On Borders

Look, I’ve known him for years. We are the best of friends. But, he doesn’t let me into his room. I’ve never been in his car. He sends me the best emails. But we rarely talk. I mean, offline.

I don’t know why he is this way. But through all my breakups, he was there for me. He wasn’t a shoulder to cry on. But his words were always touching. He is a poet and a dreamer in words. Like a fish swimming in language. But flopping around in the dry air of life. We met on the bus.

We were reading the same book. A memoir about Rachel Corrie. On a Powell’s bookmark he wrote his email. Getting off at his stop he handed it to me. No eye contact. Just the bookmark. But he knew I had seen him reading. Two people reading the same book on the bus always see each other.

The first contact was cold. We talked about death. Then shared thoughts about freedom and politics. About America’s role in the world. I’ve been a fan of Bill O’Reilly for ten years. He was a fan of Noam Chomsky. We disagreed in the best ways. Our words were full of respect. But his roommates didn’t understand his quiet nature. His long walks in Forest Park led to him being called John Muir. A title of honor for him.

When my roommate moved away to Texas. His roommates were having parties every night. It was simple. He moved in with me. I never even posted an ad.

He has had girlfriends. In fast he has one now. She lives in Washougal. They see each other on the weekends. And she isn’t what you would imagine. It is like he opened his heart and world to one person. And it was her. I’ve seen them together, and he is normal. He can be in a group of people, and feel safe with her. She is a translator. Taking him the world, and him to the world. You know Einstein was a terrible misogynist.

A few times a month we will watch a movie together. Sometimes we go down by the river and walk. But still words are rare. I’ll see him in the corner of my eye. Then he will point to a cloud. Down to a boat in the water. Or an interesting person passing. His eyes say it all.

He has his borders. They are firm and should be respected. They may limit his life in the world. But they don’t hold him back from living. And he is happy within his bounds. And isn’t this what counts. You can try to drag him out. His roommates tried and failed. I’ve seen others try and fail. The harder you pull the more he will dig in deeper.

I think we get along because I’ve never tried. He has always been a mystery to me. I can’t imagine him any other way.

Borders

There were so many borders. He crossed the Sierra’s and ran out of gas. Down the backside he coasted. Then hours later it was the state line. An ocean of desert to be crossed. More mountains and miles and miles of road. But those were borders.

The real border was the front door. The end of the drive way. The day he told her he was moving. The real border came weeks before as he accepted the job. The far away job. Or the day he applied, wanting to be far away from her. The borders were crossed in his heart. Many times, and many times he came back. Would he return to her love again?

The cat slept on his lap as he drove. The radio playing a Lucy Kaplansky song about the road. Clearly she had also done travel at night. Her magical voice was holding him tonight. The music was a hug. The cat slept peacefully at last in the car. But it wasn’t an easy start for her. She cried and cried and cried. Like he wanted to cry and cry and cry. Maybe they both missed her. And all these years later he wonders if Baby Girl misses her like he does, at night, alone.

But maybe no being could miss another in the same way.

Years before he lived in Yosemite. When not crossing the high mountain trails he wrote. So much sad poetry and prose. So many long and pointless hours of cutting his own wrist with a pen. Bleeding onto the page, onto the screen. Into the snow, cold and unwatched. But he crossed a border in the park. It was the place where he learned to let M go. He moved beyond. And beyond he remained until he returned from Wyoming. And then borders were crossed again. There was no on in his heart for him for so long. Now she had crossed into his love.

Nevada is a land of barren beauty. A place unique and magical in a sparse way. Maybe one day he’ll live in a hermit shack off a dirt road in Eureka. Not the left-leaning town on the California coast. The dusty town hanging to the side of a mountain in Nevada. He passed through the town on this trip. And later trips. But tonight it was just a moment on the road. How many moments on our roads we pass through blindly. But for someone else the moment is dear. The moment lasts in memory. The touch lingers like a kiss on wet lips.

