The ride was 12 hours long and the heater didn’t work. (Why would the heater work? Why should it.) We kept the windows open so the windshield wouldn’t fog up, and my toes were freezing cold the whole time, but I didn’t care. I was getting out of Crazy-ville. That was all that mattered.
And coming into Oregon, crossing that border on the 199 at 10:30 at night–how to express the gratitude in my heart, the relief, the glee, the feeling of being home? Robert Frost said, “Home is the place when, if you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Oregon has to take me in. And it does. It hasn’t failed me yet.
Ten minutes past Salem, the cop pulls between the car in front of us and ours. I’m worried because there’s weed in the car, and I’m so so fucking close to there not being weed in the car–to being in a place where weed is not just sitting in cars in fairly large quantities on the regular. My story for the police, should it ever come to that, is always thus, because it’s pretty much true: “I’m just a lowly writer working on a story; that contraband does not belong to my broke ass in any way, shape, or form; and I don’t know who the fuck any of these people are, to be frank and thank you very much.”
The cop pulls over the car in front of us, and I can breathe again.
Portland is an ex-lover, of course. Any place you’ve once lived is. Coming into Portland was a hug after a long bus ride, exciting and warm and familiar. Remembering contours on its face, wrinkles you used to navigate: Barbur Boulevard! Clinton Street! Things you haven’t thought about since you last met, since you were busy getting used to someplace else. Remembering, simmering, bubbling–relief, bittersweet and sharp, stirring up in your chest: “You are still what I remember, even if I don’t remember you right.” This is how I arrived in Portland, anyway.
Everything is the same and nothing is the same, because we’re not intertwined anymore, Portland and me. If we were I wouldn’t have to say, Where is my car? My house? My bike? None of these things exist anymore. Or at least not here. And besides, we shared them; they weren’t just mine. I shared everything I had with Portland. I shared everything I had, and then I left it because I hated it more than I loved it. That’s the way failed love works, I guess. You love and hate and love and hate and love and hate, and one day hate wins the rational calculus and you leave. And even if you look back longingly every so often, even if you sometimes say, “What was so bad about all of that, anyway?” you still never seriously entertain the possibility of a permanent return. That movie is over. Things were what they were and they didn’t work out and that’s the proverbial end of it.
But the hug at the end of the bus ride, the smile you once staked a claim on, the flood of memory her scent can evoke: these will always butter your heart a little bit–and never more so than after these past two months, when your heart was practically turned to stone.