3500 steps: A travelogue

It was spring and time to go home. I walked roads I had never taken to get to a place I had been many times before. One road led me to a tunnel; I didn’t really know what was on the other side, but had an idea. Even if I was wrong, it looked beautiful there, and the tunnel felt safe, with its graffiti and darkness . I came out the other side, slightly confused.

IMG_3984

Familiar/unfamiliar territory. Gigantic trees. Children playing in a park I didn’t recognize. Street names weren’t familiar. In the near distance, I saw downtown and made my way toward it.

IMG_3988

I crossed the freeway, rush-hour cars honking below, moving with purpose. Mt. Hood in the distance; a clear day in February is rare and cherished.

IMG_3990

Mt. Hood and Tillikum Bridge. Not too bad for a rush hour view.

I arrive at familiar territory; Portland starts to look like a city. There’s street art, food carts, and semi-tall buildings. I see an old friend, and we embrace; she has no idea what’s going on in my life, and I don’t know hers: social networking can only fill you in so much. A few hundred steps later, and I see a protest march across my path: “We work, we sweat, for fifteen dollar checks.” Graduate students demanding pay, possibly recognition: I wonder if they’ll get either. They make their way to our mutual destination, and march up the same steps that I planned to use. I sit back. Boos as the door is barred, as the marchers are met by police, not the university president.

IMG_3991

I know the building well and use the back entrance, underneath the building, hidden from the sun.  I see another friend,  and get my second hug of the day. This time, sorrow is expressed for my loss. I run my errands, and take the bus home to another completely different part of the city, this one more familiar.

Grief

My arms are heavy and tired. My hands are shaking. My chest is tight and empty; my heart doesn’t hurt because it’s not really there. Numb, fuzzy, in shock. I somehow made it to my car service appointment; listening to sports radio made me think of Molly – who am I going to discuss the latest Dan Patrick Show with? Who else appreciated that fact that I had a bizarre relationship with an ESPN radio host that lasted an odd four years?

No one.

I wait for my oil change by doing work. All done, and I get back into my car. I hate the fact that I have no floor mats, but I don’t have the strength to buy any. I go home, check email, review a document and collapse on the couch. My body is too heavy to move, so I stare at the ceiling. I want to have an Oscar party. It’s sunny so I think I should go outside, but I’m shivering. I thank the sky for being a beautiful blue today.

Molly and gang

I let social media know about our collective loss of an amazing person. I cringe when I figure out this is the way some people learn of her death. I obsessively read all the comments on my wall, her wall, and the walls of her husband, sister, and other friends. I don’t know most of these people, despite our 25-year friendship. She is a part of so many.

I want all my friends in my living room right now, and I never want to see anyone again. I want our group to get back together. We need to be together. Maybe even in a dilapidated house, all crammed together, living aimlessly like we did long ago. I think about the daring time Molly and I cleaned out the refrigerator, finding more than our share of liquid, fetid lemons (I think they were lemons). We also found some expired Fluff in the pantry from several tenants prior. She always got super annoyed when the other six of us at the house failed to buy toilet paper or ate her cheese. She did a good job keeping us in line, pretty much an impossible task.

Somehow there has to be a way for us to sing again. In the car, with the windows down, I want to sing Motown hits or Crowded House. We harmonized pretty well. As I typed this, there was a knock on my door. My passport has been returned to me, a new Chinese visa in place. I won’t get to compare notes with her on our visits. She isn’t here to help shape my trip. Or any other trip I will take again. I can’t believe we never left the country together, although our trip to Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky seemed pretty foreign at times. I’m grateful that she decided to spring for the convertible when we went to Hawaii together; I’m too much of a cheapskate to splurge on those details that are worth it.

I’m angry, but too tired to express it. Since I had to stand to answer the door, I let momentum carry me to put in a load of laundry. I have no idea how I will muster the energy to put it in the dryer. It’s so far away.

Molly

Tonight I will work on her obituary. I’ve never written one before. Though I’ve experienced loss before, this is the first time I’ve been called upon to formally articulate what it means to lose someone, to break the news to people that a loved one no longer walks this earth, to document a life that is nothing short of amazing. A life full of risk, stability, fun, dependability, strength, and talent.

I miss you already, Molly McKenna. You are a part of me.

