Back in the land of tea & misery, a border guard scrutinized my passport and proceeded to ask probing questions, despite the fact that it is prominently stamped Indefinite Leave to Remain.
Know what that means? It doesn’t matter where in the realm I live, what my job is, whether or not I am married. I have permanent residency in the United Kingdom, and border guards have no reason whatsoever to ask impertinent questions.
However, “mind your own beeswax” is never the right answer when dealing with immigration officials.
My kid flew in from Colorado and we had one last night in the states. Without a car (yes, I can and do drive in Washington… I’ve held a license there since 1986) the options were limited, but we walked from our Belltown hotel to the Pike Place Market to buy donuts – a ritual from his childhood, and my own.
Pacing down the sidewalk chatting with the boy about his time in the mountains I almost walked right past Ade, who was shocked to see me; another person I did not get in touch with because the visit was too short. Also, before we forget, a child of Colorado.
I introduced my kid, an honor in and of itself as my family is normally kept strictly separate from the denizens of the Seattle scene. Ade is important, not just a genius performer and wit, but someone I truly care about and would welcome to my home (if I had one). But we were all short of time, we had to say goodbye, hurry away.
Shoe museum, magic shop, arcades, spaghetti dinners, an arduous and ultimately successful attempt to get all of our gear crammed into carry-on luggage, a fitful sleep. We talked about our memories of living in the city, what we miss.
On the last morning we sat in the Sculpture Park, looking at the Olympics, completely shattered.
The boy did not want to move to England in the first place, and neither of us want to go back.
I somehow missed the fact that the Olympic games were happening in Canada. And the train runs all the way to Vancouver now? What an innovation – and how annoying!
Nearly all seats for all trains were sold out, and I paid an extortionate price for a seriously bad seat that would get me to Seattle hours after my parents were asleep for the night.
This meant that I missed a chance to see my grandmother, perhaps for the last time. My mother consoled with the observation that Grandma no longer recognizes anyone, but somehow, that does not make me feel any better.
The true consequences of immigration are found in these stories – how many family members have died, how many funerals have I missed, how profoundly have I failed my blood kin?
One small immature part of my brain retorts that if Grandma had wanted my allegiance she would not have disowned me when I became a teen parent. If the paternal side of the family had offered assistance with college tuition, housing, health insurance, or anything at all I would probably still be living in Kitsap County, stopping by every week to visit, taking care of them as they took care of me.
But they didn’t. And the compromises I made to survive and prosper flung me across the world.
I do not feel vengeful; if anything, understanding what divides us just makes me care more.
The Lavender ethos is self-sufficiency, autonomy, hard work, the cliched and bullshit bootstrap rugged individualism of a cowboy movie. Everything I have accomplished is an illustration of those values but at the same time a rebuke, because I think that material success is a sham. The only thing that matters is taking care of people. Being kind.
If the Lavender grandparents were alive and sentient they would be proud of me because I own property, travel, have children who ace standardized tests. They would be impressed that my photograph shows up in the papers. None of which matters to me – but somehow I still did it.
I did everything right, but I am still ashamed because there is an old woman dying in a nursing home, and I am not there to hold her hand. I can’t be with her, I’m not there to tell her that everything is fine.
One night in Seattle: whatever should I do?
Don’t be silly – there is a routine to these things!
Jeffrey picked me up, we acquired Sophie, and then it was onward to the familiar old places. We grabbed a vegan Vietnamese dinner then stopped in at the Bus Stop so I could talk to Niki Sugar, for a scant few minutes, say hello to Genevieve and Gary, before hurtling across to the Crescent.
I was still feeling too queasy from Disneyland gastritis to handle even a bold fruit juice, and I don’t really drink nowadays, so this was my first time in the bars and clubs of Capital Hill completely sober.
The experience was…. interesting.
The Crescent Lounge is a particularly intriguing swirl of despair and joy, a rumbling mix of street people, punks, drunks, frat boys, opera singers, the deranged and dismayed. It is the only place in the whole world where strangers feel they can touch my face and tell me that I am beautiful.
DJ Laura was on the microphone and shouted impossibly sweet greetings before singing just for me. Her new husband, a writer who constitutes one third of Guyscraper, was summoned from home.
That fellow who declared himself a lifelong enemy last April has decided (because someone tipped him off about who I am, whatever that means) otherwise and tried to chat as I stared in bafflement.
When my friends were singing or chatting or otherwise engaged a stranger tried a poignant pickup; where else would this happen? Nowhere.
Those who know me only from these trips never fully appreciate that the nights are an escape from my domestic commitments and career. I can throw a brilliant party and keep it going, but this isn’t my scene, it isn’t how I live. I’m just visiting.
We always end up at City Market two minutes before closing, buying cheese as the drunks stock up on cheap booze.
Gabriel took me to an enchanting, old-fashioned shop out in the wilds of industrial North Portland and the critical question is: can a typewriter pass as transatlantic carry-on luggage?
One last coffee and then it was time to go. As the train pulled out of town Stevie texted, hoping to hang out. We missed each other once again; maybe we’ll catch up in NYC, London, or somewhere unspecified.
