My house is 1500 square feet of odd angles, nooks, niches. Most of the house is organized and austere, if you don't consider the inherent chaos of children.
But the basement is an additional 900 square feet of dry storage, and when I started purging it in May the space was full to waist level with furniture, clothing, magazines, detritus. There were boxes stacked to the ceiling around three sides of the building, and a jumble of bicycles and baby equipment trailed through to the other side of the basement, blocking access to the washer and dryer most of the time. The area in front of the washer had clothing in piles up to my knees, most of it stuff I had no intention of keeping.
The company sent a man to survey our home and he said that the entire contents probably weighed about 16,000 pounds, give or take a few hundred.
This sounds eccentric and even quite misguided, but most of the stuff doesn't belong to me. It is a random assortment of my things mixed in with the abandoned belongings of roommates and friends; the estates of dead relatives; and a hefty portion of weirdness left by the people we bought the house from.
My goal was to reduce the mass by three quarters, and it took three solid weeks of hauling to accomplish the agenda.
I got rid of broken furniture, clothes we never wear, clothes we don't remember ever seeing before. I set aside a dozen boxes of clothes that were hand-me-downs to return to their owners. I gave away high chairs and cribs and trikes. I sorted seven large boxes of shoes and sent six of the boxes to Goodwill. I decided to give away the darkroom, and some of the dozens of movie and still cameras.
I opened boxes sealed more than ten years ago, and then chastised myself for not sorting earlier. It isn't easy to achieve good feng shui when you are in your thirties and still have unfinished high school German homework assignments in the basement.
I found my hand bags, dozens of vintage pieces bought for change that could now fetch a tidy profit on Ebay. I have brocade bags, embroidered bags, bags with birds and flowers under plastic, faux jewel bags, all sorts of bags both glittering and utilitarian.
I found my own baby clothes, and my children's baby clothes. I found my teenage love letters, a KJET radio survey, concert ticket stubs, the blonde waist-length ponytail I cut off in 1990. I found high school yearbooks, short stories written in college, grad school papers about incrementalism in public policy. I found my grandmothers bone china cups, my great-grandmothers coin collection.
I kept the best of it and gave away the rest. It took a whole month, but I met my goal, and the basement is clean and organized, all of my posessions in tidy piles that can be boxed and fit in a moving truck and go to storage. Each of us has one box of clothing and two boxes of toys or books to take to Seattle.
This process has been a fearsome relief, a strange and exhilirating challenge, but I'm sick to death of the basement and the boxes.
My friend works at Amazon and he agreed to give us a tour of the building. It stands alone on Beacon Hill, aloof and alone amidst a residential neighborhood just above the International District. The building is distinctive architecturally and protected under the historic preservation clauses of the building codes.
The history of the place is familiar to me. Before it was Amazon, this was Seattle Public Health, a smallpox hospital, a hospital for Marines, a place where the poor and indigent citizens of the city could receive aid.
This is the building where I received radioactive isotope tests and oblation therapy.
The children were flushed and tired after a long day of fun in the city and we stopped at a park dedicated to a Filipino revolutionary. We sprawled on the grass next to the play structure and I stared up at the cream, yellow, and orange bricks of the building, with stripes of angular brown.
I could see the employee parking lot, once filled with the dilapidated cars of patients and under-paid employees. Amazon employees drive new Volkswagens. They jog. They are muscled and young and even if unhappy with their stock options, they are on the whole heathy and emit an aura of acute optimism.
Three people are having a picnic in the shelter, and their meat dinner sends up clouds of smoke. One of the men is talking at high volume about encounters with the police and various violent interludes in which he achieved pleasure by victimizing people weaker than him. He squirted incendiary fluid on his fire while talking, and flames licked up, blackening the meat. One of his friends stared down across the city toward the new sports stadium and said You're losing me, man and the woman turned on a battered radio.
The radio was tuned to an oldies channel and the music filled the small park. I can see clearly now the rain is gone.... all of my bad feelings have disapeared..... it's gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day....
In my memory this place is enshrouded with fog; the greenish tiles of the hospital hallways are nearly as cold as the winter day outside.
I looked up at the hospital, and checked the time. We would meet my friend and go on a tour in a few minutes. I gathered our towels and toys and called out to the children on the play equipment, telling them to get ready.
The newspaper has a headline about timber wars and the content of the article implies that the debate over natural resources in the Northwest is strictly between environmentalists and working families.
I grew up working class, on the edge of the rain forest, surrounded by second growth forests. My family worked the forests and the land of the Olympic Peninsula. My ancestors hacked away at the thick underbrush and lush forests and created subsistence farms on the Kitsap Peninsula.
