Remembering

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Driving north Friday afternoon, May 19th. May 19th, snowy Colorado cold, my heart cratered and crushed, the talented and beautiful Chris Cornell dead and gone, and me and the hubster with tickets to a Soundgarden show that will never come to be. Life is full of surprises, some magical in their beauty, some terribly sad.

And these photos, taken in my grandparents neighborhood, which, save a Halloween when I was a wee child and have zero recollection, I had never really walked. So, many thanks to Ms. Juni B., without whom we never would have had reason to so thoroughly explore and spy a Wiley Coyote live and in person. What a privilege!

There was much that brought us north – a party to celebrate the son of a bestie graduating from high school (woot!), my own sweet nephew’s graduation (double woot!), and to spend time with my Grandpa. My Grandpa who is ninety-three and has cancer tendrils winding ever more thoroughly through his body. My Grandpa who now needs an oxygen snake following him about the house. My Grandpa who cries tenderly over the loss of my Grandma and looks with love and bewilderment at her beautiful face at every stage of her life. My Grandpa who I spoil with chocolates and his favorite home made meals – hollandaise with roasted asparagus, biscuits and gravy, and take out from our favorite (and BEST) tamale place – Moreno’s on Morrison Road – red, always, always red. We don’t speak of the inevitable, but it hovers and dances while we laugh and listen to our favorite songs.

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Last night Joy Division was on a constant loop, on the hi-fi and my mind’s eye. Positively agog that this music has been a steady part of my being for more than thirty years. What, whaaat? T H I R T Y.

I sat, joyfully awash in the memories elicited.

Of staying up late, hunched over my desk, doing homework, music low. Other times, the joyous solitude of listening for the sake of it, to grasp the meaning, scribbling words and ideas in notebooks, pinning them on walls and doors, of dancing by myself wrapped in the sheer pleasure, of attempting to drown the noise of a loud house and an even louder family.

Of being an outsider, neither a punk nor a waver, neither a stoner nor a jock, neither a nerd nor a cheerleader, but skirting the territories, knowing each as a person and friend, beloved, crafting the finest patchwork quilt of companions, threads of kindness in my wake. Proving some things never change. Be who you are. Love and do as you like, just show me your kindness, your heart, and we can be friends.

Unpredictable me. Clothes preppy and new wave, loafers and buckle shoes, never a sock. Obsessed with skulls and so much black, save around the eyes. Makeup light, bangs high, then the bob I would have for years, sometimes bangs, sometimes not, shoulder to chin and back again. Honor roll student doing donuts in my friend’s Charger, fast, faster, I laughed wildly while he whimpered like the baby I was purported to be. French student of the year who occasionally got high, drank practically never, save to taste. My first cocktail was a Lynchburg Lemonade, further proving some things never change. I do like whiskey best. Designated driver and caretaker, I got people safely home, handed out bowls to vomit in, and practically ran a therapist’s office out of my car.

My car! I worked long hours and saved for years, fast food and bussing tables, finally having enough Christmas break senior year of high school. 1981 Toyota Celica, five speeds and the freedom to do what I please. My music. My Thoughts. My whims. Mostly in darkness, when I reflect, whizzing and crawling along the back roads of Arvada, Boulder, and the mountains beyond. The Sex Lights and searching for possessed goats. Driving to parties, the Westminster Mall. The highway downtown to be among the skateboarders, outsider again, my favorite, wickedly handsome with a foot tall mohawk and bad manners. But, goll-ee, to watch him skate, the grace and lightness of fine articulated limbs.

Later, at night, to wander among the warehouses, under viaducts, places long gone. To smoke – stupidly, for a year – Camels and the fanciest black cloves at Paris on the Platte, sip a Cafe Jacques, or, on more brazen evenings, a Crowbar, plied with enough caffeine to open the eyes of the dead. Other times it was Muddy’s, darker, quiet and moodier, too, whispering among ceiling-high books, nursing a chocolaccino, delicate sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

Music was the undercurrent of it all, often misunderstood and mocked by friends, yet what held us together, too. Those dark hours, adding up to days and months, driving and talking, the music never stopped. Joy Division. The Doors. The Cure. U2. New Order. INXS. Lou Reed. The Clash. Eazy-E. The Rolling Stones. The Beastie Boys. The Psychedelic Furs. Echo and the Bunnymen. The Smiths. Modern English. General Public. More I can’t remember. More I choose to forget.