How many borders did he cross driving in the night. And in the heat of the next day. His heart had for so long been barren like the desert. Empty, uncrossed by human love. At least this is how it felt to him at times. But she was there like a dream. A well in the middle of the vast plain. Driving he crossed state lines. He crossed county lines and city lines. And each line was a step further from the one he couldn’t cross away from tonight.

Even after the granite valley of Yosemite. The strange orange land of south Utah. Through the dark of night and the heat of day. In Utah the temperature drove the cat to seek a place to hide. And she didn’t mind being wet for once. Like he was learning the lessons of having a wet heart. But he could never find a place to hide. The heat was so strong between them at one moment. It burned like the sun on his alabaster heart. And now he was peeling. One of his borders was slipping away into dust around him.

Maybe it didn’t have to be this way. Maybe it couldn’t be any other way. A voice inside told him to turn back. Cross back to safety. The comfort of her heart. But the clear sad truth was this border couldn’t be crossed anymore. He could cross Nevada. And later even crossed it in a snow storm. But the storms and the cold winds of live were driving them now. And each on a different current. The land he drove across was once at the bottom of the sea. In a time which feels so far away now. But years from now, across other borders so will today. The feelings, the journey, the borders crossed. It will fade as a memory. But she will never fade.

If Only…

If only I hadn’t gone to the job fair. I’d recently moved to Vancouver and needed a job. At the job fair I met Tye. And we talked about working at Walmart. Three years later I am doing good at Walmart. But if…

If only I hadn’t had the crazy roommate move in with me. I thought having a roommate would help. But she was crazy. Thought I worked for the police. Ate all my food. And then wanted to have sex with me. Craziest thing of all really. But then I wouldn’t have moved to Vancouver.

If only the weather hadn’t been so cold in the spring. If only the workplace hadn’t been so cold. And then so loud. If only I hadn’t had a great friend in Vancouver.

If only I hadn’t stayed in touch with Michelle. We met years ago. And had been close ever since. She’s been an amazing friend. And I’ve been a wandering fool. If only she hadn’t stayed friends with me all those years. I wouldn’t have had the option to move to Vancouver.

If only I hadn’t met her at Burgerville. It wasn’t a place either us belonged at the time. But we were there for a short time together. We got to know each other. Became friends and became close. If only when she asked to be my friend I had said, “no.” It would have been a sad mistake. But it could have happened.

If only I hadn’t gotten fired from the deli downtown. I worked for a Korean couple who barked at me. The man said women were trouble. The woman said I made her feel stupid. But I worked and worked. Coming in late every day. I didn’t know the clock was set fast. If they hadn’t fired me one dark day I wouldn’t have gone to Burgerville. And I would never have met my best friend: Michelle.

If only in the wet of winter I hadn’t moved to Portland. Starting out in the city wasn’t easy. I had to really work hard and rent cheap places. When I could rent any place. I had at one point planned on moving to Seattle with a woman. But it didn’t work out and I landed in Portland. Why Portland, I didn’t even know the place. But I knew, M, the girl hated the place. And it was close enough for me to afford a ticket on the bus. If only she hadn’t hated Portland. If only I could have afforded to move to Austin. If only I would have moved to another town.

If only I had stayed a week longer. I had been camping by the river. And the night I left the water flooded my tent. A couple years later I went back and found it. It was under a deep layer of mud. I’d never thought the river could flood. If only I had stayed another night. It might have been my last.

I had met M on a lonely night in San Francisco. I had turned while walking to talk to a friend behind me. But bumped into M. She was looking for someone for talking. I sat down and we talked for hours. We blew smoke bubbles. My heart was feeling light like a bubble. If only I hadn’t bumped into the strange girl. If only I hadn’t fallen in love. If only the night was just the night. But we stayed together for weeks. And then later went on a long trip. If only we hadn’t been so close. I would never have made plans to move to Seattle. I would never have moved to Portland. If only on one night in San Francisco I was walking on the other side of the street.