My grandfather was the child of illegal immigrants and never knew his proper name because the family might be deported if they were found by the government. He worked the mines; he worked the dams; he worked for Pope and Talbot until his tired body couldn't work any longer. He retired to his farm after his six kids were raised and away to start their own working lives.
My grandfather didn't make a fortune off the land he worked with his hands, or the timber felled by his ax. He didn't make enough money to survive and feed his kids; he only made enough to keep the family together and in this country.
My grandfather ended a lifetime of hard labor with no benefits, no money, and no hope that his children would realize material gain beyond what he had achieved.
The media perpetuates a lie about working families, a myth that those of us who have struggled to survive on the sawdust and shame are in some way politically affiliated with the owners and bosses who make a profit off sweat and blood and destruction.
Maybe if the big timber companies had offered cradle to grave, genuine support for working families, they would have earned our gratitude. But the jobs are gone, along with most of the forests, and the animals, and the ecosystem that could have sustained countless generations if the forests had been managed well from the start.
Working families in the Northwest have far more in common with the political goals of organized labor, and even Earth First, than they do with the timber lobby or the rich families living on the profits of earlier timber wars.
I sat on a bench at Harbor Steps letting the kids play in the fountain water with the bowl and chopsticks leftover from our sushi lunch. There was a trendy restaurant to my left and another to my right. Above us was the free apartment we will occupy starting next week.
When I was growing up, this street was filthy, lined with smut shops and strip clubs. My male relatives would park me next to a meter and tell me to wait while they shopped for porn. Now the place is sterile and clean, expensive, strange.
The children have tapered off to an occasional it makes me sad to move from their original range of crying and abject misery. They have been wooed by the amenities of a real city, and dazzled by the rotating restaurant and Orbital Sundae on top of the Space Needle, with a pink sunset followed by a huge orange moon.
We have climbed the water tower in Volunteer Park, visited lakeside beaches, sat in the front seat of the Monorail. The children remember visiting while the EMP was under construction and they gasp at the shiny, tilting metal building now that it is completed.
Instead of repeating I will not move my daughter says I'll go back to Portland for drama camp. My son asks when would it be convenient to go see Spiderman? and then goes on to say I like this city. It isn't too far a drive to Portland, and we are just a ferry ride from grandma. He went on to inquire before we move, can we rent all the videos of 'Fishing with John?'
I wish that we could just be here now, done with the packing and move, but I have to go home and finish sorting.
The people at the front desk of the W know us by sight and name. They remember us presumably because we are the rare family staying at the hotel.
We are also memorable because our children write letters and mail them from the desk; because our daughter acts like the character Eloise at the Plaza; because my son has insomniac episodes and I have walked with him all through the hallways of the hotel, and the city, for hours, stopping to eat a green apple and ask the whatever/whenever clerk for the time.
The front desk clerks ask if the interview went well, and ask why we are back; not another interview? Then they see that the charges are all covered by the company and say in unison Congratulations! The staff at the W seems happier for our good fortune than many of our friends at home.
In the lobby there is a digital sign announcing that the W has been listed as a Conde Nast Best Place to Stay in the World.
When I told Ariel I was headed to the W again, she said to watch out, it might be a portal to another world.
The hallways are certainly dark enough; I wouldn't be surprised to hear almost anything about the happenings at the W.
Every morning, the Wall Street Journal is delivered, and I read it for the first time. I learned too much about the Martha Stewart scandal, the supposed demise of Salon, the contraband status of the chocolate eggs we love so much.
Eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant, with stark wood and gray painted walls, Mondrian-influenced tiles on the floor, black laquered furniture, and square white plates, I looked around the table at my family. This scene, a normal, happy moment, the children eating thick slices of French toast; Byron drinking coffee; my own reflection in glass and a glimpse of Elliot Bay through the window; it seems like this really is the portal to, if not another world, another life.
I have never aspired to material success, never tasted prosperity in a tangible way. Byron worked hard for over ten years, turning down jobs and pursuing pure research, because he loves his field. We never expected or hoped for a payoff. I don't think I could get used to it, don't imagine that I would enjoy it for more than a few days.
This trip is the equivalent of a really amazing dumpster: a gleaners wet dream, an abundance of found objects and lovely food; hope for a sweater or a bouquet of flowers or maybe some new boots always calling you to keep digging.
I met Amy Joy at the all-girl barbecue. We sat under a purple canopy and cut out paper dolls. She wasn't looking for another part-time job but I needed ten hours of child care each week for my homeshooling kids. I asked her to come and visit the house, and she agreed to be our part-time nanny.
The children fell in love with Amy Joy. They played and laughed and went on excursions to educational destinations.
