Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Nothing Gold Can Stay

It's a paradox, living in a city with roots. I cross a bridge in February and the sun hits the water just right, illuminating the leafless trees filled with crows watching the canal for who knows what. The water, one minute stoney grey the next emerald blue, shows you a depth in the flickering of a second. You have crossed this bridge and seen this light before, many times before. And still, in the throes of your busy day, it stops you cold - in the cold - as if you had never seen a canal, a crow, or a flickering of a second so beautiful. In this moment, with the buildings and trees suddenly grown up around you, you realize you know this city and it knows you.

When I was growing up across the water, we took a ferry to the city. On our boat, we would watch the wild and unruly slowly come into view around the last bend of island. You could feel the change in the boat and the water.  The waves would grow strong and rock us back and forth as we hit the open waters of the Sound, no longer safe in our inlets and bays. Making those open waters, the engines would rush us forward to the foot of skyscrapers and city lights before depositing us among aquariums, homelessness and too many seagulls. Somewhere on these docks I begged a classmate to leave a dead bird alone. He stepped on the bottom half and I heard a pop of bird insides flooding past decaying bird skin. I ran away plugging my ears to the pop and the laugh, cleansing myself with the vomit that followed. But I think the tears were really a fear for my classmate's soul. Some rule of life was broken that day, though I couldn't explain what and can't remember my classmate's name. My stomach still churns and my ears hurt a little when I turn the corner to the aquarium. I try not to look at the boards that once held a little bird's body - try not to wonder if a stain of life could outlast the rain of 20 years, or if that is really just an old piece of bubble gum greased into the wood.

The family trips took us to the Market and we would eat peaches and honey comb while men threw fish and musicians begged for dinner with open cases, cello strings and a baritone to break a thousand hearts. I have a family photo with cousins lined up and on and around a brass pig as if it were a prized pet. We are tanned and grinning, creating a memory around the stoic and metal face. Carrying my first found tulips of the early spring, I see him in the market. He is still stoic and still brass, photo bombing countless memories of families, lovers, and Seattlites who find themselves in the market at night - too intoxicated to drive and too late to bus home. I nod to him and feel the sense that if pigs could, brass or not, he would nod back.

Followed by these childish outings were the right of passage trips. Dropped off on one side of the water with a group of friends to ferry alone and roam the Old Navy, Sees Candy, Westlake Mall as group consensus deemed fit. As a pack, we would suck down the first sips of adulthood while still too young to drive. One birthday party trip was in late August. Our group of six galavanted the piers, the Old Spaghetti Factory and the market. The boardwalk lights dripped with magic and the sunset whispered romance to our adolescent ears. If I walked a little faster or slower than the other four, I could almost convince myself I was alone on a date with my childhood crush and that maybe he thought so too - the city held that much hope and opportunity. Quickly walking the same pier, I see the spot where a summer job clown broke the magic by calling me freckles. I remember the rage of that adolescent self and feel warmth that at one point, wonderful was as simple as city lights and matched pacing.

Biking along the Burke-Gilman, I see the place where I was once a wife. It wasn't the first home we built, but it was the most successful out of the three. Still, the walls were barren, the kitchen untouched, and boxes left unpacked and begging the question if either of us wanted the arrangement to work. His boxes were full of momentos from girlfriends. I was too young to own boxes, full of momentos or no. Ghosts of me fight with ghosts of him and further along, another ghost of me wanders the streets at night, wishing for a worse worst - murder, mauling, suicide - to brush the boundary of what could go wrong so I could handle my current bearing, or wouldn't have to. A mile up the hill, I run past the house that provided escape, companionship, and a return of hope. My childhood friends and I would drink vodka and sit on our porch couch, watching the buses irreversibly shuffle residents between stops. Both houses have been torn down and replaced with buildings more friendly to family growth and development in urban sites. Still, past versions of myself wander between the locations, trapped in love, despair, happiness or hopelessness.

In the thick of it, I build a home for myself. It is the most successful home I've had, a basement studio apartment approaching whimsical. I have a job and steady income - at least for the next 5 months. In these walls, I've built a place where I can create myself free of the memories. And yet, I leave and there they are, in nearly every part of the city. Some happy, some terrified - they live out memories like windows of gold against the landscape. I see in their eyes glimmers of wonder, hope, love. I think of the things they hold dear, the fights they endured, the tenacity of their character. I wonder if I have impressed them, if I have done the most in my present to honor their struggles. If I was the happiest present, if I could build something to outlast their golden shimmer, would they finally fade into the distance? Would this city finally be my own?

The paradox is bitter, almost like a catch snagging a nail on a new sweater. Is the very thing that binds me to this city the very same thing to drive me away? Am I continually drawn back, unable to survive without my roots, my saltwater canals, my mountains and yet, unable to live once I'm here? Can I build something that doesn't have the threat of blowing down or away in a year's time?

And yet, I know this city. The lazy February sun will be enough to pull the cherry blossoms into spring.  The crows will watch the canal and the bridge I walk across will, with the budding season, lift for sail boats and summer water traffic. From those leafless trees a brighter and stronger green will grow until the Emerald City regains it's name. With shards of me so hopelessly scattered about, can this city believe in the same growth in me? Will warmth bring out my blossoms?


  1. I believe in you Katie in all shades and fades of emotion. You are amazing and your blossoms too.

  2. just really beautiful.