She had left home to see her favorite poet. Allen Ginsberg, was alive when she when she left Seattle. But he was dead when she got to San Francisco. If only she had loved a different poet. If only she hadn’t been feeling lonely. If only she had never left home. There are so many unknown if only’s in her story. If only her family had been closer.

If only I hadn’t been cruising around the Bay Area. If only I’d never started on my experimental life. I left college to be on the road for a while. But I never left the Bay Area until I met M. If only I had never met her. If only I had stayed in school I would have a totally different career. But there had been a longing in my heart for something different. If only I had been happier with my life choices. If only I had ignored the call of the wild.

If only I hadn’t been in San Francisco. If only I hadn’t met M. If only I hadn’t moved to Portland. If only I hadn’t worked at Burgerville. If only I hadn’t met Michelle. If only I hadn’t moved back after many years. If only I hadn’t gotten a job at Walmart. If only so many more things I can’t count or recall. And a few I am not even aware of right now. I wouldn’t be here writing this, and you wouldn’t be here reading it.

I for one am happy all the “if onlys” worked out the way they did.

On the meaning of “new”

“I hear you got a new car.”

“I did, I like it a lot.”

“What is it like?”

“Well it is the company’s new model.”

“Wow, that must be exciting.”

“And it drives like a new car. It has a good engine.”

“Did you pay much at the dealership?”

“I bought it offline, but I got a deal.”

“So you should come take me to dinner in your fancy new wheels.”

“Actually the wheels aren’t very fancy. It is one bummer about the car.”

“It has new tires right?”

“Yeah, the put brand new tires on before I bought it.”

“So is it from this year or last year?”

“Oh no, the car is like ten years old.”

“But you said it was ‘new'”

“Yeah, well it is new to me.”

“But you said it was their ‘new model'”

“Yeah, the company hasn’t put out any models in ten years.”

“I see, well you don’t have to pick me up for dinner.”

The New Couch

There it was, as amazingly new as he dreamed. He took out his phone for a picture. Moments like this were for sharing. And Instagram made for this sharing. There in front of him sat the new couch.

His old couch was gone. He had left it outside like trash. How many movies had he watched. How many girls did he kiss. And nights he slept restfully in its embrace. But in the end all those moments were pushed out the door. And left by the curb. Like trash.

After a cold night someone came and took it away. It was for their dogs. Which was just as well. Because it had rained hard all night long. Where it had been soft before it was failing. Maybe it felt the loss of being cast aside. It no longer was wanted or needed. There was a new couch.

When he sat down the couch didn’t sag under him but was firm. The arms weren’t torn, but smooth. And there he sat looking out the window. The truck with his old couch pulling away down the street. This was a new day. It was his day. For today he felt like an adult with a new couch.

Time for a selfie with the new couch. Soon his phone was ringing.

“Yes, come over and see my new couch,” he told his girlfriend. And she came with her puppy. The three of them had been watching Lord of the Rings for the last several nights. Curled up like a cuddle puddle on the couch. The puppy went to jump and instantly he blocked his small friend.

“Maybe we can keep the dog off the couch,” he suggested. His girlfriend’s expression spoke to her feelings and it wasn’t good. So he pushed the couch back and they watched Netflix on the floor. After an hour she took her puppy and went home.

The couch awed him as he pushed it back to the center of the room. He grabbed the remote, placed it on the arm of the couch and went for food. When he came back the remote was on the floor. He picked it up and put it back on the arm. After going to the bedroom for a blanket he came back. And the remote was on the floor.

His old couch had large soft arms with a small patch of worn fabric. He would rest the remote there and it didn’t fall. But the remote fell off the new stuffed smooth surface. He pulled the table closer, and set the remote on the table.

