I’d like to move on and make the most of the night
And so it is.
I am no longer a resident of Oregon.
I have returned to California. There is a lot of sun here so far. I find I enjoy that most days. My family is close. I also enjoy that most days. But Oregon is far, Portland even further. I still do not like that. Not on any days, really.
The days leading up to my departure feel like a ball of rubber bands rolling around in my head. Heavy, knotted up, slightly elastic – but mostly just a jumble of once useful things that have been all wrapped up.
Two weeks before my scheduled departure, I came down with Strep Throat. What had already started to feel like the vast platform of time slipping out from under me began to feel like the most unusual mix of speeding forward and time lapse photography. I was too tired to do anything. But still I was overcome with anxiety and felt smothered by the stacks and stacks of things left to do.
I hurt too much to pack. I was too tired to see the people I cared most about. I missed two days of work in the crucial first week of training my replacement. I had no choice. By the time I went to the doctor, five days in, I felt so far behind that I postponed my move by six days. I bought time, the time I had lost.
Quickly, through the magic of western medicine, I recovered. I got back to seeing my friends and the people and places I would miss the most. I got back to work. I got back to packing. I was cramming as much into each and every minute that I could. I had an amazing going away party with my Oregon friends. A generous and well-(karaoke)endowed friend hosted the event – we sang and laughed and played bingo for blow-up keytars and unicorns. We cracked open the amazing handmade Oregon piñata Jolie had given me and people went scrambling for faux-diamond encrusted ‘brass’ knuckles and small liquor bottles and blow-up unicorns and squirt guns. We had coconut cake that was divine and sangria and mojitos that made me a giddy mess by the end of it all.
I had my last trivia night with my viking three and ate an old people’s dinner with Jolie at the hamburger joint we went to for lunch when we first became friends so many years ago. I went to see Crispin Glover and marveled at the oddity that is him. I laughed and laughed and worried, but mostly I tried to just laugh.
And I also woke up one morning, six days away from Departure Day, with piercing pain in my ear that became, only one day later, a perforated ear drum and then, the next day after that, an allergic reaction to the initial antibiotic made me too dizzy to turn my head and sent me reeling into nausea. In the middle of those three days, one of my cats passed unexpectedly because of what we can only assume was a heart attack or stroke or some other internal time bomb. I received news from Fresno of a horrific event in my mother’s home (a topic needing its own space and time to be approached or explained) that left me literally shaking my fist at the sky, like an awful cliche, asking when it would all stop, when it would all ease up and let me breathe, let me think, let me be.
In that last week before I left Oregon, what was hardest on my departure was that I was literally in pain. All kinds of it. I had constant piercing pain in my ear. And my heart hurt – in so many ways. I was crying for my cat. He was the youngest of our pets, the only boy and the most lovable, really. I had held his stiff, cold body while sitting on the bottom step of what were once my bedroom stairs and cried. I stayed inside while my ex buried him out back, my ear pounding too hard to be of any help, the pressure built up in my head too much to bend over, let alone even imagine exerting enough force to lift and then pierce the ground with a shovel.
I baked two dozen cupcakes from scratch and decorated them for a co-worker’s baby shower, trying hard to erase the vision of Like Water for Chocolate and the idea that these cupcakes, which should be all about joy, would be infused with sadness, or worse, stress and anxiety. I tried to ignore the excruciating pain that was beating a fast rhythm in my ear as I made the German chocolate frosting from scratch – chopping pecans and stirring in coconut. My heart was swollen and tender already and then this violence, this expected yet still tragic outcome of my mother’s mad reckless behavior had me spun in a hundred directions. What to do about it. How to feel about it. What to say about it. It was, and is still in so many ways, indescribable. I am still working on that part. I was full, to the edges of my pores, with confusion and sadness and pain and worry – about moving, about my family, about the missing that was already starting to close in on me, about the now deaf right ear that was oozing and leaking and ringing and hissing and hurting, still really hurting.
A few days before I was to leave, Jolie and her husband came by to pick up the kiln we shared and all of the glass supplies. We hefted it all up from the basement, cramming as much as we could into their Jeep. I was having a hard time not carrying my own weight, allowing them to carry more, but the pressure in my ear was pushy and angry and would press harder against my ear the more I lifted, the more I exerted, my own pulse beating loudly in my ear with each pump of my blood. As we stood in the living room, slowing our breathing and wiping our foreheads, Jolie and I prepared to say our goodbyes. We are both criers, but privately. I like to think of us as half-men in that way – stoic publicly but bumbling crybabies in our own homes. We stood there, not sure what to say and then we hugged and said goodbye and cried. Briefly. And then she moved to the door and walked out to the car and I closed the door behind her. I had said goodbyes to people I cared a lot about at my party, but I was more than a little drunk and definitely high on coconut cake. This was the first really, really hard goodbye. This was the true beginning of the end in Portland.
After they left, I packed up my dogs and got on the road to spend another of these last few evenings with the person I had accidentally fallen in love with – with impeccably bad timing and with overwhelmingly strong emotions. The dogs and I got on the road to make the hour drive and I tried desperately to keep it together. It was a Friday night and so there was more evening traffic than there might have been on a different night of the week and I found myself grateful for the red lights ahead of me, for the brightening and lightening of them as people braked and then accelerated. I could focus on those lights. I could try not to get lost in my thoughts. I could try not to think about anything, about everything. I could try not to feel the radiating pain in my body. Or hear how mangled the music was, filtering so unevenly through my ears, or the way my own breathing sounded wrong inside my own head, as though I were forever holding a glass to my ear, eavesdropping on my own muffled thoughts.
