We're not much older now

In the morning I made acquaintances with the North Fork of the Payette River in Idaho. It felt like meeting the other woman.

So there you are. I've heard a lot of good things about you. Yeah. Yeah. Nice to meet you too. Do you smoke? No? Do you mind if I do?

By three in the afternoon I was halfway home. Through the arid edges of Oregon. Into the dessert of Eastern Washington, the dark Columbia river, seat belt burning welts into my excruciating sunburn. Road sign by road sign, the city inches closer.

It's dark when I reach Snoqualmie Pass on 1-90. Rain and traffic and the highway spreads out to 5 lanes. Freedom, by Jonathon Franzen, my 24 hour audio book companion, comes to an end. I surprise myself by bursting into tears with the last line. I cry for every miserable character in the book.

I'd like to make it clear to the reader that, regardless of any conclusion they may have drawn during paragraph 2, I do not actually smoke cigarettes. 

And the North Fork was not entirely like meeting the other woman. I take poetic license. Another woman would be a lot worse. She'd be most certainly prettier than me, and more flexible. Still, being left behind for a geological formation brings with it its own serving of confusing ramifications.

But now I'm merging onto 1-5 and swinging around the bend with the city on my left. There is the purple jagged outline of the Olympic Range, the houseboat moored on the private docks of lake union, cars zipping in strips of white and red light reflecting off wet pavement.

There is the University where I went to school, the famous library, almost gothic, visible from the interstate. There's the house where I lived, the ugly half-high-rise dormitory, playing fields, the ave, 45th street crossing, restaurants, smoke shops, Cafe zokas, that will be 4.75 for the cup of coffee please, ridiculous neon bubble tea houses with twelve different kinds of jelly and tapioca balls to choose from, Asian pop music videos on an enormous HD screen.

The Ave above 50th, where a vagrant man threw up on my shoes one afternoon, I think it was deliberate. The 85th/Green Lake exit with its clusterfuck of double strollers,  too thin moms bopping along behind them throwing dirty looks around to anyone who dares cross their path and slow down their timed-to-the-second 2.8 mile run. The 2nd busiest starbucks in the world (2nd to Tokyo)  my cousins' recently purchased house where I've been sending letters to for 5 months, the CHINA KING buffet where my sister and I would eat after every minor disaster (SARS, 16 day bouts of insomnia, a 1/2 burned apartment, minor mishaps with the stove top burners, unreturned phone calls from boys who should have married us although, in Anna's case, he did marry her after all, worrisome mouth sores, sparsely attended music gigs.)

There's the house where I dug through a pile of my then boyfriend's possessions and unearthed a stack of letters, the parking lot where the car hit me on my bike, the Emergency Room  at Swedish where they just about issued me a speed pass, the secret studio where Pearl Jam records, and Dave Matthews. The letters were signed by another girl and dated back for more than a year. The city buses where days in a row I sat next to a different crazy man who bled profusely from the head.

More than six years of small crimes and contentment punctuated with beads of pure joy. Where I lived, age 17-23. 

But I don't need to explain to you how it feels to be back.
Whoever you are, you've left a place and then returned. You know what it's like. All I'm really saying is, it's good to be home.

Never Been afraid of the Quiet Godsy

I pulled off the freeway in Iowa city and parked in town for an hour, long enough to get a polite but undemanding parking citation folded beneath the windshield wiper. Iowa city is home to the most famous and sought after fiction workshop in America- information that matters only to fiction writers, or more accurately the tiny circle within a circle of fiction writers who go to school, and then more school, and then more school. It is widely argued that any years spent earning a degree in writing is just a delay of the inevitable absence of money, friends and sobriety that mark the lifestyle of professional writers, but Iowa nevertheless boasts an impressive resume of novelists and success stories.

I found the town subdued, heavy with the pervasive Mid West quiet I'd read about in Jonathon Franzen and Jane Smiley novels. The students walking to and from class, their steps and movements muffled beneath clogs and Iowa branded sweatpants, were either so completely thoughtless or so completely lost in their own thoughts that they just plodded down the sidewalks, accumulated neatly at the intersections and crossed the streets in small herds with pleasant looks on their corn fed faces. Nobody said a word. Even the cigarette smoking tough kids with tattoos spiderwebbing over their very exposed flesh seemed to be quite unobtrusive and ash tray abiding. The Godsy people with their Godsy pamphlets sat on the edge of the tree lined promenade with ankles crossed beneath denim skirts and minded their own business, and frankly I felt the need to punch a wall with my first, or lay on the horn, or somehow break the feeling that I was walking underwater.

Later, still in Iowa, I pulled off at a rest stop as the afternoon rolled into early evening. I had a deadline I had to type up and get in before Iowa's free interstate Internet vanished into the decidedly crappier facilities of Nebraska. In the cool, white room, two boys walked in circles, glancing at the laminated maps for many more minutes than the maps would actually demand, unless they were very, very lost, which they didn't appear to be. They were both about my age and looked friendly, one was even cute in the shaggy haired climber boy look that never fails to get my attention.

But their presence distracted me and I typed with only a portion of the attention I needed, hitting the delete key often and wondering why anyone would linger at a public bathroom off of 1-80 in the center of Iowa. They hovered in front of the posters of innocuous grain-production trivia on the walls and didn't appear to be waiting for anyone. Finally, after circling the room twice more like a lazy fish, one of the two boys approached me. He was the less good looking of the two, with the slightly mousy features and uncertain facial hair you often see on the miserable fathers who star in Teen Mom.

"Sorry...." he began and I looked up, eyebrows raised, braced for whatever unappetizing proposition he had in mind. "This is going to sound weird. But you are absolutely gorgeous."

I stared at him for a moment. The fact that he could have been a nice normal guy saying something benignly sweet didn't even register, because I knew as an inarguable fact that I was, at that particular moment in time, a couple of galaxies away from 'gorgeous'. Even with my normal amount of self loathing, I still felt relatively unbiased and neutral on the subject of my current appearance. My hair was sticky with pool chlorine and the space beneath my eyes were puffy with sleeplessness and punctuated by the double indent of sunglasses. And the clothes I was wearing were the type of purely-for-function attire you pick out when you can bet your life on nobody talking to you besides the hotel desk clerk.

"Thanks," was what I ended up saying, and turned back to my computer screen so quickly that the boy had little choice other than to turn slowly on his heal and walk away. The fact that he left without a hint of protest, and with a smile that was undeniably kind, made me feel like a total asshole. The kind of self defeating person who dreams of attracting attention from anyone, strangers, anyone, but dismisses it immediately when it (so rarely) comes. I finished my work, shut the screen and got back into my car. 4:15 pm and 700 more exits until the great plains would give way to something from something alien, moonscapey, but nonetheless faintly Western.