 

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On plane journeys, the hum of engines and sight of the world from on high sparks a fire of words. I flip the magazine page, and it reads “journal.” So, this is what I write:

I am soaring above the Pacific Northwest and remembering, a cascade of images and thoughts at once. Driving winding back roads, shady with giant Doug Firs (and that place, too, many a Saturday afternoon lunch, talking Dolly Parton with our favorite server, eating a grilled cheese) before rounding a bend to a picture perfect view of some gorgeous volcano. Hood. St. Helen’s. Rainier. Adams. Jefferson. All glorious and snow capped.

The dozen times we drove to Seattle, through drizzle and storms, every season of the year, to arrive to sunshine. Every single time. The rain only commencing on the drive home. Seattle! The most beautiful city IN THE WORLD. The hills, towering trees, the sweep of Elliott Bay, with the Olympics beyond and Rainier peering over my shoulder.

And our trips further north, to Bellingham and Everett, the San Juans, our bit of solace on THE September 11th. A cabin on Orcas Island, at the end of the road and edge of the sea. No television. No newspapers. No images of horror and terror. Late afternoons, we listened, rapt, to accounts of bravery and loss. So very much of each.

The clouds have swallowed the landscape whole, light bouncing heavenward, shining on the memory of my mind’s eye. We took the ferry from Orcas and drove south on the Olympic Peninsula from Port Townsend, town of wooden boats, entering a place primordial. Tide pools, trees dripping, water and moss, winding among the low slung clouds, every bit a dream. Our shared dream.

Flying over the ocean now, conjuring our days at the coast. The time we walked, too late from Cannon Beach to our rented room, the tide rising higher and higher, engulfing the shore and forcing us upward, through clawing brambles and brush and near ninety degree angles of rock and cliff. Two jack-in-the-boxes popping out on the roadway in near darkness, scratched and scraped and bruised, but giggling still, just after night fall.

Mornings in Bend, the scent of juniper and wild chatter of robins gorging on their berries. Days on the Metolius, our wee cabin succumbing to the shifting river, burgers and marshmallows roasting on the barbecue. South to Breitenbush and Summer Lake to take to the waters at the hot springs. Quiet beautiful skies, roads less traveled.

The golden light gleams – a million pennies dancing on the water. Portland, the best and longest bit of our shared history. Our home. The half-ass house we called it. Half covered in siding. Half the yard an absolute shambles of three foot weeds. Half the switch plates missing their screws. Half the electrical box miraculously intact after being improperly wired. We coaxed out the best of it – blood, sweat, and tears.

A quick jaunt to Mt. Tabor, Hawthorne unspooling to the Bagdad and on down to the river, the West Hills and Forest Park, luxuriating in verdant shade on the hottest of days. We walked, drove, and biked nearly every street and boulevard, so many treasured places and favorite spaces, and meals, the very best of our lives! I am wishing, right this minute, for a coctel de pulpo at Taqueria Nueve.

And friends! We made the best. Popping across the street, down the block, zooting around town, to share stories, sweets, and home made treats. A little whiskey, a bit of beer, a glass of champagne. Laughing at the madness of IKEA and batshit crazy neighbors. Watching tiny children grow into teens, adults, beautiful people. Enjoying fondue on Christmas Eve. Sitting, late into the night, on a patio plucked from a Hawaiian dream, inhaling the sweet scent of gardenia.

And to the future, lamenting, tears streaming, the one day, hopefully far, far away, after everyone I love has passed on to the next life, how it will ALL be turned to soup.

 

Me and my best love, our drive west and the Mini packed tight. We had seven suitcases, three tote bags, one duffel bag, one milk crate, one Vitamix (nestled between us in the arm rest!), one computer monitor, one fire extinguisher, and one gallon of laundry detergent! The heavy burden made our car 10 miles per gallon less efficient and injured my right arm so terribly that I could not move it AT ALL for three days. Oof. But boy howdy, was it worth it! We are home. And what a marvelous drive we had, missing every bit of bad weather. We saw not one snowflake nor rain drop fall, and were treated to some of the most gorgeous landscapes America has on offer. My love for this great country has been galvanized further still, yes ma’am.

