I love Duluth.
Traveling alone- I have it down to an art now. That night I go to Fitzger's brewery and work my way through a beer sampler, from the Oatmeal Stout to the Star Fire Pale Ale. The woman to my left is the brewer's wife and she talks my ears off, a pleasant escape from my own thoughts. Then she leaves and I'm alone again, banging my heals against the bar stool, taking in the surroundings.
"My god," says a girl from down the bar. She's busty with died black hair, about my age, and she's staring transfixed at my plate. "That looks amazing."
"Well, have it," I say, giving the plate a push so that is slides in front of her. She looks up at me, mouth agape.
"Are you serious?"
"I'm serious. Please don't make me finish that thing."
She extends her hand, introduces herself and her boyfriend, and then they pick up their forks and finish the whole thing. Everyone is very pleased.
Casey and Cat are from Milwaukee They are the only people I've ever met from Milwaukee in my life. I like them immediately, their honesty, their complete lack of pretention, the peculiar way they speak- heavy, solid. There's something very trustworthy about their accent, like a good dependable car. I feel safe around it.
An hour later I'm drinking another Star Fire and I've told them everything, the last year, the tremendous oscillations and how I can barely keep myself steady, how thoughts of Asheville are as insidious as they are nonsensical.
"Then you gotta do it, " Cat is saying, shaking her head. "You just really gotta follow your gut in times like these." And Casey and I are nodding knowingly, in total agreement, and it's all making a lot of sense.
I've made my first friends.
One night I pay five dollars and visit the rickety carnival which is set up on a patch of pavement. It's completely empty. The carnies holler and shout at me. They want their photos taken. They want me to talk to them, play their games. I wonder what on earth I'd do with a stuffed panda bear nearly as tall as myself. I grin, ignore them, ride the ferris wheel which goes around about two hundred times.
I leave Minnesota on a Friday night. Weird weather is circling the Southeast and all the flights in Minneapolis are delayed. We entertain ourselves at the bar. I finally make it home to Seattle, the plane circling lower and lower towards the glinting city. With my face pressed to the window I can recognize every neighborhood, ever body of water, every street. Relief floods through me like warm water.
To my knowledge, it will be the last time I fly into Seattle and call it home.