. . . I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of cafés and nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking up and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring.
i remember finishing ‘a farewell to arms’ in new orleans one summer a long time ago, and i always remember this passage. i remember it because i know exactly what this feels like, and how it describes a good deal of my adult life, and how i miss that place and that feeling now
pretty sure i’ve said this verbatim before
also escape from LA rules
tomorrow is my birthday. so i’m on a bus headed up to new york city to spend the weekend with my friends there. if you are reading this and also in new york, you’re invited to my birthday party. just email me!
I wrote this some time ago in a draft I never published:
I sometimes wish, as I do right now, that there were some way that my death could be helpful to someone, or preferably a lot of people. You know? I wish there were a way I could be totally annihilated to serve some higher purpose, or at least something bigger than myself. And I ain’t talking about war, though I don’t exactly know what the other thing would be either. Is this an insane and childish impulse to have? Probably it is. . . .
Truth be told, I’ve seen enough, and though I have many regrets, I have got them off my tail the best way I know how: I MADE AMENDS if it involved another person. They were owed it. And when I do perish, I have made sure that the people I have wronged will never have to wonder if I was remorseful and sorry for what I did to them, because I was and am.
What I’m saying, I guess, is that I paid my debts, and I’m Ready. To be clear, I don’t have a death wish. But if something killed me swiftly, and at minimum they could harvest my organs or whatever, as they clean me up from the front of the bus, I wouldn’t necessarily be sad about it (never mind that I wouldn’t be around to feel anything about it at all). I just hope that in death I can achieve something with it. It is not vanity. I would actually take a bullet in the chest if it meant someone else didn’t have to . . .
Why didn’t I publish it? Because as I rightly predicted back then, the whole thing is childish, and also I figured I didn’t want to worry anyone. Now I have absolutely nothing to lose, which in some ways makes me impervious to pretty much everything. In my mind I’m living on borrowed time. What else could the world possibly do to me? Kill me? I’m already dead. You can’t kill what’s already dead! Put another way: the worst that could happen is that I lose my life. And I got that for free!
In Savannah I told my friend something annoying, which she did find annoying (“Ryan, shut up”), which is that I think of myself as a non-entity and my only function is to help people as much as I can until I die. It’s true! I hate to say it, but I just don’t care about my own life anymore, or what happens to me. I told her that too, and she told me to shut up again. As I wrote in my embarrassing diatribe above, that does not mean I have a death wish. Though I do pause before coffin warehouses, and bring up the rear of every funeral I meet, I am not going to throw myself upon my sword, so to speak. I have things I need to accomplish first . . . or anyway that’s the lie I tell myself, or else I wouldn’t bother to get out of bed in the morning.
But when I do go to my reward, however long from now that is, and however stupid and misguided this sentiment is, I still hope my death helps someone. Isn’t that one of the major tenets of Christianity? I can get down with that. Certainly there are worse ideas to subscribe to.
Just make sure they bury whatever is left of me, even just my bones or the dust of those bones, at the foot of the volcano Mount Terror in Antarctica as stipulated in my will. I’m serious as a heart attack. Hah!
Anyway . . .
this is like my entire worldview! also ‘ashes and diamonds’ is a great film
NOW IS THE WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT
. . . made glorious by nothing! I am still wallowing, AS IS MY WONT, but at least it has been snowing for the last twenty-four hours. As a Snow Enjoyer, I say: BY GOD, let it. Round about four in the morning, I got up to wash my coffee cup, and decided I ought to go to sleep soon. Standing at the sink, I gazed out the window, which overlooks the entire lot here, and saw that everything was under an inch of snow and the stuff was still coming down hard. I had not expected this at all. For weeks they have been talking about winter storms along the East Coast, though I figured (with some sadness) that I was far enough south that we wouldn’t get the good deep stuff like up north in New York and New England and Maine. And while it weren’t exactly no Sapporo Snow Festival out there when I woke up this morning, the sky was still wreathed in grey snow clouds which were covering everything below, and I felt glad to not have any reason to leave the house. I had a bulletproof excuse to sit my dumb ass down on the couch and drink coffee and watch movies in my red embroidered robe all day, which is exactly what I did.
Around five the sun was beginning to set, and so I decided to suit up and drive around for a little while, headed in the direction of the little rural area where I grew up, which is only a ten-minute drive away. I wanted to get a mediocre cup of coffee at the 7-11 where I’d always gone as a teenager, and then park somewhere and walk around drinking it while it snowed. But as soon as I got out on the street, the car started sliding around my the brakes were locking up at every stop sign and red light, and I knew I’d made a fatal mistake. But in the tradition of leaning into and amplifying my own idiocy, I kept driving around anyway. I crawled towards Old Town, still AGLOW with Christmas lights, and parked by my friend Caroline’s house—Caroline being the goth barista whom I befriended during the first pandemic winter. Every time I am near Caroline’s house, I take a picture of it and send it to her. She mostly ignores these texts, which is great.
