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.
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.
My sweet, 14+ pound kitty and I had quite the traumatic flight. But, we survived, and we pulled up to my childhood home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn very much alive. I returned home to find that, despite the fatigue, stress, and moving-related nostalgia, I had been gifted an unusual and, somehow, special sense of place and peace upon my arrival. My cat, however — hid under my bed.
Just days later, my mother and I embarked on our epic cross-country journey BACK to Oregon. (We’re still on the road.) In Portland, we’ll be packing up the last of my things and saying final goodbyes to the people and places I have cherished for the past six years before driving back East. For good.
It’s a strange feeling. Moving — shuttling around. A friend of mine recently moved from Portland to Richmond, Virginia. We’ve been talking about the highs and lows of leaving one home behind for another. The excitement and the sadness. The stress and the satisfaction. One night, after expressing my mild panic about one thing or another, he sent me a text from the road: “The drive across country helped soften the change.”
I thought about his words. Digested them. That’s really what I’ve needed all along. — Something to soften things. All my things. — To make my places safe and comfortable. Graceful transitions have never been my forte.
But, in the car with my mother these past few days, between our laughter, obsessive podcast listening, eclectic music selections, and the obvious we’re-in-a-car-together-for-several-weeks frustrations…I’ve all but forgotten the sadness that my Portland-loss had brought. And, while there’s still packing to do and goodbyes to make, I think that confusing my sense of place has — softened things.
So, this week, and next, I celebrate. I celebrate myself. I celebrate my mother. And we celebrate our place — together and in the world. — Wherever that may be.
I learn that place will never define us. It cannot define us. It only builds and informs us — it transforms us. But, it is us who will do the defining. And, with each step I take away from, and back toward, Portland — I write myself. — My place. — I discover that I am my own home.
And, I allow myself to live — here — in my own heart.
And with that knowledge, I soften with every passing day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
When you go to school to become a writer, they don’t teach you to write. — They teach you to read.
The voices. The colors. The timbres. Each writer’s words ring out their peerless note — dissonance or harmony — no two stories are the same.
Every writer has her unique fingerprint — even in her plagiarisms.
In high school they instruct you — The beginning! The middle! The end! The kind of storytelling that has somehow been distilled down to a series of predictable climaxes — each is noted on a three foot by three foot chalkboard. Written carefully in smudgy, cursive letters. All of which — have no meaning.
If you learned to read properly, you already know this three-pronged formula is a useless chore. — A map that leads you nowhere and discovers nothing.
If you learned to read properly, you already know that each story is just one dot on an infinite timeline. And, in the futile hunt to uncover everything, the writer’s unrepeatable dot marks, without knowing it, the unexampled treasures that she alone has illuminated.
No beginning. No middle. No end. — Just moments. — Dots.
This weekend, I packed up the last six years. Books in boxes, old notes and bills, yellowed rolling papers, dried up pens, and renegade Christmas ornaments. So many dots. Too many dots. Wonderful and tragic dots.
One, I set aside. A single page, tucked carefully away, hidden neatly in between the pages of my copy of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. — an entry, torn from my journal. I unfold it, only days away from turning six years old, it reads:
July 30th, 2009
It’s hot in Brooklyn. I’ve been sitting in front of the box fan, watching TV and wondering if I’ll miss the heat and humidity of New York when we get to Portland. — If we get to Portland.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible for me to get anywhere at all, because I’ve been sitting on a couch, somewhere in this city, just waiting for something to happen to me.
Three months until we leave this place. Home. Family. Friends. All for the wild frontier — The West. Ninety days to see what needs to be seen — To say goodbye. To worry. To plan. To Dream.
But, I try not to worry. Because, on most days, I’d like to be anywhere but here.
I read it twice. Then three times. And then, for that girl, I weep. Six years ago — and I still remember how she thought this place could save her. How saying goodbye would hurt her. How her story, six years later, would read exactly the same way, but, — she — she is impossibly different.
Today, I cannot be mistaken for that girl. I know now that — it’s true — this place did save me. And, even in the sanctity of being saved, I will still choose to leave it behind — my savior. I return to a different place, revisit another dot. An old dot that, now, I can finally allow to be new. A story I know well, but, I’ve yet to write.
