July is the month we say goodbye to writers who are retiring or moving on to new adventures, and this is Gabe’s last post. He has been writing with us since August 2014.
I did not write the coming out post. I intended to every June for the past six years. But I didn’t punch into prose the burdened walk up the white staircase on Rossman Street to find my friend and usher out those two hushed words. I didn’t publish it when I was twenty-four and it would have been a brave declaration. Or when I was twenty-six and it would have been a brooding analysis of what coming out really means. Or last month, when I was twenty-nine and it would have been a celebration of the queer friendships that have transformed my life. I cannot tour the sunlit paragraphs of that post like a house I used to inhabit and cannot run my eyes over the carved bannisters of words and cannot exhale to say, “Yes, this is how it felt.”
I wrote the post about my OCD. I, who used to lie in bed and tell the clock that no quantity of tocks could ever dislodge my secrets, bore my ticks and neuroses in line after careful line: a painstaking itinerary of confessions and compulsions. Before, I never understood people who labeled themselves as open books, but today I find glory (glory, hallelujah) in the close readership of friends.
I did not move to New York City. The heat is so heavy there in July. The whole city shimmers with hot dog stands and taxi tailpipes gushing smoke like hydrothermal vents, and I don’t slip into a pair of blue board shorts and take the N to the 2 to 72nd Street station. I don’t detour for a chocolate chip walnut cookie from Levain Bakery before laying out at the pier beside friends and listening through car horns and stampedes of people for the cool current of the Hudson humming beneath me. Nor do I grab a denim jacket on my way out the door to the drag show at Hardware. The modest elm in the North Woods of Central Park has never felt the press of my shoulder blades as I write a play based on a Frank O’Hara poem that I will keep hidden in a matchbox desk drawer in my shoebox apartment. I will never be a young artist living in New York.
I find it difficult to get too upset with the Fremont Bridge when it becomes vertical before me, prioritizing the white glissade of sailboats and churlish chug of tugboats over my punctuality. It’s a distinctly Seattle inconvenience, and for that, I am still charmed by it. At sunset I walk from my apartment to the Elliott Bay trail and watch ferries criss-cross the Sound while Rainier glows purple and majestic to the south. And all throughout the day, I sit on my couch and watch headlights hem the coast of West Seattle with filaments that iridesce like bioluminescence.
But best of all, I hop the fence to Garfield High School’s track every Thursday evening and circuit the red oval past a youth track team flickering over hurdles and soccer players tilling the AstroTurf with their cleats and my teammates orbiting along with me, wreathed in rings of sweat, making years of this evening. After we finish, we drift to a picnic table at the park and break pad thai together until the air becomes chill and blue.
I did not attend graduate school. I did not read The Charioteer with my spine against the ivy of buildings that have incubated great minds. I did not raise my hand to say that what Mary Renault meant is that it is wearying to try to know ourselves. My classmates did not invite me to grab pho after the midterm, and I never read enough James Baldwin to pass it anyway. The golden tassel did not dance against my left cheek.
I crinkle back the gold foil on an ice-cold Modelo in the wood-paneled, green-carpeted Travel Center where I spend my days laughing and researching Europe behind a counter. The maps and guidebooks have been pushed to the perimeter, and the space grows thick with Slavic accents and lustrous Italian locks. It is our annual Guide Summit in which our tour guides from across Europe and North America annually converge on a Washington January, gathering like votive candles in the dark nave of winter.
I chat with my coworkers, who I spend my days ruffling through guidebooks and equipping travelers and eating croissants and macarons alongside. Then I quiz a young Sicilian studying European history about his flag. And reminisce with a Swiss friend about the balmy night we shared sipping spritzes on St. Mark’s Square. And make the acquaintance of a Swedish mother and daughter who have overridden tradition and engineered their last names to be matrilineal. I look around the cloud of adventurers swirling in the room and try to wrap my head around the wonders they’ve witnessed between them.
How did I open my door to find the world on my doorstep?