And the little white house, off of Sangamon Avenue in Springfield, Illinois, is where my Grandma Tess was born and my Great Aunt Mary lived until she was well into her seventies. Two adults, eight children, and who knows how many pets made their home in this wee two bedroom one bath. By some great stroke of luck, the current owner was sweeping the porch when we pulled up, and I asked him if we could go inside. He kindly obliged, and we spent the better part of the next hour sharing stories. Sadly for me, but great for the house, it is under renovation, with plastic and tarps obscuring the majority of the space. Thankfully, there was enough exposed to get a feel for it and my Grandma’s spirit in it, to see relatives I’ve only known in pictures puttering about, gazing out the window while washing a dish. Part of me is there now, too.

And Lincoln! It’s turned out to be quite a year for Colleen, Greg, and good ole Abraham. Gettysburg and Springfield – the train station from which he made many journeys and his final return, his law office, the old state capitol building where he worked, just one of many bronze monuments. And his crypt, which, wow, and hmmm, what to say? Evocative. If you have never been, go. Just go.

It was a sleepy New Year’s Eve, with us full up on sentimentality and hypnotized by a murmuration swirling about the capitol dome (that bit that looks like a smudge). The beat of wings the only sound we heard.

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Today, this 30th day of December, is our last in Pittsburgh. The house is sold, quiet, and for a short spell, empty. Our car is packed to the gills and ready to roll along home to Colorado. Colorado, where we were born and raised, landlocked anchor to our drifting hearts.

When we are far greyer than we are now, and reminiscing about our life, we’ll gaze at each other and say, “Do you remember that year we lived in Pennsylvania?” We’ll wonder aloud if maybe it was a wild shared dream, the two of us living in what our friends called the mansion, a century-old beauty of red brick, chock full of gleaming wood, stained glass, four fireplaces, and three stories, the top most we rarely visited, save to gaze upon and photograph the sky.

We will, always and forever, be glad for our choice, to have been courageous enough to pick up sticks and live on the other side of the continent and known yet another part of America: the undulating hills, hardwood forests, ravines and deep river valleys; the diversity, having come from the whitest city of Portland; the kind faces of generations of poverty and souls broken by back-breaking labor, giving all they had; the vast brick mansions, museums, and every last vestige of the steel age; the wretched air pollution and ridiculously high property taxes that buy virtually nothing ($7,200 on a $200,000 house!); the road trips to places we had longed to see: Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, the New York and Quebec countryside.

We will smile, conjuring the streets of Bellevue: the kids of all ages at the skate park, the fabulous library, the lights at holiday time; the pitch perfect weather and four gloriously distinct seasons; the new vocabulary and that crazy Pittsburgh accent, how we drove sahth on the parkway with a bunch of nebby jagoffs to go aht dahntahn, bought groceries at the Giant Iggle, and watched the STLRS play.

We will remember surviving and thriving during a year of massive grief and wonder: a mother with breast cancer, a cousin with a cancerous brain tumor, a soul broken enough to attempt suicide, the sorrowful loss of our beloved cats and our two grandmothers; the quiet evenings of summer, lying, jubilant and awestruck, under a sky alive and shimmering with fireflies; the hills ablaze with the dazzling colors of fall; having walked and driven, mile after mile, eager and curious, to big places and small spaces, forests and towns, and gotten lost, lost, lost.

We will be glad to have learned more of our own selves, the roots we never knew we had: how living in and amongst the rolling hills and winding roads of Appalachia drove us absolutely mad, and flat cities with grid systems make us as giddy as children with a secret; how we found a gaping hole in our collective soul, one that could only be filled with the nearness of our aging family and the dreamy-big skies, sage scrubland and open spaces, and mountains, giants snow-capped and cloaked in evergreen, of the West; how there was simply no substitute for being T H E R E.

Most of all, we will be grateful to have such marvelously generous and big-hearted Pittsburgh friends: Peggy. Mike. Kristen. Patrick. Dale. Therese. Dan. Janet (times two!). Ron. Megan. Tricia. Jonathan. Andrew. Kelly. Beth. Peter. George. Jordan. Rose. The beautiful women of the Non-Native Pittsburgher Women’s Social Meetup. The Sisters at Bethany House. The creative men and women of my Writer’s Group. The kindly businessmen and women of Bellevue. The cashiers at the Whole Foods in Wexford. To all, we give our love and sincerest thanks.

It was a great and wonderful year. Here’s to an even better 2016!

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