I had said my first real goodbye and I was going to miss her like mad. I was going to miss so much else, too, and saying goodbye to her made it real. I was leaving. Not just planning on leaving. Not just waiting to leave. I would be gone. In a few days. Really, in a matter of hours. I cried. And cried. And dried my eyes and then cried again. I tried desperately not to cry – so that my head would hurt less, so that my eyes would not be so swollen, so when I got to Silverton I would not be a mess, so that I didn’t just go on crying for days and days. That would come, I knew. So stop it.
And I watched those red lights in front of me – I slowed and stopped and went and then all of it again. I thought of my mother and whether I needed to see her when I got to California. Yes, I decided. And so I cried some more. I stopped and dried my eyes and focused on the road. I thought of my friends and this love and being so far away from it all. I cried. And stopped. I changed the cotton ball in my ear more times than I could count in that time and looked at the bag of cotton balls on the passenger seat full of clean cotton balls, pulled apart into neat little halves so that they would tuck into my ear just so, and looked at the cup in my cup holder that held the ones I would need to throw out. It was disgusting and I was disgusted by it. I was leaking, making a mess of things, trying to stopper myself like a leaky pipe.
I started to feel that my pain, my heart and brain and soul pain, my sadness over needing to leave Portland had come to life in my body and had ruptured my ear, was literally oozing from me, seeping from my head, forcing me to see it and deal with it and live with it. I was hurting. For real. With injuries doctors could measure. I was waking up over and over to pain – enough that I would rifle through the refrigerator in the wee hours of the morning to find anything to eat so that I could take one more ibuprofen, one more Tylenol with codeine. My body was railing against me, fighting me, making this all as impossibly hard as it could. This pain was stealing my romantic notion of what it would mean to leave. My body was screaming at me, throbbing at me, exploding with its refusal to allow it to be easy.
I spent my last week not being heard – my own voice huge in my head, but small and almost invisible to everyone else. I spent that last week only half hearing the people around me. Even when I turned my ‘good ear’ to them, even when I said (often in my best old man voice) ‘eh?’. It was as though they were already half gone. I was already half gone. The gap between us already widening even as I sat next to them. Even as we shared a meal. Even as we laid on the couch together and stayed awake just so as not to lose the night to sleep.
Leaving, really leaving, was hard. Almost impossible. I bought myself one extra day in Oregon – my ear throbbing and keeping me awake and even more so after packing up all of my belongings and trying to help carry them out to the POD. And so, when the opportunity presented itself, I hung on for one more night. I spent one last, unexpected evening in Silverton – allowed myself twenty-four hours of nothing to do but be. It was the most perfect standstill in the middle of the chaos and I didn’t want it to end.
When it came time to leave the next morning, after an excruciating and nearly silent goodbye only an hour before, it was just me and my dogs standing in the middle of a house that was not ours but had become quickly familiar. I gathered our stuff. I rested my bag of cotton balls on the passenger seat and made sure everything was in the car. I went back in for the dogs and I said through sobs – to the air, to the walls, to myself, in the muffled way I now heard my own voice – why am I doing this? Why?
Eventually, in what was only minutes, really, but felt like more – I was on the road. I was cruising south on I-5 heading for California. It was a bright-blue-sky-in-Oregon kind of day and I tried hard not to cry. I changed out my cotton ball a couple of times and then pulled it out. My ear did what it had every time I had done this in the last few days – it crackled and picked up sounds at varying volumes – giving the impression that I had a clicking gremlin in my right ear. Like feedback from my own brain. It was maddening and disorienting, but not so painful anymore. It was Son of Sam annoying yet fascinating in its strangeness.
And I had stopped oozing. Almost completely. I still couldn’t hear and the pain was still there, but I could feel it sloping down into discomfort, into doesn’t this feel weird, into dammit I wish I could hear. My ear seemed to be crossing over, shifting into healing, into something (hopefully) closer to normal as I moved further and further away from the life I had. I thought Here I am. Here I go. Here I come.
I held it together, mostly. I cried. I certainly did. But not as much as I thought I might. I had suffered the pain of leaving, I was still suffering it, but not just with tears. Maybe I was just too worn out for all that superfluous crying. Maybe I had leaked too much to cry. But when I saw the sign that says Oregon thanks you – Come back soon, when I saw those words against that kelly green state silhouette, I melted. I sobbed and sobbed and felt the weight of my next visit actually being a visit. I had left. Almost a decade of my life on the other side of that sign. A lot of life. A whole, complete, finished chapter. A person in a place that is now past.
I’ll be back soon, I told myself. I’ll visit so often it won’t even feel like I left, I tried to tell myself. But all I had were tears – big sobbing ones. And then I saw the checkpoint just across the state line. I had forgotten about it. So I dried up, stopped pouring out tears and then I was simply ushered through. Can’t you see I’m dying here? I thought melodramatically. I was, in reality, glad they didn’t notice or care.
Suck it up, Californian. This is where you are. And it is bittersweet. It is lovely and tart and right where you belong even if you want to be somewhere else at the same time and that is impossible. You have family shit to deal with and a business to start and a home to find and three small boys to hold who will soon, before you even know it, be way too gangly and long to fit on your lap, and eventually, too old and cool to love you so obviously and affectionately. So suck it up. More than that – enjoy it. This is home. Now. Here.
I’ve come back to you, California. Please don’t hold a grudge. I love you, too, even if I love Oregon. You are both my tender-hearted loves – one sun and one rain, one blue and white and one green and gray. I love you both, individually, even while I wish that, through magic and conjuring and pure desire, I could meld you into my perfect perfect place. My love for Oregon hit me so hard before I left that my ear drum exploded. Please be nice, for now, my home state. I can’t take anymore pain. I can’t afford anymore open wounds. I am here now, almost healed, but still healing. Take care, California. Be kind.