Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I love you, but-

It starts, as all Northwesterly adventures should, with iron sky and glassy water.

The Saturday afternoon ferry is mostly empty. There are a few tired families sitting in booths looking out the window, children stretched across their parents' laps. A few older men with long white ponytails sit opposite one another, playing cards on the table between them. They both look like ship captains, one eye on the game, one eye on the water. 

As Lisa and I walk through the cabin, I see a young man and his girlfriend in the very last row of seats. She is half reclined, resting her cheek against his chest. He is reading out loud to her, absentmindedly rubbing a section of her hair between his fingers. His own curls fall long across his forehead, she has her eyes wide open, listening. I pull on the hem of Lisa's jacket and make a small motion in their direction.

"If you had told me," I say as she opens the door and we step onto the windy deck, "nine year ago, when I moved out here to Seattle- I was 17, right out of boarding school, so excited and so optimistic - if you had told me that after almost a decade in this state, I still wouldn't have that for myself?" I lean my weight against the railing, feeling the cold metal press into my stomach. "There's no way I would have believed you.

"I would have said- are you kidding me? In this his huge city? In all of the people I'm going to meet in school and through climbing and ultimate and swing dancing and everything I'm planning on doing? You're telling me I won't have someone- in nine year I won't have found anyone- who will read aloud to me on the ferry? That boy with the curls and the carhart vest and a green knit hat who adores me and escapes the city with me each weekend- I haven't found him? You're nuts."

We're looking out at the dark cabins built on the edge of the water, at the end of long wooden docks, small boats bobbing slowly beside them. I wonder about the people who live there. If they have children. If it's their second home or their third home or maybe their only home.

"I would have told you you were totally nuts." I say again.

 "What about this-" said Lisa. "What if someone told us when we were kids: listen, you're going to do everything right. You're going to work hard all through school, you're going to make good grades, join all the right groups, play sports, volunteer, debate, model citizens, you'll take the SATs and never get in trouble and be nice to people, and drive carefully and recycle and brush your teeth. And then you'll get into college, a good college, and you'll study hard and make the dean's list, win awards, work a part time job, and you'll be smart and witty and well read and good. You'll never dream of taking drugs and never break the law and then-" 

As she speaks, my heart becomes an angry butterfly.

"And then you'll graduate. And then? The economy will tank. And there will be no money, and very little jobs, and no opportunities. Somebody in some bank made some bad decision that will have halted everything and there will be too many people and there will be nothing waiting for you."

Something about the leaden sky, the mid-May weather feeling like November, is making us think harder than we should.

So I think about it. All the job applications scattered around the city- half of them garbage, things on Craigslist that turn out to be scams- half of them real positions that I am so, so perfectly suited for. I think about the empty inbox and phones not blinking with any messages from employers. I think about the health insurance still out there with no answer, about men who say "I love you, but-"

And this is what I tell Lisa: "If someone had told me that when I was a kid? I would have just asked, 'then what's the point?'"

That's why we are taking this trip together.  To figure out, well, what is the point? Not in a bitter way, despite how this may sound. Not in a caustic way or a self pitying way. We have open minds and many questions.
 Life has changed a lot from the life we were told we were going to have. When I was younger, how could I have understood the intricate relationship between job markets and house markets and the economy in Iceland and banks and loans? How could I have known how dazzlingly complicated things could be between men and women- even for those with the purest hearts?

When we arrive on Orcas island- a little crescent of land in the San Juan islands- the town is shut tight. We are the only ones walking the quiet streets. The restaurants are closed. Dinner is peanut butter cream Oreos on the cold beach.

And the evening's entertainment is studying driftwood. And walking around.

We both wanted some place to be by ourselves. To sort a few things out.  And I think we found it.

What if, when I first landed as a teenager onto the tarmac at SeaTac someone had given me a glimpse of my life as it is now. There will be endless exploration, and adventures of all sorts, over a thousand different landscapes. There will be much freedom and incredible happiness. But those things you thought you'd have by now, the things that you think make you a real person- a career, an income, a house, someone who is crazy about you. You don't have those things yet.

Would I say it was enough? Would I stand up and shoulder my backpack and hail a cab into the city and say- I love you! I love the exploration and the adventures and the wild coasts and mountains and friends and photographs. This is all that I want or need for the next ten years.

Or would I creep backwards towards the airport. I think I need something more, I might have said. I don't think we're heading in similar directions. It's not you- you're amazing- it's me. Would I say: I do love you, but-


Erin said...


Anonymous said...

But at least you have Goats!!!


Andrew said...

I was going to pretend to act enraged that this wasn't what we were promised, but instead i'm going to tell you this:

This is one of my favorite things I've ever read, ever. Period. Seriously.

Tracy said...

I read this post, as instructed, with a glass of red wine. I know it's hard, but you should remember that you have lots of people who love you! It will get better, for sure. And boys are dumb. Love you!

Bryan McLellan said...

When I read your post this afternoon at work, I was a bit over-extended and needed a walk. I went down to the pier for a large latte and sat with the smell of the ocean. I listened to 'Do What You Have To Do' by Sarah McLachlan on repeat on my headphones.

I chose this song to play at my fathers funeral right before I eulogized him. I'm listening to it now as well.

There are few reasons I chose the song; some more personal to the family than others. I closed the eulogy speaking of my fathers way of always doing what had to be done.

I can still picture him sitting at the dining room table; a decade after the house fire, a half a decade after the divorce; holding his whiskey glass. He slowly lamented life not turning out how he had expected, in between sips of his drink.

His tale was one of always moving forward in the direction that he was told was next: a career, marriage, a child. Yet there he was, alone in a home he hand-built to hold a family, out of work and unsure what would happen next.

Was it a product of growing up in this environment that I've been reluctant to make long-term plans and consider still success mostly an aside?

Earlier in the day my counselor and I discussed the semantics of long-term relationships. When the permanence that you search for feels not within your reach, does your pessimism compromise it? Hard to say on days like that.

Adriana Iris said...

melina your images always take me on a journey as well as your words...please never change... ty because we have never met face to face yet you have touched me.

Paige said...

I love your pics!!

Kate Austin-Avon said...

Melina! Your life is incredible from this vantage point.

I have the curly-haired boy - married, house, career. But I am missing this: Adventure. Meaningful exchanges with friends. Travel. A sport to call mine. Fitness. Did I say ADVENTURE!? I envy your adventures.

I think it must just not be fair to have it all. And the grass is always greener...

You must know you're a hell of a catch. The dude & the job that's going to be what you keep for a good long time will be worth waiting for. You deserve nothing less.

Heisenberg said...

This is a beautiful bit of work; it moved me. I have really grown tired of our generation's collective cry of "this is not fair" when we know, or we ought to know, that life is not fair. We should know that the harshness of the world does not mean that we should not have to cope with it.

What makes a life well lived? We're all seeking for our own truth with that one. Just remember that a career, health insurance, even a partner are no more a promise of your happiness than the ones the world made to you when you were young.

What you are seeking seeks you also and you will find one another. You may very well be asking yourself these same questions at the end of that path, though.