I didn’t go on the date. I was twenty-three and barely out, and I decided I wasn’t ready. I also decided I wasn’t ready to let the possibility go. For weeks, I imagined us walking along the red brick roads of Eastown or popping open take-out containers at Collins Park with Reed’s Lake rippled like a picnic blanket before us. I harbored the conjectured bristle of his ruddy stubble against my cheek, and when I learned he had moved to be among the red bricks of Boston, an imaginary part of me mourned all the memories we did not make.
I push my fingers through his hair even though it’s thick with salt after the workout. I cut this hair amid the literal May flowers on his back patio while Carly Rae Jepsen named every strain of love and longing. Tonight I will pick rosemary from the bush across the street, and he will watch the focaccia rise and cool like magma forging a new island, and I will hold the weight of his head on my sternum, and he will roll his eyes at my puns. We will lie, content to let the rush of cars outside my open window erode us and the billowing wind sprinkle grains of us among the rosemary bushes.
I know I have talents, but I wish I had more skills. I run, I write, I sing—all things that the majority of those in my world can do to some extent. What a wonder it would be to pull off skills others can only imagine: to fly around the pommel horse or unspool a harmony on the harp or snap a perfect pas sissone en trenue during a ballet dress rehearsal! I picture what my body has not become—commanding arms, a booming chest, and hydraulic thighs—and feel a pang knowing there are occasions to which my body will never rise.
I feel the water and mud and horse shit fly off the bottoms of my feet and confetti my hamstrings and shoulder blades. A few flecks even anoint my head. The sunlight has escaped the trees, and I’m left to push my way through the pivoting trails and thick, mineral scent of soil with just the gossamer light of my head lamp.
My teammates and I are competing in the Bridle Trails relay, which annually converts miles of horse-riding trails into a dirty derby of footloose runners. By the end of my five-mile leg, night has nearly swallowed dusk, and my heart beats hot against the cold air breaking over my thinly veiled chest. I can hear distant cheers and charge down the final hill to hand off to Ryan with a final, emptying sprint.
When the clouds of my breath diminish, I look at my aerodynamic arms threaded with blue veins and indomitable thighs stuccoed with earth. Then I look around at the iron-willed, big-hearted people coruscating around me in reflective vests, and I marvel at the beauty of a body that allows me to do something so simple.
And here at the end of the chapter, I know myself a fraction more. I know that my imaginings will always gravitate down roads not taken. I will let them wander a while, peeling back the bark of people I’ve never met and echoing past the stalactites of histories I’ve never studied, but I will try to call out and summon them home before they get too far.
And here at the end of the chapter, I fear figs and forks a fraction less. The page is somehow lighter now that it’s covered in ink. I will turn it soon, and on the next one I will write:
Once I found a sapphire lake in Stockholm only after choosing between so many forks in the trail. Once I wore a lanyard that said “Gander” and discussed sex over s’mores with my campers. Once I ran to the yacht club and back in Indianapolis. Once I drove across Wyoming and did not die. Once I finished a marathon in front of the Arc de Triomphe. Once I slid like a penguin down a water slide beside my French host sister until I almost broke a rib. Once, twice I hiked through the Eastern Washington desert alongside old friends and plunged into an ancient lake. Once I witnessed my nana’s funeral and once my sister’s wedding. Once I slithered through Connecticut on a train to the Boston Marathon and envisioned myself a Pollock painting. Once, twice, a dozen times I cut across our country, tracing asphalt to open homes and open arms. Once I sat in an Atlanta barbershop and read gay erotica beside new friends. Once I sipped whisky alone beside a fire I built. Once I entered Seattle on the Alaskan Viaduct Way. Once I stood face to face with a goatsphynx and once spat saltwater out my car window and once caramelized a shallot while wearing a cerulean sweater. Once, twice, a hundred times I wrote records of it all, and now I will never be able to leave the way I came.
Instead, I will live and write onward.
But I will often retrace the roads and words I’ve taken and exhale, exultant.
Yes, this is how it felt.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.