10 Cent Wings, by Jonatha Brooke (one of the many artists Molly introduced me to)

If I knew what I was after
I’d remember where I’d been
If I was sure of something better
I’d go, I’d go

But I am just another picture
And I watch myself like you
I imagine what you’re thinking
I know, I know

Ten cent wings, I’ll take two
Pin them to my sweater and I’ll sail above the blue
Ten cent wings, tried and true
Orbiting like satellites I’ll sail away with you, you

I will love across the borders
I will wait until it’s dark
And I will fly and you’ll be with me
My wings, your heart

Then our memory may fail us
And our language will go too
But the shooting stars will catch our
Celestial view

Ten cent wings, I’ll take two
Pin them to my sweater and I’ll sail above the blue
Ten cent wings, tried and true
Orbiting like satellites I’ll sail away with you, you

But I’ll never tell, I’ll never say
I’ll never be that brave

Ten cent wings, I’ll take two
Pin them to my sweater and I’ll sail above the blue
Ten cent wings, tried and true
Orbiting like satellites I’ll sail away with you

Ten cent wings, I’ll take two
Pin them to my sweater and I’ll sail above the blue
Ten cent wings, tried and true
In another life you are with me, and I’m with you

Seven days

I sit on my couch and watch NFL playoffs, exhausted, feeling my immune system fighting against the push I gave this week. I actually fought writing this post, part of me too tired to do it, but knowing that the words would keep floating in my head until they made their way through my keyboard and onto the screen. My wonderful seven days, where I was able to experience so many loves, refused to remain silent, wanting to be boasted to the world (and deservedly so).

Last Sunday morning, I woke up to a miraculous view as Seattle welcomed a rare sunny day in the middle of winter.

IMG_3918

I could stare at this all day, every day.

Then, my friend and I were off to a bar to watch the home team come up victorious on an improbable last-second play. The crowd erupted in the excitement of playoff football, strangers celebrating together as sports fans do. I high-fived the young man who shared our crowded table even though I was secretly rooting for the other team. The pure joy caught me, too.

20160110_102857_HDR

It’s not difficult to figure out where this bar’s allegiances lay.

No sooner was the winner declared than it was time to go visit a friend from far away. Reconnecting with someone from Korea – someone I wasn’t sure I would ever see again. Yet, here I was, seeing her twice since I left the country. Tea, girl talk, and a late lunch of authentic Vietnamese food in a strip mall passed the hours too quickly and it was time to go back to Portland. I wonder when/if I will see her again as she heads back to her home in Iksan. I arrive back, and it’s time to unpack and repack for the next trip.

20160110_160419_HDR

I miss this sassy lady already!

Off to Enterprise, OR for a work-related site visit – perhaps the one time I will see real snow this season. The road dangerous, but my colleague skilled at navigating our route through the elements. The clinic visit was informative, as I learn more about the healthcare system everyday I work this job. Evenings we were treated to beers from the local brewpub – ones that could only be had as a reward for making it all the way out to eastern Oregon. The hotel had an indoor pool and hot tub for two nights of relaxation. It took a few days, but on our last morning there, the sun came out and we were able to see the mountains as we headed back. I learned that the billion-dollar Powerball winners live in California, Florida, and a small town in Tennessee three times as big as where I was staying. I won’t be retiring soon.

snow in Enterprise

We drove through this…

IMG_3930

…to get to this.

One day of work in Portland which featured lots of writing and struggling with data on difficult topics. Speaking my mind when things didn’t feel right, I was both firm and tentative in expressing my thoughts on a project I feel deserves more authenticity than the quick-fix it was being given. I struggled through tough conversations without sacrifice. Celebrated the end of the day by buying my plane tickets to China in April, and then settled in for a night filled with bad TV and good food. Leftovers are never to be taken for granted; stews taste better days later.

The weekend immediately followed and consisted of some volunteer work tearing down an adult entertainment establishment that will someday be replaced by a community center. Over 25,000 square feet of red, white, and black décor. Tearing up over-worn carpet and removing nails from 2x4s that will gain new life somewhere presumably happier. Taking a sledge hammer to the bar area was extra satisfying – shards of tile tumbled to the ground and drywall simply fell away with every swing, perfected from my softball days. I was sore and it felt great.

20160116_124955_HDR

Goodbye, Sugar Shack! Though that cheetah *is* something to behold.

That night I met up with a friend to see The Book of Mormon. We arrived at the theater several hours early to enter a lottery for cheap tickets. We were the first names drawn, and for less than half price ended up in the second row – close enough to see the actors’ facial expressions and even when they sprayed their lines. I forgot how much I love musicals and though I could vow to see them more often, I’m not so sure that will happen, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Reflecting on this past week, it’s easy to see how I’m the luckiest woman in the world.

Ten ways I embraced the holiday season (mostly in pictures)

Usually I don’t do much over the holidays. I’m not all “Bah, Humbug,” but then again I tend to feel sort of “Meh” when the jolly season comes around. This year, however, I went out of my way to savor the time since last year I pretty much missed the whole thing being in Oman (though we did celebrate a little). This is how I got into it:

  1. I got a tree. After several years of not doing so, I bought a tree. Nothing beats the smell of a fresh tree. It makes me so happy. As soon as it gets dark here, I turn on the lights and eat my dinner to the ambiance.