But he felt restless after a moment and got up. Moving towards the kitchen he banged his knee on the table. Then tripped on the table leg. The table tilted and the remote and diner fell on the floor. He wasn’t watching his show. Now he was cleaning the carpet. This was a rental after all.

Note to self, he suggested sitting down. Be more careful. But the firm couch while comfortable lacked comfort. It was soft. But wasn’t warm like he start to recall his old couch. The news was on so he got up again, and tripped on the table leg. Again his remote fell on the floor. Where he left it. Time for bed. But it was early, and his bedroom was cold. His girlfriend has always turned on the heat because she got cold. But tonight she left early. He could turn the heat on now. But it would take time to heat his bedroom.

I can sleep on my new couch he thought to himself. But laying down he couldn’t find the right position. His arm was in the way. The couch arm was in the way. The cushions were in the way. The table got in the way and his remote fell on the floor again. He bounced around under the blanket. But never was able to settle into the over stuffed couch. This new and amazing couch was what he had wanted. But now it was turning against him.

He sat up and thought about going after his old couch. But it was too late. And all he could do was sit there and think about where he had gone wrong. He felt like the trite character out of a children’s book. The careless sap who throws out a gem. At least the dogs would be sleeping in comfort. He turned on the TV and tried to relax into his new albatross.

Write about home

I was home. But it wasn’t home. Is this why they say you can’t go home again. Walking down the hallway it all felt smaller. Could everything have shrank? Was this the same house. Well, it was never a normal house. But it was always home.

This hallway was a play space for my sister and I. We would wedge our feet on one wall and our backs on the other. Then shimmy up to the ceiling. But my legs don’t fit across this hall. And the ceiling is so close. Hardly the peak of excitement I recall. Sometimes I would drop from the top to the floor. And it was a fall.

At the core of our home was a mobile home. A modular home is what some people call them. This is where the famous hall was located. Along the hall we would run at times. And others we would walk in shame. At the end of the hall was the bathroom. This is where we would get our punishment. It was a small bathroom, the kind you expect in a trailer. And now when I walk in I notice the sink is so low.

But growing up it was never about the house. I lived on the land. Outside the door was a world of adventure. Like when I turned the driveway into a city with small roads and little mound houses. Or the many times playing games with my sister and friends. As we got older we played at night. Sometimes we would play hide-and-seek games in the darkness. The idea you could hide in open darkness was new to us. As I got older I learned how to hide in the open light.

At the other end of the hall was a small dining room. But it felt big with the table. This is where I learned how to salt and eat plain avocado. My sister still eats it the same way. And in the kitchen there was a toaster oven. At the small kitchen table before bed sometimes we would make English muffin pizzas. We would put hot dogs and ketchup on an English muffin. Then pop it in the toaster oven. This is what home is about right?

After the regular toaster caught fire we never replaced it. Pop-tarts with icing on them had over heated.

But I also remember eating cereal for breakfast. We would take a basic grain like oatmeal. Then add yeast, and nuts and raisins and sugar and I don’t even remember what else. It was hardly oatmeal anymore. Eating was fun and comfortable for me when I was young. Things are different now.

In the kitchen sink we would get our hair washed. I’m not sure why we weren’t trusted to wash our own hair. But the burn of the soap in my eyes etched in my mind. The kitchen had a window on one side. While it used to open outside. It now opened to part of the house added later. The largest part of the house had been added years ago.

There was a large room, a living room. This is where we would gather after meals. It had large windows and lots of light. The windows weren’t glass. But large sheets of thick plastic. In later years glass was place in the frames. And along the outside wall was a long couch. From this couch you could see the yard. But you could also see the mountains far away. I would sit for hours on the couch. Hours staring at the mountains. And thinking about my life and future. It is here I knew at a young age if I didn’t get married by 24. I would never get married. And I was right.

When I looked out the window at night. I could see the lights from stars and houses. The mountains and the sky seemed the same distance. I could see the small lights on the hills far away. And I could see the larger lights of the stars. Their light from much further away. And I was the one who felt far away.

