The long walk down to SODO

Mornings were clear on my walk to work that December, those last few weeks I worked at Starbucks. The walk took an hour but was mainly downhill and for the return route home I took the bus. Half way down I’d stop at a strange house with mannequin heads in the windows, each with a wig. From there you could see Mount Rainier to the south and Elliot Bay looking west. I’d just turned 27 and decided to quit my job and leave Seattle, to explore Europe and never come back. I made up reasons justifying it but the real reason was I couldn’t find a girlfriend. The first thing you learn is that you can’t blame the space around you, it’s the space inside that matters most.

We had tons of fun in that small group at Starbucks, working at the corporate headquarters. Most of us had come from restaurants or retail and would go out afterwards for a drink. That would turn into dinner, and it would be 8 or 9 and we’d be heading home in our work clothes hitting the sack. I’d pick my favorite bar, Six Arms on Capitol Hill, for a table by the window and the ambient light. The fact I was friends with the manager, a biker guy named Steve, who had a CD by my favorite band on the jukebox. No one liked that band (they were caustic, English) but for $5 I could play the whole record and monopolize the music for an hour. Steve and I would look at each other from across the bar and smile: I’d raise my glass, he’d nod.

We got the biggest table my last night in town and Steve let me smoke a cigar in the bar, gave me a Zippo with their logo etched on the face. I’d made plans to go out for lunch with a fellow secretary the next day as our last goodbye. We sent a lot of emails back and forth that weren’t exactly work related. Being a writer I exploited my audience on email, made them suffer me. We sat in a bank of cubicles divided by faux carpet-covered sectionals assigned to us secretaries. I’d started the job fresh from retail, never used a computer before, didn’t know how to attach a file. The ladies who worked in secretarial positions took me under their wing and showed me the ropes.

Mandy had a sports car and practiced firing handguns at the local shooting range, lived on her own, didn’t have a boyfriend. We drove across the West Seattle bridge to her favorite Italian restaurant in the days before cell phones when the two of us could just leave work and truly leave. On the ride back we held hands across the bridge but never said anything about it, we were just sad to say goodbye and would have to keep in touch.

I moved to a condo in the south of France and wrote Mandy several times that summer imploring her to visit but knew she never would. Many years later I got a package with those letters and a note from her with an XO, her name at the bottom, the real goodbye.

It took me a while, but I finally read those letters again: a bit like releasing a genie from a bottle. Me sitting at a small table by the window in my apartment trying to reach Mandy, talking about my life in France, the life we had in Seattle, the life we might have again some day.

I flew back to Seattle the following October, returned to the same job I’d left: the same phone extension and employee number, the same internet favorites…it was like I hadn’t left. We started going back to Six Arms with a smaller group; Mandy was dating a new guy at Starbucks and a few years later I went to their wedding, but then fell out of touch. I wondered if Mandy got rid of the letters because she didn’t want her husband to find them. Or if she was ready to lay that part of her past to rest — or thought maybe I’d want them for some reason.

I put the letters in a box with a number of loosely related things and stored them in the upper loft of our garage with the kids’ unwanted plush toys and the Barbie dream houses, the coats I had but never wore, the records I inherited from my step-dad and the musical instruments we never played, the lamps and stereo equipment, plaques I got from all my years of service at Starbucks, old cooking magazines, pictures. The past is like that: crammed in the corner of a box, any box it will fit, stored out of sight. The odd array of feelings we get when it’s brought to the light. The little tune that genie plays is sometimes sweet, though most times not. Either a song from another time or a cry from a trap.



Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: ,

38 replies

  1. Your last paragraph tugs at my heart – I have boxes tucked away amid strange companions no longer wanted, but not willing to let release – and though I feel an urge to reduce the mass, I am grateful every time I open up something that includes my son’s writing or artwork, linking me back to how he was at whatever age. Reminders of how smart and curious about everything he was – reminders that my role as mostly-permissive mother contributed to his genius. Hang onto your boxes of old writings – when you’re gone, those who love you will savor your essence in them. (Someone really might want that Barbie dream house, though.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jazz, thanks for this. I’m sorry I didn’t realize you’d lost your son, I can’t imagine what that must be like. A whole different level of looking back. Sounds like you were a great mother (I get the whole ‘mostly-permissive’ thing) and having those artifacts from him must be a real gift. That angle of loss I’m not familiar with yet but it’s a part of all of our lives, sadly. Thanks for the advice and you’re right about the Barbie dream house. Putting that thing together is a mother of a task.

      Liked by 2 people

      • My loss is fresh – he passed in August – he kept a growing stash in one of my wall cabinets the 20+ years of his adult life moving around the country (too much trouble to move it all with him every time) – I am now reliving long-past memories as I decide what to keep, what to toss. For years I’ve muttered under my breath about how much space he was using in what I deem my jigsaw puzzle cabinet – now I’m finding treasures stashed in there – sooooo happy to preserve most of that space as “his” ongoing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aw Jeez wow…super fresh, and what a year for so many people. Seems to be a thing, my wife is now over at her mom’s consoling her over the loss of her mom’s sister. Losing a child, different. So sorry Jazz…so strange. My wife lost her older brother last year too, just 56. Must give you a very different perspective, to say the least. What an ordeal to decide what to keep and what to toss as you say. All my best for you and your family. Thanks for sharing what you’re going through too.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I think we all have boxes or drawers like that. I wonder what to do with all those emotional items. Let my kids throw them out when I die? That was a lovely reminiscence, Bill. I’m new here, but it sounds like you obviously finally found the right girl. BTW, I love the photo of the cabin on your site. Is that your home, or a dream of where you’d like to be?