Anyway: I got out and walked a block away towards the very coffeeshop where I had met Caroline a few winters ago. The sun had gone down and it was cold as hell outside, the streets illuminated by little white lights, and I realized that all I had put in my body that far into the day was liquid. So I entered the coffeeshop like a gunslinger enters a saloon and ordered an Americano and “whatever vegetables you got that you can put on a toasted bagel” from the barista with whom I have a sort of rapport. I sat down in the back booth and supped by myself as a handful of couples drank their little lattes and nuzzled and such by the window tables. It looked like a nice thing to be doing, to hold and be held, but then what the hell was I going to do about my lonesomeness in that moment when I’m only just passing through, always just passing through as I have been continually, a new city every four or five days for going on six months now . . .
AS BLACK COFFEE WHIRLPOOL’D DOWN MY THROAT
. . . my foolishness broke like a fever dream, and it dawned on me that the longer I stayed out, the less likely I would make it home with the car. And if the car got stuck somewhere, or else became completely undrive-able on account of the rapidly accumulating snow, then my ass would be walking the two miles home. I make this same round-trip walk just about every night, just as I did every night for nine months of the pandemic that I was trapped here, and came to enjoy it (and even require it for sanity) . . . but now I was underdressed for such a trek and dreaded the increasingly certainty in which that fate would come to pass.
And so saying, I thanked the barista and kicked the door open and went back out into the snow. It looked like bad news getting worse, so I booked it across the street, cutting off a police SUV, and slid across the icy asphalt on my combat boots to get to the car. I decided to avoid the main roads and took it real slow through the neighborhoods which encircle my fortified compound here. Only once or twice did I lose control, though no one was around for me to ram into. Back home, I backed into the parking space and killed the engine, and watched the snow come down for a while. I decided that, if the roads are clear tomorrow afternoon, I will try to repeat the thing I had intended to do today, which is to drive to the forested places where I grew up and experienced snow days as a kid and, maybe pathetically to some, try to absorb some of those feelings again. It’s not like I have anything better to do.
While I’m down here being sentimental, I’ll end by saying this: I have only experienced snow a dozen or so times since I left Portland in 2017. As a former Austinite and Longterm California Resident, the only other times I have seen snow in the last twelve years are when I left Texas and California to visit another place, or else saw it on the ground around Lake Tahoe. Before today I last had a snow day in Berlin in March, at the tail end of winter when we were all going insane there, and were saddened to still see snow so close to spring. And before that, it would have been here in Virginia during my aforementioned purgatory sentence, which took up most of the first Pandemic Year. Anything else would have been sleet or a few flurries in Berlin back in the winter of 2019 into 2020 . . .
I bring up Portland because just before I moved away from there, we got hit with a double blizzard, one right after the other. I thought about these twin blizzards when I was sitting in the car earlier, backed into the parking space with the heat still on and finishing a song before I went inside to make tea. That week of snow has a significance in my mind because it is one of the few good memories I have about that place when most others are ones that only bring me down to think about.
Kerwin and Matt and I lived in a little grey house on Hawthorne Boulevard not far from the Hawthorne Bridge on the Southeast part of town, which by my reckoning was the best place to be. We could walk wherever we needed to go, there were forests and parks nearby, and we even had our own cemetery. Even still, the three of us were miserable and riddled with vitamin deficiencies as though we were 19th century peasants. What brought us happiness was our working fireplace, which was the centerpiece of our living room, and our desks in orbit around it. Broke though we were, we went in three ways on a cord of mossy logs that had been delivered unto us by an old man with a bad leg in a minivan, and which we kept piled up in our black mold infested basement (doubling as Kerwin’s room (sorry Kerwin)), and which we burned through all winter. I can’t really think of a single day when we didn’t have a fire going. Tending that flame was essentially a hobby for all of us . . . it was almost better than watching a movie. It was certainly better than anything else we could have been doing in Portland.
Then that twin blizzard came down from the sky, and everyone in Portland was trapped inside on account of the city’s refusal to salt the roads for what I was told were “environmental reasons”. And even then, Portland only has (or had) five plows to cover a city which is the largest in the state of Oregon, and which is home to over half a million people. When the first blizzard hit, the roads turned into a tunnel of ice. The trucks did not come to plow Hawthorne Boulevard, a major throughway, and so the neighborhood stayed frozen until the second blizzard hit a few days later, which doubled or tripled the deadliness of the streets and sidewalks just outside our fire-warmed living room. We would sit there and watch from the windows as people slipped on the ice and fell right on the asses all the livelong day. This went on for some time as we kept piling logs onto the endless fire.