There was a wood stove in this room. It was used to heat the whole house. A giant wood pile was in the front yard. When it was covered with a tarp, small lakes would form in the low spots after the rains.

Next to the main room was a room we used to play and learn. It was where my sister and I had our desks. Mine was full of drawing from imaginary hotels. I had created my own imaginary chain of hotels. I’d look at maps and find cities. Then make a drawing of a building for the hotel in this city. I already understood you could take money from one place and use it to create more. But I still don’t know how to create the money to invest. I’m not sure how many cities my hotels he conquered. And it never occurred to me as a child to place more than one hotel in a city. Even a large city like New York City.

Our small book shelf was in this room. And it had a collection of Bible stories I wanted to read from the start to the end. But I never did. Even as a child I set goals for reading, and didn’t finish. Maybe it is better than never having a goal?

Out the back of this room was a small storage and laundry room. When I was young I remember it having an old florescent light. You had to wait for it to light up. A big freezer was in this room, where we stored extra food. Some of which was meat from cows raised and killed on the land. It was thirteen acres. Then out from this was a smaller room. It was here the yams were pooped on by the kittens. And I have never trusted yams much since.

Then outside was the trail to the barn. But there was also a shed and a couple small buildings. These were just bedrooms. When young you don’t think about home. Like a fish doesn’t think about water. But then you come back and it is all smaller. And you see things in a different way. It isn’t home anymore. Someone else is living in your home. They are creating new memories. Different from yours. It is their home now.

(I kind of hate this one, but I did spend almost an hour when I should have been sleeping writing it so I will post it.)

Time to say Goodbye

She saw him coming. Walking alone on the sidewalk. She sat alone.

There was an older lady drinking coffee across the room. And no one else. She put her head down. He opened the door.

She could feel him. For the last hour she could feel him. As he made his way through the city. But she didn’t want to see him. His feet scraped the floor. He pulled the chair out. He sat down.

She could smell him. His breath in the air around her now. A scent of toothpaste in the wind. It was the tube she bought him. She looked at her hands. The aging hands. A broken love line.

He didn’t say a word.

But she could see his hands on the table. They were bold. And strong hands. She loved those hands so much. And now they were removing their ring. He put it on the table. She rolled hers around like a barrel in a river. Over and over and over. And she was drowning inside.

Take the ring off her mind whispered. Then louder, and louder and louder. Until it was all she could hear. But she wanted everyone else to be gone. The older lady drank her coffee and folded her newspaper. As the door thudded close behind her they were alone.

Years ago she had read a book. It was called “Breakup.” A beautiful and tragic story of love. All those years ago, when she never imagined this moment. The perfect wedding in the redwoods, yes. The children born a year apart, yes. Having a husband who could support her art, yes. And support her as a stay home mother.

The children flashed before her eyes. One of college, one in the Marines and one traveling in Europe. The nest was empty. And she was going to have to learn to fly again. Fly like the bird she never had been.

She took the ring. She slid it off her finger. She looked at his hands. Then again at her own. It looked naked without his ring. But it was done. The ring was on the table. He tried to reach out to her, for a moment. But the moment passed so quick. The fear, the pain, the sadness were so real to her. She missed the moment and he was gone.

Years ago under an oak tree they planned their lives. They even planned this day. Though she didn’t imagine it was real. Like when they planned to be rich. Or when they planned to star in their own movie. But this wasn’t a happy movie. The stars of the film have not been true to their roles. The husband has been hard working and supportive. But not loving and caring. The wife, a nurturing and attentive mother. But she forgot how to be a friend.

He found a friend some place else. And she found love with someone else. Now their rings are on the table. The paper work has been signed. They’ll sell the rings and give the money to the children. They are grown and on their own adventures now.

There is dirt under my nail, she thought. And the door thudded in the back of her mind. Where would she go now?