“Sometimes we are so busy looking up and looking forward trying to figure out the next moves in our lives – or looking backward at all the places we have been – that we don’t look down and figure out where we actually are.” Bob Goff
As we pull into the parking lot of Larry’s and my first apartment off SW Murry Boulevard in Beaverton, Oregon, 38 years melt away, and suddenly we’re 23, newlyweds, standing in the parking lot of our new home, with our entire life ahead of us, but we have no idea how this joint venture will engulf us, as if Jonah in the whale, only to be released nearly 40 years later, spit out where it all began.
You know me, I’m subjected by my own impulses, as I wrestle with these polarized versions of myself, one wrinkled, one freshly pressed…both forged from the same fabric.
Ahead of us lay decades of good and bad decisions we’ve yet to make, children we’ve yet to create, friends we’ve yet to meet, abundant opportunities we’ve yet to encounter, and then there’s the thing we didn’t know.
In November of 1983, we were returning from our honeymoon in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. We landed in San Jose, drove to the Northwest with my in-laws, as we were planning to gather in Chehalis, Washington the next day to open our wedding gifts now stored at my parent’s home.
After years of our parents trying to keep us out of the same bed, we’re suddenly allowed to sleep together. That was sort of mind-blowing. Our first night in our first home as a married couple, would be spent with my in-laws in the next room, slumbering on a fold-out bed, with mismatched sheets, Larry and I giggling into our pillows.
The good old days.
Stepping out of the car in 2022 I stare at the small apartment complex and try to remember which unit was ours?
Larry makes his way confidently up the sidewalk, I follow (story of my life), arriving at the very back of the building, gazing up a single flight of stairs, the threshold to our new life comes into view. Apartment number 4808, images of passing through that portal assage my mind, both casual and ceremonial, joyful and piqued, but always with the energy and enthusiasm of youth.
Everything was different, but nothing had changed, as if we’ve been incarnated into another womb.
After walking all over the dilapidated property, checking out the pool that froze solid in December of 83, we concluded the general condition of the building was well past its prime, not unlike ourselves.
Driving the streets of our little town, remembering the breakfast joints we frequented, the places we shopped for groceries, I can’t help but acknowledge these memories are shrouded in a veil of innocence. It was the final weeks of 1983, as the wise men drew closer to the baby in the manger, we began our life as one, naively optimistic, unsullied as a newborn.
Forging ahead with very little life experience, money, or imagination we made our fair share of interesting decisions, but as I’ve noted before, the best thing about the past is it’s the past.
I admit I’m overly obsessed with the rearview mirror if you will, but as you know the images appear larger than the reality, and for that reason alone I believe the past should be properly disposed of, don’t you?
Let’s consider it a moral act of bravery, an act that not only releases us from the umbilical cord of yesterday but entombs those decisions in the past, because clearly if those corpses never receive a proper burial, no words spoken on their behalf, no prayers offered for their eternal rest, they’ll haunt you. Seriously.
I could have been…
I should have done…
I would now be…
What the hell was I thinking…
The thing is, like many of us, my world has always been envisioned with a heavy Judaio – Christian influence. You know what I mean? It’s how I made sense of things, this philosophy claims there are no arbitrary events, everything that happens is part of a plan, it happens for a reason, and that alone belongs to God. Susan Sontag puts it this way, “every crucifixion must be topped by a resurrection, every disaster or calamity must be seen either as leading to a greater good or else as just and adequate punishment fully merited by the sufferer.” Damn that girl was brilliant.
But honestly, I’ve come to believe this is a rather restrictive, naive, parochial view of our glorious, but imperfect world. Is it wrong? I don’t know. I question the validity that every hardship is intrinsic to “the greater good” in a free-range world, because, unlike chickens, I think we build our own cages.
Decisions are consequential by nature, some more than others, even the most insignificant ones can be far-reaching. I’m not smart enough to delineate the purpose and meaning of life, but at my age, you start seeing patterns. Patterns in our decision making, patterns in the consequences of our decisions, patterns in our communication, and it doesn’t matter whether we’re deciding on dinner options, a new sofa, or the outcome of an argument, there’s a pattern to our thinking, an equation if you will, and can I just say I’m always right. Bahaha.
I’ve noticed how suffering is derived from selfish decisions, but pleasure is different, it springs from a genuine giving of the self, as in marriage, sex, forgiveness, food preparation, even charity, but more importantly, it seems to be the crux of all our relationships, including the relationship we have with ourselves.
Ironically, Larry and I are in Portland, Oregon for the wedding of our dear friend’s son Christopher to a lovely woman named Emily, and they will be starting their life in the rugged Northwest, just as we did. I consider that a good omen.
