That was a lifetime ago in West Seattle


Barn on Orcas Island, WA – New Year’s turning over to 08

The house just hugs you, Beth said about our place in West Seattle. Mike asked if they still had the speakers I left in the living room ceiling but I didn’t think to look. I parked a few spaces up, spotted a woman crouched in the garden and stood there for a while hoping she’d notice me but she didn’t, and it got to be so long it started to seem weird with me just standing there so I walked off, decided I wouldn’t barge in on them like that, but then I thought better of it and turned back.

Do you give tours, I asked? She looked up and smiled, and might’ve recognized me when I said my name, seven years ago we sold them that house.

And it was sketchy there for a time we agreed, her husband and I in the back, talking about what happened to the neighbors, how Jaughn was depressed and killed himself and they had to break the news to me, he’d worked something out with a friend beforehand, a sign indicating where to find the body with instructions and what to do, but his friend just stole all his things and left him there and it took a while before he was found.

It was a great house and neighborhood but a bit sketchy for raising kids. We were rattled in that first-time parent way when we had Lily — someone broke into our car at the hospital and left tiny bits of broken glass inside the car seat with a hole punched through the window, and they’d gotten our brief cases because we were in such a state we left them in the car with all our identity and SSN cards and unemployment forms Dawn had filled out, but someone dropped it in the mail for us and one day a package turned up with our wallets and keys, but still we got the locks changed, feeling some menace in the air and vulnerable in a new parent way, finding an unposted card someone put in the mailbox with a crude drawing on the cover and something scrawled on the back, someone’s kids trapped in our basement it said, and they were coming to get them.

It was a woman we started seeing on our street looking down our front yard at us staring, and I had to go confront her because she’d figured out which house was ours off the alley and was wandering there around the back, looking in the windows and through the fence; they took her kids away and now they were in our basement trapped, and could she come have a look.

After, when the cops came it was a white guy deep in his 50s with a crew cut and a thick neck who described her, a big black woman in a bathrobe — “fucking bats” he said — lives in the halfway house around the corner, he’d go talk to her. Harmless he assured us, but he’d tell her to stop — and that was that, no more notes.

And it was probably another woman I spotted in our alley lifting her dress against a fence and pissing down the sides, who caught me watching her and didn’t care, that’s when we decided it’s time to go.

I drove down to the small park by the beach imagining what it would feel like to look at the old swingset where we used to take Lily, but it was a hornet’s nest of construction, you couldn’t see anything, all of it closed off with loud sounds and guys in hardhats.

So I walked the road that winds along the beach and stopped at a bench under a sky that was changing and threatening rain, and dreamt about the people we knew who lived along that road, all the stories and characters and times.

I climbed back up Jacobsen and zig-zagged through Seaview, past the bona fide funk of West Seattle, back down the road to the water, recalling details in the concrete walls and cracks, carrying Lily on my back as her speech started to spool out and she could say a few things, pointing to the spider webs and how the sun makes the strings light up and sparkle in the morning.

They invited me into the house to look at what they’d done and I couldn’t stop myself but still felt like a lurker, not right in my own skin, in our old house — and their love for it shone through, I said.

Dawn reminded me we have a picture of it from the early 1930s we should give them, when it was used as a summer house for people who lived in the city to kick back at the beach, just up from the Sound.

I told Mike and Anthony what happened to Jaughn and our old house, and we cut through Seattle by foot in the rain, from Capitol Hill to Pill Hill, over the Convention Center and the freeway and the homeless, dropping into Pioneer Square for chicken legs and late night congee.

I thought I saved the note from the woman about her kids in our basement but it reeked of a hex and I had to get rid of it, a bad energy too sad and unfair for fiction writing even — but writers live in separate worlds of the real and imagined and have to reconcile the two to matter.

You could see where I tried to tie in the cobblestones into the sidewalk at the old house, where there used to be a pond we paved over, and it looked like it was always that way, meant to be.

The same with a stained glass pane and a red heart in the center, which looked familiar but I wasn’t sure; she found it in the yard and set it into a shed they built by hand, but I didn’t remember leaving it and it didn’t look the same now that it wasn’t ours.


Categories: death

Tags: , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Sometimes I want to get all writer-ly and talk about phrasing, but this is one of those pieces that I’d rather not parse – satisfying and lovely read, Bill. Like going on a relaxing walkabout.


    • Hi Michelle – yes, I had a splendid time in my old neighborhood last Friday, was lucky to have a look in our first house, where we lived for five years, both of our kids born thereabouts. Glad you liked the walk too! Edited it more than most posts and had to be done with it, as I’m sure you can relate. Enjoy your day and week! – Bill


  2. Hi Bill, happy to have found your blog! We would love the photos of the house. Here is a link to the photos of the bathroom that I was thinking of:


  3. Very cool story. I love West Seattle now! And especially along Alki. Sounds like it got pretty wild wherever you were haha. Anyhow, really great story and shame about your own neighbour and his friend who stole all this stuff. Nice you got to see your old house again though!


    • Yeah, as a photographer I can see you having a ball there on Alki – particularly since you do such a nice job capturing passersby on film – lots of rollerblading action there, good times. Yes, it’s a sad story about our old neighbors. I wish I was still in touch with the other guys who were renting there. One of them actually went to high school with Kurt Cobain, as he grew up in Aberdeen too. If only I could remember the late night stories, my god. People hanging framed pictures in their homes to cover the bullet holes through the walls, that kind of thing. Drunk nights hitch-hiking, it goes on and on. Glad you enjoyed the story Rob and thanks for reading. Let’s keep in touch as I’m moving to Europe later this week! Wish I had your eye I could borrow for nine months. – Bill


  4. What a beaut this was. That is all.


  5. Now that I’m home, I drove by the first house my wife and I lived in, a little starter that we bought brand new. When we moved in, the backyard grass ran up to the back of the house, and the grass on the side never got sun and wouldn’t grow. We dug up the yard in both places, put in a rock border and landscaped it pretty good, if I do say so myself. Took two summers to do and two more to get’r going. Even planted a tree in the backyard. I worked my ass off on that tree.

    I couldn’t resist taking a look. Left my car in the street, trotted back to the fence and peeked over. I’ll be damned if wasn’t all gone. All the mulch, all the plants, the rock border, all of it. Grass backed up to the back of the house again, side back to being nothing, even the tree was gone. I wondered how much work it took to do my work. What a bunch of assholes!

    I do hope they have the interwebs over there in Germania.


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