I moved to an island.
I still feel like I live in Seattle, except now I don’t because I live on an island only accessible by ferry. Actually, I have to revise that because a cougar swam over last summer so clearly it’s also accessible by sheer force of will.
I live on Vashon Island, in a 1992 Airstream Classic, 36 feet long, 7 feet wide, with a ginger dog and a ginger cat who are, in turns, pleased and frustrated with their new situation.
Michael Chabon lived here. His book Summerland is based on Vashon, just so you know this is a real place and a location where writers should be living. At least that’s what I tell myself late at night when I begin to worry about how I ended up here and if this is where I belong.
The “belonging” thing is a lie sold to us by beer companies, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to buy it.
I have an explanation for moving that makes sense to me. It is much harder to explain to my dog and cat why they are living here, though. They’re not huge Chabon fans.
I moved from the busy city center of Seattle, where things seemed to be going well, until it became very clear that they weren’t and maybe they hadn’t been for some time. I saw a girl’s body be taken out of my apartment building after overdosing late one night. She had lived on the third floor. She was so young. At that point I was so manic and tired, trying to stay busy and distracted that I didn’t know I was so close to a small, probably pretty adorable breakdown. I didn’t know it until I saw a few strands of her hair slip out of the body bag. But almost immediately I decided to break my lease and run away to the woods, so that goes to show you what a few hard months coupled with looking sideways at death will do.
Two friends messaged me after I posted on Facebook that I wanted to break my lease to see if I wanted to rent out their Airstream. A little, buried part of me had just enough romance left that the idea of living in an aluminum tube jimmied between ferns and large pines felt nice.
Never mind the 2 hour commute to work.
Never mind that my friends, and now land mates, cautioned that I would need to put dryer sheets in my engine because the mice would wreak havoc on my engine.
Never mind that my best friend gently asked if I was doing this as a reaction to some emotional baggage I had been dragging around. If maybe, as an extrovert, I would find it very hard to be adjacent to the middle of nowhere, and maybe I just needed to compromise and find a place in north Seattle? Shut up, best friend, like you know me.
Absolutely never mind that my 2-wheel drive Volvo station wagon drifted sideways down a gravel embankment and gently perched itself on a railroad tie, where it demanded two tow trucks and three hours to be coaxed out. I sat on the ground and pet the tow mechanic’s 10-month-old golden retriever, Archie, and stared up at the blank blue sky, unperturbed.
I was going to live on an island. I was going to like being alone with this ragged grab bag of a heart that I had.
And then, one night after I had shoved 80% of my things in storage and the other 20% in the Airstream, I was.
I was alone. And the curtain dropped on the day and the eery quiet set in. There were stars and the soft yellow glow of the lights off Quartermaster Harbor. An owl hooted and I hoped my dog, dutifully chewing a tennis ball under a dripping oak, was just big enough to not get swooped. The hazy crackle of a dying fire was all that was left, and all of a sudden the chaos of what was inside of me sprang into the foreground - a skittering drum fill before a crashing bridge on a song you never liked in the first place.
Living in an Airstream is all very glamorized these days. There are #vanlife and #liveauthentic Instagram presences with very attractive people living in very attractive redone trailers parked on the edges of very attractive natural wonders.
I mean, my Airstream is redone beautifully. There are wires poking out of the ceiling because Mario needs to redo the electric after I move out so they’re just kind of sitting there. But there is a waterfall shower and hardwood floors and I bought a stag fern in a copper planter.
But mostly, it’s just me. I am here pumping out the gray and black water tanks. I am here in my bed streaming HBO from a hotspot and sometimes staring blankly at the curved ceiling, just being here (staring blankly and ignoring Last Week Tonight is about as close as you’re going to get me to meditation). I am here in the middle of a stylish Airstream alone, with enough hot water for about 5 minutes of a shower. I am here when the rain peppers the aluminum and sounds like tiny tap dancers. I am here and I have no choice but to be and it is not very pretty sometimes. I woke up every morning the first week wondering if I had made a colossal mistake.
I woke up the second week thinking I definitely hadn’t made a colossal mistake, and then started to cry a little bit every day. About where my life was going. About men who had hurt and disappointed me. About people I had hurt and disappointed. I realized my parents would die one day and I cried about that. I realized my dog would die one day and then cried about that and then felt worse that I cried about both my parents and my dog in the same week.
I picked my way through the heavy woods behind the property, realizing that I probably wasn’t very cool and never was very cool and it’d be best if I stopped trying to fool anyone by having erudite opinions about 90s twee.
Maybe this was a mistake. I hadn’t gotten any writing done. I felt farther away from the people who love me than I ever had. Maybe my awful best friend was right and I should have found a studio in Ballard.
But I was here, and a small part of me really wanted to stay.
Even if it meant getting to know myself - something I have been only medium good at my entire life. I’ve done therapy and I’ve surrounded myself with people who love me. I try very hard to treat my clinical depression. I do “the work”, without really knowing what that means. But through it all, since I was a very little girl, I’ve never felt at home anywhere. I’ve never felt at home with anyone, really. So I’ve kept moving and leaving and fearing that I’ll never fit in, which means many points in my life have been defined by my willingness to abandon whatever sense of self I have accumulated in order to please those who I thought knew better.
I’ve always assumed everyone else knows better, for reasons my therapist is probably keeping from me to keep collecting checks.
So when I woke up early one morning towards the end of the second week and something felt different, it took me a minute.
I woke up with the memory of a man who had been unkind to me, who had treated me with the same gentle consideration you’d give, oh I don’t know, a plastic spork, and I bristled. I stood up and started to go make coffee, and I felt my fists clench. My head was hot like it was stuffed with bees. I felt as though I was being pulled out of a dream and didn’t know where I was.
Oh my god. I knew where I was. I was mad. I felt it, deep inside of my belly, giving me an emotional shape I hadn’t had in months, maybe years. I felt something wake up.
Oh my god I have boundaries.
Maybe this wasn’t a colossal mistake. Maybe. I’d know for sure soon, once all the other feelings started waking up alongside each other under the bow of the trees. And no matter how much I wanted to make some calls to ask permission to feel all of this stuff, I couldn’t. It was happening anyway, and I had a feeling I was going to hate it.
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