In my living room, I see it written on a piece of paper. — How I’ve learned to read here. I embrace the moments where Oregon has made me into something that New York City never could have — Beautiful. Seen. Heard. The words may read the same way, but, there is a new heart here. I read it — the story that was written for his heart — before I knew my own. Before I discovered my seperate pieces. My own, little dots — strewn wildly across the Oregon dirt. The seeds I once placed in someone else’s hands for planting. — But now it’s my harvest. — I’ve grown my own fruit.
In Oregon, I learn to read again. — To read myself. — I connect my dots. I learn to hold these new things — My love. My loss. My beauty. My strength. My pain. My sobriety. — like my children, to my breast. I shoulder their weight and carry them back to where I started. And I begin again.
I see them. They mark my own timeline. — My unrepeatable dots. — A goodbye. A worry. A plan. A Dream.
(A very special thanks to the beautiful and talented Allison Webber for inviting me to be part of her photo series: The Personal Beauty Project. A series that empowers women, allowing them to be seen in the way that they see themselves. These images capture not only my spirit, but, the spirit of my Oregon. As I return to the East Coast, I am able to take these images with me. Images that, for me, represent so much of what and who I have become as a result of being part of this magical place. I encourage you all to enjoy Allison’s work at her aforementioned website.)
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.
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.”
Some weeks, I’m bubbling over, some weeks — I’m tapped.
I pull up the chair to sit at this table. I open my computer. And, I stare at the screen — into all your faces.
I’m processing this story. Always.
Every week I feel like I’m in a dark room where the photos just soak forever. Nothing develops. But, still, I want to tell you everything.
There are a lot of these Goddamned pictures. So many stories. And, the plot can go a lot of ways while you’re waiting for things to come into focus. Stories get restless and start to write themselves. There are an estimated five billion hopeful story lines going full tilt right now. Some intersect, and some, escape, wild, out on their own. And, many of them, I can tell you with absolute certainty — hopeful or not — won’t end well. It’s funny, my best moments, my best stories in sobriety are the ones where I don’t feel sober at all. Right now — I’m running on fumes.
We all get high on stuff. Sometimes it’s legal, sometimes it not. I’m not sure what I’m high on this week. Fear. Excitement. Sadness. Loss. Epic confusion. I’m riding the wave and there aren’t too many cohesive thoughts. But, I’m enjoying being lost in this emotional blur which is decidedly better than just — being lost.
I stop here, every week, and disclose the state of my union, or, should I say, the non-state of my disarray. I like to stare into your computer eyes and let you know things. Like — I’m coming up on some cord cutting, and, I need to test the waters before I start hacking. There are still secrets that I have to keep from you. Maybe I’m high on that.
But, I can tell you this — I have plans for a little summer series. Stories. True stories. Portland stories. Expect those in the coming weeks.
Cord-cutting-cathartic-cross-bearing-down-on-this-12-bridge-city stories. Love. Love stories. Love that lived and died. In a bottle. In a pipe. In a needle. In a heart. In a city. — This city.
The thing that breaks us, is never the thing that really broke us.
It sounds nonsensical. But — it’s the truth.
Our minds and bodies are magical things. — Beautiful and complicated mechanisms of celestial science and engineering, built to withstand incredible stress. INCREDIBLE stress. Though, I’ll say in earnest, for me, it doesn’t often feel that way. — Especially having been broken recently by an insignificant thing.
I’ve been here — a big-mouthed Brooklyn-girl — in Portland, Oregon. I’ve made my own way for quite some time. I’m not scared. I’m not in any trouble. I’m not facing imminent danger. At least, I’m not anymore. I’m just fine. Though, I hate the word. — Fine.
But, last night, after dropping my mother off at PDX, sending her homeward toward NYC, I swerved in my lane driving back home on I-205, sobbing hysterically. Minutes earlier, back at the terminal, when my mother’s arms broke their lock from around my sunburned shoulders, I felt it. — A sincere desire to be vulnerable again.
It only takes one insignificant thing.
