Portland, Part 2
Day Seven of Thirty Days of Writing
I only have half of the receipts. The other half, written by my partner, are in another soft pack of Marlboro Menthols somewhere in the apartment that is now his in St. Louis, Mo. I believe that they are residing in his nightstand, that used to be an end table in my grandmother’s basement. That too is another story. To trace what is used and how it gets used again–to be able to trace just one object from its conception in a person’s mind, to its actual creation, to it serving its function–that is a beautifully straight line. Where it goes from there often ends up forming a circle, and when the circle is complete, perhaps only then is the energy of that object actually used. Perhaps only then can we throw it away. A downward spiral then, may be a good way to avoid ever getting used.
Meeting N I was glad to see that he looked good. He looked a bit frazzled, but overall, like himself. He had a nice apartment in the suburbs. He had a job that he liked and that paid him well. Portland felt familiar to me, and I could see it did to him too. He moved about his world with confidence. After the long night on the mountain, and the quiet nights in Eugene filled with Vegan fair, (we had stayed an extra night, allowing my health to improve)seeing a familiar face again was a welcomed sight. That’s one of the reasons its hard to write about the trip–there were such long intervals of silence–of space opening up around and inside of me. Then quite suddenly–I would be thrown back into another unfamiliar landscape, all metropolises I’d never seen before, but with a friend to show me around or at least tell me where to go. I would be reminded of why I missed them and of just how much people grow and change every year.
Portland is a small city. It felt like St. Louis but more progressive, more walkable–same level of friendliness in the people. (Mind you, I hadn’t really spent much time in St. Louis at that point in 7 years–but the place you grow up in haunts you more than anywhere else–or at least–that’s how its always been for me.)
N’s partner at the time was having issues with relapse. There was a fair amount of tension in the house, but also the sense that these were two people who loved one another, who knew one another very well. N was tired, that much was readily apparent. I had dealt with similar issues with a previous partner of my own. I had watched him spiral, trying to catch him at each turn until I realized it was not up to me to catch him, because the only way out for him was to spiral all the way to the bottom. It sounds calloused, I know. But it was the hardest thing I’d ever done up until that point in my life. To be willing to give your own life to something you can’t fix–something that’s not in your control… To want more than anything to be the bright spot that someone in a dark hole could look to–I see it now more as a delusion than anything else.
I’ve never been too good at timing–always ahead of or behind myself. My partner and I were in part running from our past, from all the things we’d inflicted on one another in Colorado, and we were in part trying to figure out if we had an actual future–with one another and just in general.
When I was in my MFA program, I had a friend who told me once the story of grandmother spider, as she had heard it while staying on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. She said that grandmother spider visits you in your dreams, to ask you two questions. What do you live for? What would you die for? At the time she had paused, to let me think and answer. I answered both questions the same. The ones I love. She laughed, telling me that the actual answers themselves didn’t matter, only if you answered them the same or differently. She said that to give one answer to the two questions meant that grandmother spider would claim you for herself. That you would become part of her militia. “She only takes those who have a unity of will.”
My partner and I had left Michigan to see if we were able to live with this unity of will–to see if we could find a place to call home, or more accurately, to see if we could find people to call home. I left my things in Michigan with my ex. I had originally been planning on staying there with him until I could find my bearings. I hadn’t wanted to go home because I felt so far from everything there. Seven years is a long time to be away. I hadn’t wanted to go back to anywhere else I’d lived. I wanted a new path forward; I wanted a purpose. I thought I could find it rather than making it. That was my mistake.
I ended up leaving for the trip from my ex’s–because of many reasons but I can boil it down to this one example. One night we lay in bed together, I was trying to fall asleep and couldn’t. I felt so restless. He had to work in the morning and I didn’t want to wake him. His arm was around me and in the past, this had been the one place in the whole world that I had felt safe–that I had felt like I belonged. We’d been together on and off for almost five years. Even when we were apart or when we’d hurt one another, and we did, oh god how we did–I was always happy just to know that he existed–that there was a presence in this world that had known me better than I had known myself. I thought it was the drugs that had ended up breaking us apart–the long spiral downwards. The intervention staged by kids who were barely twenty-one and had no idea how to help their friend–who had so many problems of their own to grapple with. The stays in rehab, the hitch–hiking back to Chicago just to find me and then to get high and sleep with someone else…All the lying.
On that night, some night that I couldn’t place on a calendar–I realized for the first time that I no longer felt home when I was in his arms. I lay there, staring at the ceiling, feeling the last bits of my heart that I’d pasted back together break apart and dissipate. This was not where I belonged now. I was once again the piece of the puzzle that didn’t fit. Its not that I was angry. I wasn’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him. I did. I’d simply outlived my usefulness in his life. I was at best a reminder of a time we could never get back to. His life was on the mend–I was going to fuck it up if I tried to hang on. So I packed the essentials and I decided to leave. I had a small glimmer of hope that I would come back, and I had a small glimmer of hope that I wouldn’t.
In Portland, my partner and I had reached the last curve of the go-around. Out of the nearly 4,000 miles traveled so far, this place was beginning to feel like home. Oregon suited us. It was good to see N. I liked the idea of being near someone I knew, even if we would all be busy from day to day. But after the vegan donuts, seeing the lonely mountain, and walking the streets, I had to face the fact that we were about to be headed back. While I still had to travel all the way down to Florida–I would be dropping my partner back off in Michigan. The trip wasn’t over, but we were about to enter our last leg together. That fact began to foreshadow all else. What were we going to do in the aftermath of this adventure?