And late one night, alone in my room as the double blizzard raged on outside my house, I got an unexpected text from my friend a few blocks away. I won’t name her. She said she was about to watch the final episode of Twin Peaks, and had a bottle of crappy red wine, the same kind we had drunk together in Lone Fir Cemetery the night we met the previous winter, and would I like to come over the drink that wine and watch the final episode of Twin Peaks with her. I could not have typed “You’re god damn RIGHT I do” any faster. Back then my bedroom looked like this:
. . . so naturally I was desperate to journey through a blizzard to sit in a bed with a cute girl I had a crush on and drink VELVET DEVIL and watch one of the best episodes of Twin Peaks, the one with all the doppelgängers running around in the Black Lodge. I suited up and went out into the living room where Kerwin and Matt were sitting crosslegged on the rug in front of the fireplace playing Mario Kart. I told them I was going to see a girl and wouldn’t be back for the rest of the night. They promised to feed the flame in my absence, and now relieved of my duties I went out the front door and into the icy darkness of Hawthorne Boulevard. The snow had paused and the neighborhood was completely silent, as if in a void. I got to walking, my short journey made less perilous by stepping inside the craterous frozen footprints left behind by some larger human creatures who had come before and were now gone from the place.
My friend was waiting for me when I got to her house. She took me inside and made me tea. We went up to her attic bedroom with the A-framed ceiling and, exactly as I had hoped and which she had promised, we sat on her bed beneath a cold skylight and drank tea and red wine and watched the final episode of Twin Peaks on her laptop . . . and stayed up all night after that, till the sky was dark blue growing brighter, and at her behest we lay down, her facing away from me towards the room and with my back against the wall. I curled up around her and put my arm over hers and dozed off watching through the skylight as flurries fell from the sky. I woke up hours later with the sun on my face and still holding her . . . and content though I was to be lying with her there in her twin bed, I foolishly gave in to my loner instinct, which was to slink off back home to sleep in darkness until the late afternoon.
I didn’t know it then, but not long after that snowy night in the middle of the double blizzard, I would leave that city forever. I had spent all my money to move to Portland only to immediately realize I despised living in it, and too late to go back to where I’d come from and no money to get there anyway . . . so by the time I left that girl’s house to take the lonely path back home, I had already supposed my life was over, and that I was trapped in that grey lukewarm brick of gelatin that is the limbo of Portland till the end of time, and maybe even longer than that, on account of some terrible sin I must have committed in a past life. But it was not so. Weeks later I would fall ass-backwards into a job at a publishing company in Oakland, saving me, for a time, from perdition. As a consequence of this air-thin miracle, I had to leave that girl behind.
For some time after, I wondered if it pulverized her that I left her like that, and I have thought many times that I wish I had not. She told me later, without the faintest trace of acrimony, that it had wounded her some, and that she turned to her friend because of how sad it had made her, and I felt ashamed.
Now, many years later, I think of Portland as this 365-day Möbius strip, a sort of airtight tube of time, which I can section off neatly and examine in chunks, as though quartering a snake with a scimitar. I have softened, and even miss some of it, where before I regarded it all with disdain. And in my mind, that one night with that girl becomes a little diorama in a snow globe, and when I look inside of it I go pale and feel bloodless. Because I know the two people there don’t exist anymore, and I torture myself imagining all the branching phantom threads that lead out of the tube of time. But I know the ultimate outcome of this thread, and know what the thing became. It became nothing. I know also that it only could have gone one way, which is the way it went. No one is more paralyzingly aware of the miserable self-fulfilling prophecy of myself than me, which is that I’ll always walk away from it and realize with horror later that I was a deliberate fool to do so, and that I am cursed with grasping at its ghost for the rest of my life. Sometimes in dreams I see all possible realities, all the ones I did not choose, and feel a bone-deep sadness that sticks to me like a shadow.
Where do you want me to put this? It is an embarrassing admission, but now whenever I see snow I am reminded of this particular girl, and that particular night with her, and thus I am forced to remember turning away from it all and slinking off back home to sleep alone in darkness, so to speak . . . a decision I made many times a long time ago, which created a trail that I can always see behind me and leading to the present moment. Where am I now? Somewhere without her, or anyone for that matter. I am just as alone now as I was when I drove away from Portland for the last time. What is left? The vision in my mind of the diorama in the snow globe where she and I are encased in amber in that Möbius strip that is frozen in time and cannot be altered. Maybe this is childish but it shatters me to think about that. It wasn’t just the one night, or the one girl even, but the many days and nights that lead up to that night and others just like it . . . all of which became nothing afterwards. I just liked her most of all is the thing. That is why it shines so brightly in my skull on snow days. Because if I am cursed to remember everything that has ever happened to me, then I am also cursed to remember everything that could have happened to me. And so now the memory of that night, which has only grown in significance as it has got farther away from me, lodges in my heart like all the rest of those little sadnesses, and I’ll always wonder why. Such is my tale. Maybe if they give me another chance, I’ll get it right on the next go-around. The least they could do is let me forget.