This is a series of posts I started in late May and plan to continue for 40 days, with a goal of hitting 50,000 words by July 5. It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I’m writing each post live, pulling in stories I’ve drafted before or I’m writing for the first time, for this project. You can come and go (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is really the end.
I left France that October and moved back to Seattle, got my old job back, moved into Mike and Kim’s basement a second time. I passed people in the hallways who never knew I’d even left, it had been almost a year. I left my job after they offered me a promotion and I’d proven I could do the work in half the time. I’d probably gotten scared off by the promotion, by the thought of it. I didn’t want anything to threaten my chances of being a writer. Any version of success outside of writing qualified as that, a threat.
And moving back to Seattle in October, then November: those can be the hardest months when you don’t have a car and the monsoon rains, the wind and sideways rains, return. By the time we got to the end of the month, my birthday fell on a Monday and nobody knew. I was back at work, again. But that night I was feeling sorry for myself in the basement and Mike and Kim called down for me to come upstairs, and they’d gone out and fixed a spread of take-out roasted chicken, vegetables…wine…and I’ll never forget that birthday, surrounded by love like that.
I moved out of their place by December and found a studio apartment downtown by the freeway suitably seedy for the writer persona I imagined, for sitting inside with the windows closed cigar-smoking, drinking Dutch gin out of stone bottles I’d brought back from France, that a shady border-town on the Spanish side where we’d load up on tax-free booze and Spanish pots, olives, anything we could fit in the trunk.
And it was that December at a work party I was surprised the host produced a pipe, and I was the only one to join him outside on the veranda, and when we came back inside my friend Peter announced he was organizing a climb up Mount Rainier and we were all invited, but I was the only one who agreed to go.
The climbing party grew to a good 15 of us by January, and I developed a crush on one of the other climbers, a woman who worked in IT—and thus began a different exercise that ran parallel to our training, a different kind of ascent, a slog. There’s something about the lover before your last lover, before you meet The One, in some karmic sense there’s a knot of lessons to unwind (or perhaps to remain that way, a knot), that informs where you’ve gone astray.
And for the two or three thousand people who worked in our office building it seemed each time the elevator door opened it was her—and we went on hikes, and once I can remember, a dinner/date—but there was a conflict in her that prevented real intimacy, that maybe sensed my neediness from so many months of sexual agitation in France on the Mediterranean, from all those women and all those words I didn’t know how to use in their language to woo them…and that neediness is a kind of pheromone that has the opposite effect, it repels.
Things are never the same between two people after you have sex. You make love, you have sex. She went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee, put a yam in the microwave, hinted I should leave. I could almost see my apartment from across the lake, from hers. You crossed a bridge and a pathway where people bike and run, the Burke-Gilman trail. I moved out of that studio apartment in the spring, half-hoped she’d move in with me, it was big enough for two. The studio apartment reeked of guy-energy and cigar smoke and I had to put my bed on a loft high enough to keep my cat Pokey off it because he sometimes peed blood there, it wasn’t a good look.
I started running, I was so desperate for her. She ran marathons, actually competed for time. Didn’t just run them, ran them for speed. Researched times of other women runners, developed angry profiles on them. Ran to beat others, got stress toothaches so bad she couldn’t sleep and had to miss work. Wore this haunted look in her eyes I couldn’t tell, was it a deep pool I could lose myself in or a pit, a hole with zombie hands pulling me down?
I ran the trail along the lake with the other runners, though I hated running. There was a stretch where I could see her apartment from the other side of the lake through some bushes. After some time and care, I calculated the position of her kitchen and living room windows by the orientation of the building, though it was a far way’s away, the size of a matchbook.
After dark I could tell if she was home, if a light was on, and I’d stop on the trail and look across and dream she was in there—I wanted to be in there too, but we didn’t have cell phones, just machines…and it seemed a constant back and forth of coming home and hoping for a message, hoping it was her, then replaying messages to interpret the real meaning (each listen produced different results)—and though we’d had sex it only seemed to widen the distance between us, though most of the day we were fine emailing one another from our desks at work (“just checking in!”), and she had this thing about the numbers 337, said that sequence meant something special but she didn’t understand what, just that most mornings when she woke it was always that time, 3:37, and now the same thing was happening to me.
Kristin said she wasn’t going to climb Rainier after all. It was August, the climb was a week or two away. She’d go to base camp but that was it, and when we got there she actually decided she wouldn’t do that, even. I was fine with that, I didn’t need the distraction on the mountain. Got to the top, sat in the crater, cried. Never cried like that in my life, it really broke me. They just slapped me on the shoulder and smiled, said good job. But I cried, I think, because I knew we were only halfway done and most falls, most injuries/fatalities occur going down. Our guide said that.
Our guide was a dick. We didn’t know it until we got on the mountain, but he’d changed his mind about thinking being our guide was a good idea once we all came together and he sized us up, and worried about legal implications or something, and then he tried to beat us into the ground so he could limit his exposure by going fast, and leave as many as he could behind to bivouac near Ingraham Flats.
It was November, a year since I’d come back to Seattle from France, when I got into an email altercation with our guide for a stupid reason mostly my fault, but he took it to another level, and I had his address on a resumé with his credentials and asked my friend Rob if he’d give me a ride there and wait in the car, it was raining, and I called the guide out on his front porch in front of his roommates and their girlfriends (picture empty bottles of beer, used couches, a lot of laying around): I said that wasn’t right of you to forward my email like that and we should talk about this in person, that would be better.
And then I went back to Rob’s car, he finished his cigarette, asked if I wanted to help him do sound effects on a theater production, and the director was my future wife, Dawn.
I didn’t have much vacation yet, I’d lost my tenure when I quit Starbucks the first time, there were just two weeks. Dawn agreed to go backpacking with me in Glacier National Park, she loved me so much.
I suggested a warm-up hike first and talked to my friend Brad, who suggested a hike on the coast he’d always wanted to do: 17 miles end-to-end, rope ladders, beach hikes, river-fords…we could do it over Labor Day weekend, and I agreed.