Monday, February 8, 2010

This is who she is and how I know her

For Stephanie Jones Jordan

It began with me as a high school student about to move out to Seattle to go to college. I was 17. My teacher at my strange little school, Ammen Jordan, gave me the name of his friend who had just moved out there. You guys should be friends he said, and gave me a scrap of paper with her email on it. What followed were the years in Seattle, the steam from espresso and conversations fogging the windows of the coffee shop in 65th and Meridian. She was young, I was younger, we were figuring it all out. We were chasing jobs and classes the way some people chase runaway dogs around a city park, we were pressing our hands to our ears to block out the sound of rain. I guess you could say we stayed occupied. We saw each other from time to time.
Then there were years where she lived by the ocean with Ammen, still in Washington but a long ways away now. On college weekends I'd drive out and see her, in a borrowed car, alone or with the various boys who wove in and out of my life. We tramped through the woods in our rain jackets, picked mushrooms and cooked them, pushed through the tangled Northwest blackberry brambles down to hidden beaches on the Olympic Peninsula. She lived on an Indian Reservation; it was a wild place. The dogs that roamed the streets were known to eat other dogs. Her house was very quiet, the beach in Autumn was cold and hard.From time to time she'd come back into the city with Ammen. Ammen and I, back when I was his student and he my teacher, had been all over together- Mexico, New Zealand, Utah. When they'd visit, I'd ride the busses through town to find them- the 78 to the 44 to the restaurant in Ballard, trendy places where the drinks were rimmed with sugar and salt and served in funny glasses. I'd beg them to move to the city, but at the end of each weekend they'd drive away back to the Ocean with their tail lights glowing ruby in the endless drizzle.One day they asked me to paddle the Grand Canyon with them. The three of us flew to Vegas and drove through polygamous country in the back of a pickup truck. It was freezing rain outside, the roads were louge chutes and the river was a monster. When we arrived at the put-in and met up with the others on our trip, the river looked like it would kill us. And I suppose it almost did. That trip changed everything.

For the freezing month of February, we battled rapids one mile deep into the earth, drank whiskey in the evenings as we bandaged frostbitten fingers. Each day lilted past too beautiful, too exhausting to last. Our life spun on an axis which was the river, and our delicate existence upon it. The fear we felt each day as the holes opened up in the river would grow and grow until it reached a crescendo, but somehow the river didn't swallow us, and as evening grew we would melt into the precise rhythm of necessity and bliss of this strangest, most perfect, most arduous river life. Weeks went by. Shadows, rock, salt and bright angel shale flew past.Stephanie and Ammen were engaged, about to be married, and I was falling in love with Will- not an arabesquing free fall out of the sky in love, but a tripping and falling and hitting my head in love. And Steph picked me up and brushed me off over and over. She picked me up and brushed me off the night I got sick and threw up and the crows ate it. She did for me on a number of other strange occurances on that trip. And in between those times we washed our hair naked in the screaming cold Colorado. We chased sunshine paches on rocks like amphibians and held eachother into the raft as we plunged and shot through the enormous rapids.
When the river was done, I said goodbye to Will and we drove back to Vegas through polygamous county in the back of the same pick up truck. Ammen threw up in front of a Johnny Cash impersonator and then we flew back home to Seattle. Finally, finally, Steph and Ammen moved into a floating houseboat on Lake Union near downtown, and in the summer Steph and I would paddle through the lake on our stomachs on a blow up mattress she had found in the dumpster. Ammen and Steph got married and Will kept living in Boone, thousands of miles away from us.
And after that it was just normal life. We did every day things together, mostly sitting in their floating living room and eating food she cooked for us. Watching her cook I decided to go to nutrition school as she had. Friends came and went as easily as the breeze. Stephanie presented me with a birthday cake she made as I lay under the blankets on her couch fighting off a migraine.

Steph is the picture of health. She's rosy and red haired, as you can see. She's half smile and half shoulder muscles. She mountain bikes, kayaks, runs with wolves, you name it. She's just a hurricaine.

But the seasons blended from one to the other, and I decided to move on. I spent my last night in Seattle at the houseboat with just the two of them. We had lived there in Washington on and off for seven years.
And then what happened next.....happened. I'll write about it tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I know this woman!! I have known her before I knew anyone else. She was my first friend ever. I slept over at her house with my long blong hair and pink blanket with a hole in it. This woman has been my friend ever since. Never as close as I wanted because we both have a wild hair and live all over, except where we were raised. This woman ... has such a great spirit and such a wonderful heart. I am proud to know her!

gamadeolmp said...

I love that my silly grinning face made it on to this post. And I love your writing. And I love you for writing this.