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    • Hey Polly! Thanks for dropping by and for commenting, I appreciate that. Would like to offer some kind of party favor for your first comment but you know, these are awkward times. Yes, I met my wife in ’99 and ironically she went to high school with the woman I wrote about in this piece. Probably most of us have a number of people in our lives we entertained being with, and were ‘with’ on some level for a short period. I like to try to honor and celebrate those moments too. And thanks for asking about that image! That’s a weird abandoned house out on the edge of the Olympic peninsula, on the Washington coast: it’s native American tribal land for a tribe called the Hoh. I camp on the other side of that river often on the beach. Maybe more detail than you wanted, but there you go. Come back and visit again if you would! And be well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s funny, just this morning my wife came across an old box of memories while digging for Christmas decorations. Christmas got put on hold for an hour while we looked at old pictures of times before “us,” lots of acid washed jeans and old boyfriends with mullets and such. And I’m simpatico with so many of the details here. Quitting my job in my twenties to go to Europe, not wanting to come back, coming back and going back to the same job, same uniform blazer and tie, same name tag. Crazy serendipitous, this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey hey excellent. “Acid washed,” recall that detail from one of your pieces about a girl you liked a lot, I think you know the one. Cool on the simpatico. Thanks…enjoy that Christmas regalia, prime time for it. Be well mate!

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  4. How gently and beautifully you have tapped into that nostalgia that is also grief. Some loss fades quit and painlessly; or not. We rub the edges of it went prompted by a box — real or metaphorical — and notice how some have smoothed over time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha well that’s a jewel box of a comment you’ve left at my door there Bruce, I love the way you phrase that and I’m pleased it resonated with you as you say. That nostalgia from the book we read earlier this week, or some of the themes it touched on, probably inspired this little vignette. Thanks for reading! Happy to Sunday to you there!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. the opening of those boxes are is always bittersweet without fail

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wicked!!!! That picture is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Some parts relatable in exact terms. Coincidence or common human nature?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Keshav, thanks for this…I don’t think there is any “coincidence,” more the latter as you say. Happy you can relate to some, thanks for letting me know. Wishing you well! Bill

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  8. It’s great to have a mind that’s amassed all kinds of interesting stories and vignettes – when someone is able to have a rummage through all the mental box rooms, cupboards, cubbyholes, and then describe their memories and reactions, clearly and artfully, as you do, it’s consistently interesting. It must be pretty rare, probably increasingly so, to be able to read through your own letters to someone else – after a length of time, do they seem at all like letters from a different person?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well yes, they are letters from a different person. That’s a theme I’m really interested in, how many lives and iterations of ourselves we pass through (before theoretically returning to “zero,” or what lump of clay or nothingness we were at the start…which is still something arguably unique, though also a kind of repeatable format or archetype isn’t it?). Your comments are generous and so thoughtful and always a gift, to know you’re reading my riffs…thanks RP.

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  9. Maybe i need your The long walk down to SODO. for famous dashboards you have ever seen.

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  10. Isn’t that something?
    Some folks seem to relish that whole “throw it out” mentality. That Kondo kinda thing.
    I agree I don’t need five half-rolls of painter’s tape. Nor will I ever need all those switch boxes in the ‘electrical stuff” catch-all.
    Old letters, journals, exercise logs, and hand-written recipes? That’s a different matter.
    There’s pain there, and a lot of anguish (not so much in the recipes, perhaps). So I can’t dwell there too long. But it’s good to be reminded that those moments happened. My psychology is such that I’d be inclined to forget if I didn’t have those reminders, but then the learning seems lessened. So they are still all in their assigned locations.
    Somebody’s going to have to toss them someday. Will it be me, in one final downsizing? Will it be Carol, or the kids? My son is a sentimental soul, the apple not falling far. He’s mentioned he’d like the journals someday. So that begs the next question…would he find them interesting? Or are they so filled with my younger, less-seasoned ventings that they are just dross?
    That, my friend Bill, is a question I’ll not need to have answered.
    Be well.
    See you in the Produce section.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha. I can hear your voice here like you’re sitting right next to me, kind of magic innit? I like that line “see you in the produce section,” and all that precedes it. The fact you can’t part with it or dwell there too long, that’s exactly how I feel about it. Happy we had some time together there man and I can still see your smiling face with that chef’s thing on. Yours in the bond (or the knot). Thanks for this Roger, be well….! Bill

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  11. “Many years later I got a package with those letters and a note from her with an XO, her name at the bottom, the real goodbye.” Whoa! That’s a capital-R Romantic moment right there. Big drama. And it got me all right.

    I threw out letters from a girl many years ago; hanging onto them felt unfaithful to Deb. Seems silly to me now and I wish I hadn’t. I wonder if she kept mine… (Egomaniac!)

    This is good stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi and thank you…yeah I’ve kept most of the old letters but sloughed off a bunch too. It’s not unfaithful in my opinion, but we all have different views on faith don’t we? Thanks for reading. Home can you see the other one I did last week too because it’s a riff off one I did several years ago which you helped promote for me to WP, and which I’ll always be in debt for you over…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. First time here. Thanks for letting me eavesdrop on your conversations.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. A great piece of writing! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The beauty of love and relationships bears its silence, at its gut wrenching and intense. Keeping memories in a box, how true, Bill! The beauty of your words and yet it haunts us forever. Hope Mandy is doing well and so are you. Hey, how about doing a novel on this post.

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