Oh, Portland – eight years after I moved away I still love you with the same hopeless passion.
I spent Valentine’s weekend at the coast with a bunch of people I love and never see, and several others I have never met before. As always when traveling with this crew (I still think of them as Chorus friends even though the musical element dissolved years ago) I felt completely welcome, and awfully out of place.
It isn’t just my clothes or accessories (though it is true that I had to borrow rain gear, and carried a Commes des Garcons bag to the beach). They all have an equal tendency to go out in drag, assume and discard costumes and identities.
No, it is something more subtle – a sense of jolting homesickness, displacement, even at the most serene moments. They know my secrets, and ask hard questions. They love me but let me go. I belong with these people, more than I do with any other group of humans aside from my family, yet I feel I cannot speak in their presence.
This is my own problem. I try to ignore it.
I also did something so singular, so rebellious, I almost dare not type the words.
Despite clear medical injunctions and the warnings of my mother, I …. got in the hot tub.
To a stranger this may seem minor but for me it is a real risk. I am too sensitive, my skin too precious for chlorine or shared bathing. I have a note from my doctor!
Rain, forest, ocean, friends, naked communal bathing under the Oregon moon. Marisa, Jodi, Maki, Erin Scarum…. it only took about two hours for me to declare I am never leaving this place.
The sojourn in this city is completely booked up with events, excursions, parties, fun. Friends pass us from one to another with such efficiency that I haven’t even had time to buy sparkling water! Stolen moments with Stevie, long adventures with Erin Scarum, a trip to the coast next: it is good to be back.
I put my kid on a plane to Colorado and continued the antics, traipsing from cafe to restaurant, record store to club. Along the way I asked each friend encountered where I should live, what I should do.
Alex Yusimov (who I still think of as Thunder Pumpkin) votes against Berlin because while it is a great city “it is hard to find daytime friends.”
Ana Helena shares this view (as she jets away to that exact destination). Others like the idea – Vanessa Renwick had even heard advance rumors and wondered if I could put her up during an imminent trip.
Sara K and a host of strangers encountered in odd corners thought Berlin would be a fun place for me to live. Arika and other acquaintances understood the allure of London.
Chris and Gabriel separately managed to extract a hint of why Germany is on the list…. and understood what I was talking about.
My Portland friends are perceptive, but more importantly, they tend to wander. I fully believe that Alex, and strangers in random kitchens, have a better perspective on these matters than almost anyone I know in Europe. Mostly because they, like me, can sometimes be found hanging out random punk house kitchens.
Sara K tried to help with a couple of rounds of astrodice, uniquely unhelpful as each roll agreed with my instinct to just keep moving. One night we went out to watch Freddie DJ at a club on the waterfront and Sara asked the same question of a deck of cards.
The reading was precise: My kid would be happiest in Berlin, and that city would keep me alive the longest. London offers time to work, and sustainable friendships. Portland is affordable, healthy, the most fun. San Francisco represents the highest standard of living with the least compromise.
No city has everything I need – probably because I expect too much.
I just have to choose. And that is the hard part.
I arrived in Portland still fragile from the wretched illness. Sara K had arranged a a Super Bowl party (she claimed in my honor, though that might have been “irony”). The queasiness I felt was largely due to a bad batch of gumbo, but was partly also emotional. The Chicken House: another lost refuge, more people I love and never see.
Marisa picked us up at the train station and as we drove through the NE quadrant of the city I marveled once again at how my old neighborhood has changed. All the houses (except mine) have been painted! There are condominiums, boutiques, cafes, even upscale taquerias!
The only thing I recognize about the place is the street names, and I’ve been gone so long that is no longer a useful method of navigation.
Marisa wondered if I would like to stop at my house, but I don’t know the people living there now. This is peculiar; I’ve owned it since 1997, and Gabriel lived there from 2002 until last summer. I think of it as my home, even eight years after moving away.
Another obscurity – if Portland is home, why don’t I live there?
I don’t know the answer. I just know that my desire to go back is equal to my inclination to run away.
Enough with the tormented philosophizing! It is just good to be with my friends. I miss them:
I took my mother and son to Disneyland as a very special treat; since he is thirteen, it was quite likely the final moment he would enjoy our company without attitude and complaint.
For this reason we did not take any other companions, notify local friends, arrange to meet the California cousins. It was just us three, for five days, and the trip was in every possible way amazing. I’ve never been so happy twirling around on those teacups!
Until the final evening, when I decided we deserved a farewell dinner at the Blue Bayou. The ambiance was excellent.
The food poisoning was not.
I cannot abide vomiting, not the visceral experience, and certainly not the memories that come flooding back with each wave of nausea. I do not just get sick; I have to suffer through horrifying flashes of a childhood conducted in hospitals.
Somewhere around three in the morning I was laying on the cold white tile of a budget hotel in Anaheim muttering if I ever need chemo I will kill myself before the first appointment.
Another day, another airport.
The most remarkable thing I have learned in all these years of travel: I enjoy the journey more than the destination.
Plane, train, taxi, ferry, bus…. I am happiest in transit.