One year ago this Tuesday, I drove into Seattle to make it home for the first time. Obsidian mist curled around my windshield and beaded up on the silver grill of my car, and Rostam’s “Gwan” enveloped me as I swooped over the floating bridge and traced the city’s neon coastline on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The whole city curved and vibrated like an electric guitar.
Do you ever get the sense
You’re watching someone else?
Your face against the glass
Across 11th Ave
Some people say they know
They never really know
They all wait for something
That never comes to them
The city felt empty and dripped with light, and I felt fear and hope teeming like bacteria inside me.
This February, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be disassembled. Trucks and cranes will shake loose the concrete foundations before an earthquake has the pleasure, and I’m beginning to realize that I will never be able to leave Seattle the way I came.
* * *
This past winter break, I stayed in the room which was mine throughout childhood and then my sister’s and has finally settled awkwardly in between. The boards my dad drilled into the walls to tether my sister’s hammock sit alongside the tangerine accent wall he painted for me in sixth grade. The desk holds eighth grade photos of my friends, the glossy pages of my sister’s yearbooks which hide behind colorful spines, forgotten anemones of blue yarn, and pencils that have laid undisturbed as long as interred bodies.
I can still recall the first time I walked into that room at five years old–its big echoing belly and gaping closet with buckled wooden doors. I ushered in my collection of emptied Squeezit bottles–plastic juice bottles from the 90’s stamped with slapstick faces and filled with dyed high fructose corn syrup–and harbored them behind my door. Beginning to fill my space.
I have never fully moved in anywhere since that room. Even now, after nearly a year in Seattle, parts of my life sit patient and quiet in bags and boxes, still packed from last January, yet to make their home here.
* * *
On Thursday, I shook Bruce’s gloved hand in the parking lot of the Hyundai of Seattle. I wondered if all tow truck drivers were named Bruce. His shiny scalp glowed through a thin haze of hair, and I led him to my car. The car that had carried my life to Seattle and for which that journey had been its last. The car in which I once spilled a bowl of Cheerios and chocolate soy milk all over the passenger’s seat so that flecks of chocolate could be found along the stitching of the leather upholstery for years afterwards, in which a tiny towel struggled to contain Greg’s shivering shoulders after we had run a hill workout through hail so that the interior smelled sharply of sweat and rainwater for days, in which I drove to the Gay Games in Cleveland that cracked opened my world, in which Max and Emily and I sang Lorde’s Pure Heroine start to finish with our backpacks lumped in the trunk before hiking the Pictured Rocks.
The car had died in June, but I had abandoned it at the dealer’s lot for over six months while I traveled and stressed over how to dispose of it and eventually became too embarrassed to show my face at the dealership. But here I was now, facing it.
One of the car’s front tires had flattened so that it seemed to kneel on one of its silver rims. The driver’s door handle was still snapped off and the driver’s seat had begun to mold. The driver’s heart was aching.
Bruce flipped up the floor mat where my feet had idled for so many hours across Nebraska and frickin’ Wyoming and laid it over the moldering seat. He attempted to drive the car to his truck, but the back brakes had rusted so that the tires scraped and dragged behind him, refusing to roll. Bruce struck them both with a sledgehammer until they spun and hooked the car up backwards so that I could look right through the windshield to where Mike and I had once sat and talked about God before the car was pulled left onto Aurora and swallowed forever into the lights and sounds of the city. Someday soon it will be reduced again to parts and be at rest.
And I will never be able to leave the way I came.
* * *
As of this month, I have now had a titanium rod piped down my tibia and screwed into place for nine years. I can go days without thinking about it, and I realize that aside from my fragile membrane of skin, most of me exists always and entirely in darkness.
* * *
In my parents’ basement is a filing cabinet filled with each shred of paper I received or printed from seventh grade science notes to my college thesis. It is my Library of Congress. This past Christmas break, I cracked open the top drawer and began excavating binders and folders and notebooks that had settled like sedimentary rock to form the strata of my past.
I chiseled out pieces of my freshman year of high school. Algebra notes embellished with doodles. A dozen notes from Arielle folded into ornate shapes, fossils of a forgotten correspondence. Responses to homework prompts so saccharine and pious they stung. American History notes I still think I should revisit someday.
Why do I always pity my past selves, and why can I not throw any of it away?
* * *
As I ran along Lake Union tonight, I pondered how much of the world goes unsupervised–the eddied garbage at the bottom of the lake and the unchecked insects slinking through the soil beneath my feet, the bits of yarn and pencils left in childhood desks and the demersal fears and longings of each person I pass. So much has laid fallow, been furloughed, gone forgotten. The world has gotten too big to tend.
And even though the letters from friends and candy wrappers can loiter on my desk for months, I am haunted by that unseen space underneath the refrigerator where filth can thicken for decades until the run capacitor dies or the owner does and the appliance is heaved away from the wall for the floor to be sanitized before the next occupant arrives.
But as I run, I can feel my heart dutifully ushering forth my blood. And elsewhere a boy in a warm apartment stirs a big blue pot of lentil soup for our dinner. I’m reminded of how many places there are were things are stirring and that maybe that’s all life is–just stirring and settling, each with its own places and times.
* * *
Now I sit in an armchair overlooking Lake Union, where the Seattle cityscape seems to rock slightly on a flotilla of white sailboats. The city always jitters and blinks in the early hours of the morning in ways that it doesn’t once the sun has risen, and I can see the park where I meet friends to run on Sunday mornings and the illuminated cathedral on the hill where I occasionally attend a Sunday service and the decommissioned ferry where I first learned that Chad can dance.
I see the vacant apartments waiting to be filled and the 2001 Honda Civic that I plan to buy from a co-worker on Monday and the dexterous cranes that I have never seen move and yet are always building.
The apartment is filled with tissue paper breaths and the murmur of flannel sheets as I wait for the city to turn pink.
And I know that I will never be able to leave the way I came.
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.