(I’ve switched to past tense. It’s getting wild up in here!)
I went south; I sold my trailer to a woman on craigslist, put many of my possessions on the curb (before, everything I owned could fit in my trailer, now it fit in the back of a borrowed sedan) gathered my dogs and drove south on I-5, in the rain, until the city fell away and then the smaller towns, and the Siskiyous rose up around me in the dark, and the rain dried up and it got colder, and the stars were hard and bright. I turned off the highway onto a dark country road and parked, after a number of miles, in front of a dilapidated house on a handful of acres, mist rising up off the ground and outbuildings melting into the earth. I stood in the yard and shivered; there were no lights anywhere and above me, I could see the milky way. Inside the house all was cold and empty; cat puke on the livingroom rug, dishes on the countertops, backdoor standing open, woodstove out. I was reminded, immediately and all at once, of the dirty punk house I lived in in Portland when I was twenty years old. Some of the people in that house had been awful and I had hated that experience, in retrospect; now I was older and in the beautiful country and I was the only one home. I grappled in the dark for the walls, pressing the button on my phone again and again in an attempt to illuminate my way to the room where I would be staying. I was subletting for the month of November, while one of the housemates was away; I was several miles outside of Grants Pass, surrounded by friends of friends who would, potentially, be my friends, and I would talk to people, look around, see what it was like here. How I could fit in with the people and places of this area. What sort of life I might make.
I found the room where I would live by careful deduction; there was no note for me, no instructions, but different artifacts in the different bedrooms clued me into the names of the people living there, and at last I sank into the springy mattress in a bright, carpeted bedroom and stared at myself in the mirror, all bundled up in wool against the cold. I live here, I thought. The windowglass rippled with condensation and in the corner a giant cedar bough was strung strung with pieces of guaze.
After two days of living with ghosts my housemates returned. No, they said, we don’t own a fridge and Yes, that giant dogfood bag in the driveway does contain a rotting deerskin. They hung up roadkill in the garage, put on shiny outfits, and made a mess of new dishes. There was no couch in the livingroom, only a futon in front of the woodstove and I sat on this futon, chihuahua hot water bottles tucked under the blankets, and tried to read a book about the history of the area. In the kitchen my housemates and their constant stream of guests laughed loudly and ate squirrel soup and gossiped. Outside, the milky-way twinkled and the chickens slept soundly in their coop. I felt held by all of it, the chaos and the human noise and the nature, pressing down on all sides.
This is exactly what I need, I thought. This is exactly what I need right now.
In the last week in my trailer in Portland I’d developed bronchitis, on account of the mold; now I hacked and hacked and was prone to terrible coughing fits in which I felt as though I might vomit and, when they hit me on my long uphill runs, seemed a lot like asthma. My remedy for the bronchitis had been to get the fuck out of damp, moldy Portland and into the good dry air of the Siskiyous and now, after much encouragement on the part of my housemates, who were tired of hearing me cough, I bought a tincture at the local herb shop and took it faithfully until it was gone. My cough did get better, a little every day, although it was bad enough to alarm the people around me for a full month.
One wing of the house was closed off and we were not, according to the rental agency, allowed to live there; it was the original, ancient cabin that first sat on the land and may or may not have been a schoolhouse. I climbed up the narrow staircase to the two small, forbidden bedrooms, each painted bright white and with a window overlooking the meadow, and opened and closed the built-in drawers and cabinets in the walls. In one bedroom the windowpane was busted, and the cold fresh air moved in and out. Each of the bedrooms seemed peaceful, idyllic, and very, very haunted. When I was too creeped out to stay any longer I retreated down the staircase, through a series of doors in a strange passageway (large pantry? Project room? Cold storage?) and back into the newer house, with its dirty carpet, drafty rooms and overflowing dress-up closet. In the kitchen I made beef and greens from the garden, eggs and rice, the orange-colored soup that an ex-girlfriend taught me to make. People came and went, with their dogs, their pints of icecream, their roadkill. Some of them were friendly, some of them were not. Sometimes there were two four-wheel-drive vehicles parked in the yard, sometimes five; in the month that I lived there the house was never empty.
In the mornings I walked through the meadows behind the house down to the stream, throwing the ball in front of me for my dogs, and felt the sadness begin to lift from me like fog. Just the beginnings, a gentle rising away. And new sadness was still falling, like ash, but there was movement now, a moving through, the beginning process of grieving. The middle part? I didn’t know. I didn’t know where I was; I realized now, with new awareness, that I had never grieved before. How long before new grief stopped coming. How long before all grief was accounted for and I could begin the tedious process of sorting through the tangled barrels; handling the sharp twigs, picking off the useful bits, letting the wind carrying the rest away. One day at a time, one memory at a time. Until all that remained was a handful of rough wool that could be spun into thread and woven into something beautiful.
Almost every day I cried although some days, I didn’t. These days surprised me, like patches of blue sky in the springtime, and I would cling to them- it’s over! It’s over! And then the sadness would return, wracking me. In addition to sadness there was the stress of not having a permanent home or any stability, yet, although I told myself that these things take time. Patience, I said to myself. You have to be patient. Nothing is ever the way you think it will be and then, suddenly, it is. But not in any way you can predict. You have to be patient.
I made every connection I could think of, I sowed every seed that I had. The end of November drew near and filled me with mounting dread and then, suddenly, I was invited to live as caretaker on a piece of land a bit further south, near Ashland. This area was also rich with friends of friends who could, potentially, become my friends, and I would have a little cabin there. There were goats and chickens and ducks and rivers and the wild dark hills and the best part was, I could make this cabin my home. I told the owner, Erin, that I was worried about finding a job, as the nearest “town” was forty-five minutes away by car.
“You’ll find something,” she said, sounding completely certain one hundred percent, the way that people do when they are oracles speaking universal truths. “It’ll work out.”
And I knew that she was right.