The Trip Down Memory Lane
We arrive a day early so Larry and I can make a nostalgic trip to Chehalis, Washington, where my parents lived for over forty years, where parts of my father’s ashes are scattered, and memories of my beloved Mom and Dad are so intertwined with the landscape I feel myself unraveling with each mile.
Our children spent a lot of time in the Northwest, we made the trip several times a year to hang out at the family homestead on Donahoe Road. Eleven acres of heavily forested land located on the edge of town, surrounded by fields of corn and peas, with a meandering creek that made it feel as if we were existing in a fairytale.
Driving all over town in our rental car, we check out Dad’s old factories, the kid’s playground, the movie house, Mom’s church, the Elk’s Club, downtown, the old hotel later made into apartments, the vintage library on the hill, even the Rib Eye Steak House with their famous peanut butter pie.
The present rarely matches up with the version we hold of the past, even if the changes are subtle, they can be catastrophic to our treasured memories. Let me just say, it wasn’t the same, it was shockingly different, and I feel as if the levy between past and present has been forged.
Early the next morning, at the Residence Inn in downtown Portland, we slip into our sweats, and walk the streets of Portland, trying to understand the destruction and carnage of this beautiful waterfront downtown. It’s painful to witness the disfigurement of once-thriving cafes, storefronts, and offices. I understand the importance of protest, how change happens, how the rights of the victim must be rectified, claimed, fought for, but the aftermath of destruction is disturbing, often cloaking the message in violence.
Maybe it is from these very ashes that change will ultimately arise? I don’t know, but as my kids say, I’m old, biased in many ways, less malleable as I age, but alas isn’t that my inherent value?
One of the highlights of this weekend was all the time we were able to spend in the presence of old friends, as Jill said, “it’s so rare we have an entire day together, makes me tear up remembering the laughter and joy on the faces of my dearest friends, gathered at the local sports bar, cheering on the 49er’s.”
Speaking of poignant observations, our Uber ride to the wedding was rather bizarre, and a little disconcerting. Steve and Jill order up a ride via their phone, we’re running a tad late, and our anxiety is gathering momentum as if the beginning of the Grand Prix. The ride finally pulls up to the curb and the four rush to infiltrate the economy-sized car. The first thing I notice is the upholstered seats are covered in birdshit, then I hear an actual bird chirping, as we hesitantly cram ourselves into the rancid interior.
The wedding starts in ten minutes and our options are severely limited.
Larry squeezes into the front seat, knees practically in his chest, while Steve, Jill, and I gingerly perch ourselves on the back seat, traumatized by the live bird actually sitting on the driver’s head. Yes, that’s not a typo, there is a lime green bird sitting on a pile of matted hair, chirping as if it had not a care in the world. Thank God it was only a three-minute ride and we exited the car as quickly as possible. No tip!
Later that evening as Larry is extrapolating about his extraordinary observation skills, we find ourselves in a deep discussion about the strangest Uber rider ever.
Steve says, “what about that bird?”
Larry says, “what bird?”
Jill, Steve, Cheryl, in unison, say, “seriously?”
“I didn’t see any bird, I was just worried about all the birdshit and feed scattered all over the car.”
I say, “There was a bird sitting on the driver’s head, not twelve inches from your face?”
“I never saw it.”
I get the look (patterns).
The wedding venue is gorgeous, a combination of charming brick archways, old beams, stunning flower arrangements, with an appealing industrial feel. We are greeted by an attentive staff who warmly invites us into the space, offering us refreshing adult beverages as we relax, and enjoy the company of those gathered for this momentous but intimate event.
The ceremony is captivating, moving, pivotal to the future Chris and Emily are envisioning. As the bride and groom bask in the glow of marital bliss, it seems as if their life is an oyster, just waiting to be opened! We spend the evening not only witnessing the vows of young love but listening to heartfelt speeches as family and friends lift their glasses to the newlyweds. Honored to be a part of their nuptial celebration we sip good wine, break bread, and express our joy on the dance floor.
But here’s the thing they don’t know, the thing that took me years to absorb, the thing I struggle to fully embrace.
Our choices matter, the past can not be repurposed, what I choose to do on a daily basis is a revelation of what I value, and what I deem as worthy of my time. Opportunities are time-sensitive, they appear randomly throughout our life, as if a banquet laid out before us, what we choose either nourishes us or depletes us.
Oh, how I abhorred cutting the cord to my childish ways, adopting a more magnanimous approach to life, but the one thing maturity has to offer aside from the obvious, is a broader perspective, a birdseye view if you will. To interpret our history is maybe to impoverish it, a depletion of sorts, one that attempts to make us more comfortable with our choices. The truth is we’re all standing in the parking lot of life, looking for the portal to our dreams, and crossing that threshold should always be ceremonial.
I’m Living in the Gap, between past and future, because that is all we have. Join me in the comments!