In recent weeks it’s all flooded back. My time. Here. In Oregon. I’ve watched a lover and partner of almost 7 years walk out on me, never returning to say goodbye. I didn’t break. I’ve been arrested. Battled addictions. Marched myself through rehab like a soldier. I never broke. I watched my new lover and partner of almost 2 years get strung out on heroin — again and again and again. Not a crack. I stood, through all this, strong, like an Oregon pine. Dropping my dead needles. Picking up my pieces. Picking up their pieces. I pulled it all back together, my sap, like emotional super glue. — But, leaving my mother at the airport. — That’s what did me in.
The insignificant thing. The moment where you realize that you’ve held your own world together for far too long. Somehow, even after standing in the eye of the storm, it’s in the push and pull of the insignificant things where we find we’re — Tired. Broken. Lost. And still, we find it difficult to let go. The body, in all it’s magical resilience, resists giving way. Finally straining and, eventually, snapping under the weight of this thing that reminds us — We must respect the nature of things.
A friend of mine, who got divorced a few years ago, bravely escaping an abusive relationship, recently told me that she’s tired of being the “strong one.” I know what she means. We send each other notes. We tell each other that we’re better for it. But, in truth, we’d both take happiness over fortitude any day.
Blinking back more tears, I struggle to see this place. — Oregon. — These trees. The Gorge. The Wild West. Open air and unspoiled land. This place, by nature, has made me an adventurer.
It’s not insignificant that, here, I have learned how to be shipwrecked and to wash ashore — wet — but still breathing. What’s more, I’ve learned that I can fall in love again. I can heal myself. And, I can skillfully duct tape my 2001 Honda Civic back together — with expert craftsmanship — and not care what my father has to say about it.
But, the insignificant thing I can’t ignore is this — an unshakeable feeling that, it’s possible, I don’t belong here.
There are only so many storms I want to weather. Only so many loves I will stand to lose. Only so many places where I’m no longer haunted by the person I once was.
A long time ago, in a one-bedroom, railroad apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I held a love bigger than my heart was meant to carry, and I told myself — Dream big. I freed myself up and, for a time, I loved fearlessly.
Those things I told myself back then — they weren’t insignificant. They were my system of road maps. Maps for letting go. Holding on. Surviving. Breaking. Rebuilding. Reviving. Re-starting.
On I-205, a man in a Toyota Tundra watches me sob at the merge. I allow it. I allow my mother’s departure to break me. Suddenly — I care not for strength. I give up on mourning the things I lost. I decide to abandon the dream I was hell bent on living so long ago. I allow myself to want again.
Something else. Someone else. Somewhere else.
And, before I reach the exit for Powell Blvd., I watch the course of my life change in my side-view-mirror — the one that’s duct taped, securely, to the driver’s side door.
And, without anyone else’s permission, I vow to follow it closely — wherever it goes — my insignificant thing.
This weekend, I evicted a squirrel from my apartment.
I first saw his ratty, grey tail peeking out from under my enormous television set. First, I panicked. Next, I reached for my yoga mat. Which, obviously, I proceeded to wield as an unruly weapon.
Even in my hysteria, it seemed simple enough. — I just had to lock the cat in the back bedroom, open the front door, and then usher my squirrel guest out, with gusto, flopping my yoga mat this way and that.
As it turned out, we were both quite terrified. So, I called my friend Tony who lives across from me in our apartment complex. No answer. Then, I tried my landlord. No answer. Then, I called my father — in New York City. Though separated by five thousand miles, he was the one who did not fail me. And while he did laugh at me like a hyena for five minutes, he also remained on the line for my intense, steady, and, dare-I-say-it — hunter-like — progression of profanity. Which, progressed as follows:
“Holy shit! Oh my God he’s in the closet now! Fuck! He’s making noises! Holy fucking shit, I can’t see him! What if he fucking bites me, Dad? Dad — Stop laughing! That stupid fucker just ran into the kitchen. God, that asshole’s a stupid motherfucker. THE FRONT DOOR IS OPEN YOU ASSHOLE!!! Jesus fucking Christ, he just ran out the front door. He was, like, fuckin’ airborne Dad. He’s out. Holy shit. He’s out! Fuck.”
My heart was beating like rapid fire. — And, there I was, yoga mat in hand. — Alive.
In truth, I’m rarely present. I run over the past in my mind, I plan the future, I design escapes and intrigue. But, I’m not here. It’s tough to get me in the moment.