But then Amy Joy fell in love with Dishwasher Pete and ran away to Pittsburgh.
They mailed postcards from the East Coast and China, and then invited us to the wedding.
The bride wore a veil and the groom showed up with a high fever.
It was a beautiful, hot day, with light streaming through windows absorbing into the orange paint. Members of Submission Hold, The Curse, and The Dickel Brothers showed up along with various other punk and independent publishing luminaries. I sat with Chloe from Reading Frenzy and admired her beautiful brown-eyed boy.
I wish the new couple health, wealth, and fertility.
Untended fire is dangerous, deadly.
The fires in Colorado right now directly threaten both our good friends and also places we love.
Gabriel reports that the Mountain house is out of danger at the moment. Byron's parents report that they can still breathe. Annapurna seems mildly annoyed by all the drama.
But we haven't been able to get news of Kamp Konah; normally we spend June and July in Colorado, much of that time in the mountains. We had planned a big trip with the clan, and Polly is driving out with her six kids tonight. I'm both glad and spooked by the fact that our plans changed for the first time in eight years. Colorado is not the place to be this week.
Tonight I'm going to dream of Kamp Konah, and hope that it survives another few decades.
My son wears blazers and bow ties almost every day. His blonde hair is shaggy and long because his hairdresser has been on vacation; he prefers to wait until the man is back to get a haircut.
My son is a devotee of Mr. Rogers, and our entire week is orchestrated around an 11:30 AM permanent date with PBS. We sit on the oak floor together, backs against a blue vinyl armchair, and learn about how to make cheese or nesting dolls.
My son is afraid that a bomb might drop on our house. He can't be alone in a room for even two minutes. We move around the house together, and he totes an assortment of Legos and plays intricate mathematical games while I make lunch or type or bathe.
He doesn't want to leave Portland. He can't tolerate even a discussion about a new home. He is trying to understand and categorize the experience, and every five minutes or so he says I don't want to move. It might be okay if we only sort of move, like when James lived in the basement.
I reassure him that the move is just like James as I arrange the details of buying the new house and sort and purge old toys and clothes.
It would be best to maintain literary suspense and provide delightful anecdotes about our house search.... but I'm too tired.
We decided to move on the 22nd and after a few days, realized we couldn't manage the move unless fate intervened. Fifteen minutes later, Keith at Half and Half said my friend in Seattle wants to move..... We called her, drove up, looked at the house, and bought it.
I went to a party with a smile on my face to tell my friends, and Stevie Ann shook her cane at me and said you fucking liar, you promised you wouldn't leave.
Another friend burst into tears and walked away.
Good news is not always well received.
The drive to Seattle along Interstate 5 has retained a magnificent dullness. The used car lots, new RV advertisements, and endless acres of Scotch broom haven't changed much over the years. Enchanted Village has been painted beige, but it lost all enchantment for me when the water slides were added. The only other difference is the proliferation of Starbucks. The best thing about Starbucks is that they are cleaner than public rest stops.
Driving along the familiar route between and Seattle we talked about college; we counted up and realized that we have been together for nine years.
The difference between twenty-two and thirty-one is vast. We have both finished graduate school. We have found careers we love. Our children are older now, with their own eccentric habits and funny conversations and plans.
But driving down the interstate we are listening to my old scratchy cassette tapes; Prince and the Revolution, the Cure. Byron is wearing a faded tshirt from a high school trip to California. I'm wearing a tshirt and a brightly patterned circle skirt and layers of black ruffled petticoats. We are driving the same kind of car I drove as a seventeen-year old going to shows in the city.
I feel younger than I did at seventeen or twenty-two. I feel hope for the future, and a measure of peace with the past. Even the dull, long drive can't suppress my happiness over this move. I'm going home.
I spent the spring cleaning house. My cupboards and closets were turned out and sorted and organized. The study was excavated, papers hauled out to recycling, and the turntable and record collection were arranged so we could use them again.
Byron scrubbed the kitchen and folded clothes and assembled shelves in the basement.
We talked together and agreed that we needed to clean other areas of our lives. We decided to eliminate the unnecesary and damaging aspects of our work; the portions of our administrative lives that served no greater good.
Byron took a week-long holiday to finish his doctoral thesis and one afternoon he had a phone conversation with a fellow working on an exciting research project.
After that, time seemed to take on a new cadence. The next thing I knew, the whole family was at the W Hotel in Seattle, with someone else paying $160 per night so the children could jump up and down on the plush beds while Byron went to a job interview.
On May 22, an offer was made. We agreed to move, uproot the children, abandon our friends and house and rambling roses in the backyard. We will go back to my home and make a new life on the Puget Sound.
This is the start of the adventure.