    20151208_211706_HDR

    My view from the couch as I watch TV

  2. Saw lights. My friend has a house on Peacock Lane, Portand’s street of holiday cheer. I also saw the big tree downtown. Pretty. It’s hard to hold back holiday cheer when seeing so much festivity.
    IMG_3891

    The Portland tree. The local statue is dressed for the weather.

    IMG_3907

    Crazy lights on Peacock Lane.

  3. Spent time with friends and family. I love how the holidays is one huge focus on getting together with people who matter. I’m lucky enough that this is a relaxing time and feeling.
  4. Saw movies. I saw The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D, and the Hateful Eight in 70mm. There was a long dry spell in my life where I really didn’t see many movies in the theaters (or at all, really). This is slowly changing, thanks to being overseas where seeing an American film felt like a special treat. I like going to the movies again. Yeah, the snacks are still too spendy, but I have found that belief that the ticket price is worth the fun and escapism I see on a huge screen.
  5. Experienced holiday entertainment. I went to a former student’s Christmas cabaret. I heard carolers at the hospital where I work. Played Christmas carols in my house and in the car. These musical events left me laughing, touched, and nostalgic. Magical.

    20151215_130439

    These young carolers helped the mood at the hospital.

  6. Gave to charity. In lieu of presents, my parents and I give to charities. This year I donated enough to Heifer International to send a young woman to school for a year. I also donated to help support Syrian refugees. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this.
  7. Drank silly holiday beverages. I drank the controversial Starbucks pumpkin latte (I liked it better with the real pumpkin, but maybe that’s just me) in a controversial Starbucks holiday cup. It was delicious. I also tried some weird chestnut latte thing. I wasn’t as excited.
  8. Made cookies and traditional foods. Friends came over and we baked sugar cookies and decorated them as if we were five. We made our own colored sugar and used it liberally, mixing all the colors together. I also made Latvian piragi like grandma used to make; I made them over Thanksgiving weekend and again for a Winter Solstice party. Yum.
  9. What are the holidays without leaving the house, at least for a little bit? Despite leaving on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I still encountered airport woes, as my plane was a full two hours late. Thankfully, my friends had come to the airport with me to do some last-minute shopping and so to the bar we went! It was decorated in a strangely, confused festive way.  In the end, I made it to Sacramento to spend Christmas with Dave’s family. Saw movies and the sun! I need to see the sun more often.
    Penguin at Beaches

    Strange bar decor.

    Beaches

    Sun and palm trees in Sacramento. Hooray!

  10. Went to lots of parties. How did this happen? My social calendar was full of house gatherings complete with silly gift exchanges, laughter, yummy food and drink, and connection. I have a ton of outgoing friends who are warm enough to open their doors to others. So much fun – thanks to all of you for hosting and thinking of me when creating your guest lists.
    Peacock Lane party 2

Good things that happened today

I went to bed, and woke up with, the worst headache I’ve ever had, and went to work anyway. A colleague brought me some Advil, and then went out to get me some more.

The weather was cold, rainy, and dreary, so I treated myself to a decaf pumpkin latte. The warm cup felt cozy in my hands.

As I walked home from work, it started to rain, so I stopped by to see a friend in her shop along the way. There, I bought two Christmas ornaments: one for me and one for a friend. Her cat let me pet him.

A wheelchair-bound woman was struggling to get up the ramp when a young man asked if she needed help. She quickly accepted and within seconds he pushed her to the MAX stop. A small task, but an enormous gesture.

I had no plans for the evening, so I cooked myself a meal of roasted Brussels sprouts, my favorite, and ate them while watching an old episode of Fantasy Island. I just heard the line “Why don’t you just boogie on out of here, Duke.” A healthy pleasure accompanied by a guilty one.

Sometimes when things look bad, they really aren’t.

FANTASY ISLAND - Gallery - Season One - 1/20/78 Ricardo Montalban (as Mr. Roarke) and Hervé Villechaize (as Tattoo) star in "Fantasy Island".  Tales of visitors to a unique resort island that can fulfill literally any fantasy requested.   (AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.) RICARDO MONTALBAN, HERVE VILLECHAIZE

FANTASY ISLAND – Gallery – Season One – 1/20/78
Ricardo Montalban (as Mr. Roarke) and Hervé Villechaize (as Tattoo) star in “Fantasy Island”. Tales of visitors to a unique resort island that can fulfill literally any fantasy requested.
(AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.)
RICARDO MONTALBAN, HERVE VILLECHAIZE