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 (now +25% complete!). 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.
That first night I came to Mosquito Creek there was a party of guys in one of the camps, I told them I hadn’t been there in 15 years, and thought they were at the site Dawn and I had last time. I knew it was 15 years because it was the first anniversary of 9/11 in 2002, and we were supposed to backpack through Glacier National Park in Montana, but the Oil City hike didn’t turn out so great: Brad suggested Dawn and I could just use his cabin in Eastern Washington instead, go there and chill out.
It took me 15 years to see myself for how I acted on that trip, for the struggles Dawn had, and my inability to help her or be decent about it. But my friend Travis Green was there, he hung back to comfort her, and it’s a wonder she stayed with me, and not him.
It was a good five-hour drive to Brad’s cabin, with a lot of time to think. Something about the anniversary of 9/11 forced contemplation on a greater scale. I was working as a communications specialist for a small group at Starbucks sending memos, writing voicemail scripts, editing stuff. It was really easy, decent pay. We had a bungalow we rented in Wallingford near the University District in Seattle, and could walk every morning to Starbucks, admire the pretty gardens and funky decor. Dawn and I dreamed about owning a house one day but there was no way, in that neighborhood. We had a big front porch though, basement storage, a gas-powered fireplace lit by remote control.
On the drive out I thought about work, about making something of myself. My boss’s boss suggested I could do more, tried to prod that out of me like opening an uncooked mussel, a nut. In the end it wasn’t what I wanted to do so much, as the fact that I viewed myself on par with the others around me intelligence-wise, and they were making a lot more money. It was a competitive, ego thing. And when we got pregnant with Lily, it was a real instinctive need to provide for us that drove me further.
By the time we got pregnant with Charlotte, and Dawn first told me one morning in bed, I calculated the delivery date, and what that would mean for the project I was on, and I was concerned. I shooed the thought away, we’d work it out, but still it was there, one of my first thoughts.
I was using a rubber mouth guard at night to help with the teeth grinding. I didn’t realize I was so stressed, but it came out at night. It also came out when I snapped at a couple co-workers one day, and had to work hard to shake that from my annual performance review.
We were ganged together in cubicles, separated by metal structures lined with cheap carpet material to tack up pictures and reminders, to theoretically absorb the sound. It was a peer of mine Brian and a direct report Nicole, they were talking about me in the third person, trying to interpret something I’d said or done, but literally talking over me with Nicole on the other side of my desk and Brian behind me—and I said, I shouted, WHY DON’T YOU JUST TALK TO ME RATHER THAN OVER ME I’M RIGHT HERE and it was something about my tone, the way I snapped, that triggered ill feelings about me and speculation, and my boss had to pull me aside, and I got coached.
It was around the same time I’d come back from the salmon research science volunteer project with Starbucks the company wanted to actively market the volunteer opportunities, and someone nominated me to model for a poster they’d put up in all the stores, to promote ‘you too could go do science like this guy, who works at corporate’…but when I went down to the creative studio for the photo shoot and they tried to spiff me up and sit me down, the guy with the camera said I needed to loosen my jaw, I looked too stressed (he said it nicely a couple times, different ways) but I couldn’t take the direction, and they didn’t use me for the posters, they used someone else, and when they gave me a printout I could see they were right, I looked like a real asshole. I had on this silk green shirt that was too long in the sleeves, an angular beard, Lennon glasses tinted yellow (they got orange under UV) and was showing a lot of forehead. I was going for this cool, not-corporate look, but failed at both.
Not long after Charlotte was born Dawn’s dad got sick; it was on my birthday, the end of November, we got him to the ER, were supposed to have a date-night but didn’t trust him with the kids, he seemed really off. What all of us feared and assumed to be the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s was arguably worse, a brain tumor, impacting his ability to think and behave right, that started that Thanksgiving. The night I drove him to the ER was his last time at home, and none of us thought or imagined that: we’d come over around sun set planning to go out that night, and wound up going to the hospital—and he never made it back.
That weekend I went into work while Dick was recovering from surgery and looked at my desk: with no one else around and the lights dimmed it looked different to me, like props for a play, so obviously fake, the photos and keepsakes…me propping up an extension of my real life, here at my cube. None of it mattered anymore.
Dawn started smoking again which she never really did even when she did smoke: she didn’t buy cigarettes, she generally bummed them, anything to comfort herself. And Lily was young enough she didn’t notice and Charlotte was still a baby.
Her dad died in February, and we made plans to sell our house that summer, to move in with Dawn’s mom while we were showing it—and then the economy crashed a few weeks later, and we stayed on with Beth into the fall—and then my step-dad John died, mom came out to Beth’s that Christmas—and Starbucks announced with the crash, there’d be layoffs, and we sat in the parking lot at the mall one Sunday contemplating that, what we’d do if I lost my job: and I said we should go to Germany for a while, let’s do that. Either way, I’ll take a sabbatical, offset the layoff thing: volunteer to leave.
Brad and I made plans to climb Mount Olympus that July, the tallest mountain in the Olympics, a long hike in. I started a blog and wrote about it one of our first days in Germany. The hike is about 19 miles in but feels much longer than that, from my writing. And we made plans to drive to Tuscany to see my old friend Miriam and her family, who lived in Italy and rented a villa that summer in some obscure village near private beaches with black, volcanic sand. That’s the time Lily almost drowned, Miriam saved her life, and we sat back kind of unfazed by it, unable to comprehend, it happened so fast.
At night there was just the sound of locusts and the strange, Italian breeze, the weight of humidity in the air, the need to keep the fences locked, to keep the wild boar out—the scent of rotting plumbs, that sometimes got stuck in your sandal treads. I wanted to preserve it all, every last bit.