It’s come to this: indifferent, mean city life has won the battle. In a dusty cloud of defeat I’ve arrived at my mother’s house– unemployed, bloated with roadside food and shame– to hide for the month of May.
Somewhere in the world there’s a video of me when I am eight years old. I am sitting on my parents’ bed and I have short, boyish hair and giant front teeth. My parents had rented a video camera to document my older sisters’ first modeling gig; having completed that, they are exhausting their skills at documenting everything else. I am excited. I’ve never had my moving face captured on film. They decided to put something together to send to my grandmother in Washington, D.C. She has emphysema and her skin, like rice paper, breaks with any measure of pressure, so much of our connection is ephemeral. Paper, pictures, now film. The lighting is terrible. Any first year film student will tell you that a single, dusty ceiling lamp filled with bug corpses and a low kelvin bulb will surely destroy any setting. You can see by our belongings that we’re poor, a fact I was not aware of as a child. The six of us live in a duplex off a main road in a shitty suburb of San Francisco. The carpets are hard and flat and avocado colored and even run through the kitchen. But we have an orange tree that smells like heaven in the spring and giant bay windows. I’m a pretty happy kid. Off camera, my parents ask if I’m ready. I nod, and then launch into a high pitched yet on-key version of Patsy Cline’s “Honky Tonk Merry Go-Round.” I’m nervous but proud and my dimple (only one; on the right cheek) flashes whenever I hit the high notes.
Somewhere else in the world there is a picture of me when I am twelve. I’m sitting at the piano and looking over my shoulder at the camera. It’s an event, and it’s during the holidays; I know this because I am wearing the crushed red velvet top with embroidered silver stars that my grandmother bought me for such occasions. I’m straight-backed and my mouth, full of teeth too big for my still-growing face, is stretched wide in a proud grin. At this point I have dreams. I am going to be a writer of fantasy and political non-fiction (not journalism, though– far too dry), and in order to accompany my singing I’m going to learn piano. Somehow, I will also earn enough money to buy a guitar. My narrow hands and long bony fingers are poised over the keys like some damned pro, like I’m envisioning Carnegie Hall. I’m excited about the future– still!– because as yet no one has tipped over that urn full of dark clouds that awaits me. That huge, insurmountable pile of disillusionment that permeates the world around me now, smudging my vision, always.
Even as a teenager I was eager to learn and grow and conquer and maybe even destroy (like, patriarchy and stuff). I can’t say exactly when I changed to become so bitter and suspicious. Was it the general economic downturn? Was it watching friends become house-flippers and heroin addicts? (Though soccer moms and politicians will tell you otherwise, the line drawn between those two categories is a watery one; one destroys themselves, the other destroys entire communities. Only one of them makes it to appointments on time, though.) Was it watching our country turn on a president because of a blow job and then hire a B-grade frat boy to lead us into moral obfuscation? Was it knowing that I would never, ever fit in with the crowds that had the most fun because I always, forever see the bad guys lurking under the bleachers, even when they aren’t there? I can’t say, but I CAN say that it seems to only plateau and then worsen, though. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around, aren’t we supposed to grow out of fears and experience the bettering of our selves and the world? I always believed adults so wholeheartedly when they told me that. Are they liars?
I can’t say. I just sit around my mother’s house, hiding from responsibility, painting my nails and drinking cheap white wine like a broke divorcee who couldn’t afford this year’s Cougar Cruise.
I look back on what the last three years have brought me, despite all of my [perhaps self-wrought] misery. It has been glorious in many respects. I learned to love traveling and I learned that, despite my hatred of cities and despite its steroidal growth, Portland is a city worth my love. A dubious honor, I know. But from a person who greedily, hungrily squirrels away secret, lonely outposts in her Pinterest account to use later as a means of escape from human connection, it’s a pretty serious honor, too.
To ward off my constant companion, a smarmy shithead of a gent called Foreboding, I’m going to go paint my mother’s living room and visit the DMV to make sure I am still registered so that I can at least say I didn’t vote the talking wig into office. And then maybe I will go chill alone on a shoreline somewhere.
The balance, though elusive, searches me out on occasion, too.