs on Hawthorne yesterday, it kinda broke my heart. But, my Dad knows what’s up. He’s got HBO GO. And, I know, we’ll get back into it. And now, while we’re in the car — I get to pick the album. — I paid some dues getting through, Tangled Up In Blue.

4. Mom

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My mom sends me a card for everything. They arrive so frequently, I forget how amazing they are. Now, I’m finding them everywhere. Sometimes, she’ll throw in some cash and tell me to grab a bite, or to do something nice for myself, or to buy the cat a treat. She wants me to be happy — always. In good, motherly fashion, she has always wanted me to have, feel, and be the best. I find her heart scribbled on tiny cards everywhere. Maybe she doesn’t know — I save them all. When I was little, she emphasized the art and necessity of the “Thank You” card. — How it will “never go out of style to have class.” How, to appreciate people and things is important. It occurs to me as I pour over her notes — crying like a child, because it’s uncanny how she always knew exactly when I needed saving — that I should send her more cards. There is no one in my life more deserving of thanks and kindness. She deserves nothing less than 100% class. And, there’s no one who needs more reminding to do kind things for herself. Someone needs to give her permission to feel good. Maybe that person is me.

The card above was sent to me at Christmastime — the year that my heart was first brutally slaughtered. Whenever I come across this note — I’m reminded of who I’m supposed to be. And, that’s a woman who’s a lot like my Mom. — Gracious, brave, strong, and impossibly classy.

5. Me, Myself & Eye

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I took this photo yesterday in my kitchen.

I wanted to share a vulnerable moment with you this week because, well, that’s how I’m feeling. I wanted to show you the vulnerability. But, I don’t have to. I’ve been showing you for months and months. These things I’m packing up aren’t me. They’re my archives. All this crap I’m putting into bags and boxes — those aren’t the moments — they’re the evidence. Proof. My tears are like that too. All that outside stuff.

The good stuff? — It’s packed up and ready to go.

Better still, it’s on its way.

Me. — Coming soon. To a city near you.

 

 

The Invented City

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Before you leave a place, it’s important that you commit it to memory.

Later, you’ll return to it like a dusty book on your shelf. You’ll run your fingers over its edges, and, you’ll remember something you didn’t realize you’d forgotten. It’s hard to visualize — the passage of all that time. Our memories, warping, fit in tightly-packed-cranial-crevices. But, it’s all right there waiting for us, on the dog-eared pages. We open up to that brittle spot, where the spine is cracked. We revisit our oldest secrets. For me, it’s always a story that begins in the Summer — when things were hot and uncomfortable.

*          *           *

Standing on the corner of Lombardy Street, where Williamsburg and Greenpoint are divided by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in front of the sports-dive, The Callbox Lounge — Adam and I invented Portland.

Inside the bar, five Hasidic Jews draped their heavy, black coats over the backs of tall chairs. Their tzitzit dangled from their hips and their faces, framed in curls, sweat profusely while they watched the Yankees game. Some of them drank beer, some of them, Coca-Cola. This place was their secret. — And, Portland was ours.

We sat at the bar, bathing ourselves in the intermittent breeze of the sputtering air conditioner. We were so different then. Young. In some kind of love. Complicated, even before cracking. We didn’t care. And, we sat there without any real concept of time. We hardly knew the things that stood before us. Our world spanned the length of the bar — and that was enough. Adam’s face was radiant in a blue glow as Keeno numbers popped up on the grid of an old TV screen and, even now — I want to kiss him. Back then, we had plans. We were getting out of that city. Soon. Maybe a year. Maybe less. And beneath the highway, under a starless sky, the night was humming a song with its passing cars and rattling metal. We drank Budwieser and smoked cigarettes and we planned our escape.

Back then, I wanted anything but Brooklyn. I wanted open sky and long, wide roads. And, green. Lots of green. I dreamed of places where no one knew me. Us. Lost together. Anywhere. Winding through some unknown place. And so, we imagined Portland. I imagined Portland. — I imagined we’d be the opposite of what we were.  — And together, we would draw our maps.

*          *          *

The day we left, I stood at the window of our third floor walk-up. I looked down over Nassau Avenue. It was starting to feel like Fall and my screen was thrown wide open. I remember seeing a woman down below with a baby carriage drop her scarf and an old man leaned down and picked it up for her in front of the deli with the blue awning. The scarf was red. — I was going to miss that place.

My mother was in our living room putting things into boxes. We had overestimated the amount of room in our car and my father walked up and down, up and down, up and down our steps taking bins, boxes, and bags back to my childhood home in Bay Ridge. “Don’t worry Dabba,” he said, “we’ll ship them out to you when you’re settled.” Dabba is my family’s nickname for me.

It occurred to me, as I stared down at my dirty, Brooklyn street — no one would call me Dabba where we were going.

Adam came up behind me and held my shoulders. I only remember this because it was unlike him. He was reserved. He didn’t hold my shoulders often. So, I leaned in, because, when you are scared and lonely and at the precipice of something imagined becoming real — you want Adam to hold you.

“Are we really going to leave today?” I asked, fat tears pooling in my eyes. The apartment still had too many things in it. My mother looked more perplexed with every passing hour. “Sarah,” Adam said, turning me around from the window to face him, “I don’t care if we leave everything we own on this street corner. We are leaving tonight.”

And, we did, that night, around 5 or 6 PM — I can’t remember. We left to find something we both had lost. Though, now, I know that our lost things were not the same. They had never been the same. But, he had been biding his time and I had ignored the facts. So, we invented a place that already existed. We assigned it meaning. And, we drove. We placed ourselves here, in the City of Roses. We walked along rivers we’d read about in books. We learned the names of mountains that, eventually, would rise up from our backyard into a sky that turned strange colors which we did not know how to name.

Oregon.

At the curb, I cried in my mother’s arms. There is no feeling comparable to leaving your mother when you are scared and she wants you to stay. My father’s arms held me a little too tight, and they spoke the words that he couldn’t. Adam turned the key. Ignition. That was the last time I saw Nassau Avenue — my mother becoming smaller and smaller in the side-view mirror.

As we crossed the Verrazano Bridge, our Polish landlord called my cell phone from Nassau Avenue. “You can’t leave mattress on street like this! I get fine! Garbage pick-up not ’til Thursday. Fifty dollars I going to have to pay!”

I looked at the side of Adam’s face. His silhouette sketched a thin line against a darkening sky that met the edges of Brooklyn’s shadows below. The bridge’s wires held us up. I was seat-belted in with our scotch-taped love and some kind of freedom and an emptiness that I will never be able to describe.

“Tell him to take it out of our security deposit,” he said. “We’re not going back.”

(Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/ )