One evening, my ex, after hearing me spout off about this or that, asked me how it came to be that Ram Dass was my hero — my guru — if I was constantly struggling to “Be Here Now.” — “Why didn’t I try harder to live in the present?” He wondered. I didn’t have an answer. It’s hard to explain to someone else how you can love a person that has the one, intangible thing that you want most, but, can never seem to grasp. It’s not coveting. It’s reverence. And, it’s nearly impossible to describe to someone who cannot comprehend any spirit that’s bigger than their own.
It’s funny, because that very same ex got me a framed “Be Here Now” poster as a gift. — A reminder I guess. It’s purple with a white lotus flower in the center. And, even though my ex is gone, the poster remains, situated happily on my mantle. So, after I had called, texted, emailed, and tweeted to everyone I knew — I plopped down on my couch to draw in my breath and stare at my purple-poster. I smiled with my teeth for the first time in months.
Excitement. Joy. Suspense. Hilarity. A SQUIRREL. Here. Now. IN MY APARTMENT.
That squirrel was my gift. Maybe from Baba himself. The moment where I was reminded: I am a real, breathing creature, wielding a yoga mat and taming wild — albeit tiny — beasts. Even when the moment had passed — the tiny creature bounding out over my two-step stoop, the feeling he awakened in me remained. — A feeling that will not escape me so quickly.
Sometimes, we can only love those that are present — without us. We can bask in their light. Their awareness. Their true presence. We can read the words that they have spilled across thousands of pages in countless books, we can watch their YouTube channels, we can sing chants along with Krishna Das. We seek out the presence.
But, sometimes, it will come to you: A squirrel who shits all over your house —while you chase it wildly with a yoga mat — while your father laughs in your ear — while your heart pumps in your chest. At the end of it all, you watch something leap to freedom. — And, it’s you.
I thank the purple poster and, for old time’s sake, I text my ex.
Because, I need to tell someone — I’m here. Now.
“Now is now. Are you going to be here, or not?” — Baba Ram Das
That sudden and visceral desire to reinvent yourself — become something new. Someone new. Somewhere else. Anywhere but here.
In 12-Step meetings, it’s called a “Geographic.” But, for me, it’s simply: “Get me the fuck outta here.”
Some mornings, I wake up an Oregonian. I breathe in damp, green air and when I get home from work I kick my soggy, brown, cowboy boots off at the door. I take long walks at 4:45AM where I feel like I might be the last human alive on Earth. I stand under impossibly tall pine trees and feel, actually feel — real as any human touch — my own smallness. This place makes me right sized. I have lost everything here. And, I have picked up all my broken pieces and assembled a mosaic that even I can admire. In Oregon, my alone-ness crowns me a true pioneer woman.
Other mornings, I wake up, and I’m still a wild New Yorker. Blood pumps hot and fast through my veins, all of which wind through my Brooklyn-girl-body like Subway tracks. Most days, I swear, my car starts to drive toward the airport without any help from my hands. I’m ready to max out, not one — but all, of my credit cards. I’m ready to fly. To disappear into some vast unknown — one that I’m sure will envelop me, cradle me, shower me with all the love and fulfillment that seems to elude me here. I write imaginary letters to all my friends living abroad: “Do you need a butler? I’m available.”
Please. Someone. Anyone. — Get me the fuck outta here.
I’m pretty certain that, in some ways, sobriety has made me loonier than I’d been at the onset. Now that I’m free of the drugs and the booze — I want to be free of everything else too. I want to start over where no one knows me. I want to leave behind all these conceptions of myself that have been fostered for too many years. I want to call my mother from somewhere in Bumblefuck, France and tell her that everything was worth it. — The taxing phone calls. The pain. The tears. The broken hearts. The unrealized dreams. I want to tell her that the foreign skies have washed me with their rain. I want to tell her that I’m standing, soaked, in front of some ancient monument — smiling. Everything smells different. Everything feels different. I am young again in a place that’s too old to care. I yearn to choke on some other language, only to wake up one morning, breathing big, clean breaths — erupting — singing a song I barely understand to a sun I’ve never seen before.
But, instead, I text message my mother from the floor of my apartment in SE Portland, where I sit cross-legged in front of the tall, white heater. I wipe tears from the corners of my American eyes. And I think, maybe, it is better to run toward something than it is to run away from it.