she checks in–dips into the poison–so she knows the sea she sails
she will not–cannot—stay in that poison for long
her body will not let her
her heart races; she revvs like a mf
then the rage guns it and pins her against the seat
she started rationing news when she was trapped in the other world
she had no power, no position, no voice
she ingested daily passive aggressive hate for the outsider
for the californian
for that damn smile, for the fucking energy, that grating optimism
she learned to disconnect from what was killing her there, what is killing everyone
she learned how to be an island activist
she watches now as the addiction of the daily drama ravages users
how the wreck spreads
how it takes us all down if we let it
looking at wrecks has never interested her
she’s never seen any point
the wreck has already hurt or killed someone
she refuses to let the wreck spread to her
flat. fucking. refuses.
She’s always been a criminal. The rules never really applied to her. If she could think her way around something, she could justifiably ignore the rule. She wears this conditioned confidence like an invisible sweater, something people feel but can’t really see or understand. It does not endear her to others.
She lives to trespass. That breathless feeling of dropping from the top of the ferris wheel every time she slides under a fence keeps her hooked. That jolt of discovery, of finding a hidden spot. Of finding a presence in what’s been left behind. The wonder of the new, of the never seen, of what seems meant just for her.
She hunts for art. For voces. For underground meaning.
She finds the warehouse by accident. On a cold, wet hike along the Point Richmond waterfront. Middle of a Monday. Grey skies. She walks quickly, no running. Head up, shoulders back, direct eye contact toward the goal. She walks like she owns the place. Her breathing picks up, but she stays calm. Her heart bangs like a triphammer. Clear NO TRESPASSING signs everywhere.
She takes a controlled, casual look around. No law enforcement. No one else here. About a 100 more feet to go before she’s in the building free and clear. A sound from her left. She lets her eyes move to see, but doesn’t move her head. Nothing.
She’s in. Her eyes adjust to the low light. And what she sees changes her life.
A cabin, above a river; dusk. A small light flickers, like a hesitant child.
Screeching hawks coast above a fog-shrouded Russian river whose banks are dripping with lush green growth. The sun’s going down on this Christmas eve day. The sky’s saturated with intermingling tones of deep reds, purples, oranges, and yellows. The colors splash the bellies of speckled clouds. Shadows erase structure. It’s near time for the walk up the mountain.
324 square feet. One year. No reading. No words. No talking. No one else.
A deep black resolves from colors into a sky close enough to touch and artfully splashed with sharp sparkles of hard white light. Blues and reds and oranges and purples drip and wink from trees and balconies. A striped orange and white cat joins the walk, doing graceful figure eights through less graceful slowly walking legs.
Being, walking, hiking. Learning self-care, how to cook; leaning into the rhythm of the day. Dancing and raging and grieving with deeply interconnected intimate rhythms.
A enormous, glorious oak lives at the top of Fitch mountain. Her lower branches extend from her trunk and gracefully lay on the ground around her. Visitors have fashioned seats from other trees’ trunks and they encircle the glorious oak. On Christmas eve, the seats are filled with silent visitors who gather to remember what matters.
The small light in the cabin confidently winks out, and the river reflects.
Cold hard white LED sun. Trucks roar by, aggressively broadcasting their drivers’ pain and anger. Smoke from the wildfire that got close enough for an evac warning permeates everything. Gunfire punctuates the afternoon. A sea of white people overwhelm people of color, who avoid eye contact. Other animals are terrified of human animals here.
This is where they push the leftover people, the people without money or property, the mentally ill, the addicted. From the top of the county to the bottom, the leftover people are scraped, like table scraps from a picked over dinner plate. Into the disposal that is Cave Junction. Literally no help exists for them and they know that. It’s the way the county likes it.
Nick, Jack’s brother, knocks softly then opens the door to the garage. I stand behind him. I can’t take in all the detail. It hits me in the face, the hard cold dark concrete reality. Buckets full of urine, foamy on top, line the walls. Garbage everywhere. Partially eaten food. Feces.
Jack stands up, emerging from behind a big open umbrella lying on the concrete, which creates a little private spot where it appears he spends most of his time. He is wearing badly ripped fishnet stockings and high heeled flip flops. A filthy short denim skirt hangs under a tee-shirt almost as long. In this hypermasculinist place. He is skin and bones, a walking skeleton.
During our short conversation, he keeps his head tilted down while his seemingly clean, long curly hair covers his face. He twitches, jerks, peeks through the curls a couple of times—eyes quickly darting up at me, then back at the floor. He seems present, but he is in hideous circumstances. He is my neighbor. Turning away is impossible.
a warm wax alligator in her hands
his hands, holding her, feet dangling over spilled popcorn
she called him grandpa
a tongue, cracked and white-coated
an invitation for her to see, to touch
an enormous face far too close to her small one
she called him bumpa
her father, in a closet
7 days, bread and water
a pre-punishment, for later wrongdoings
she once called him dad
gone. gone. gone.
Dead tired. Muscles sore. Contacts dry. Creativity drained. Out of ideas.
Eating corn on the cob off the round glass microwave plate for dinner, she looks around at the little house full of boxes. So much work to do. The tree work in the back. The fencing. The unpacking. The organizing. The tunnel write.
Still, she can’t stop smiling. She and Sparkles are finally (almost) home.
She hasn’t been home since she left everyone and everything she knew behind on October 22nd 2016. That was the day her choices ceased to matter. That was the day she no longer had an identity. That was the day she fell into a portal (could’ve been a tunnel—different metaphor, but it could work) and found herself in another world. Then, two weeks later on November 6th 2016, the world tilted on its axis.
On June 6th 2018, she taught her last class, the movers arrived later that day, and escrow closed on her property. She escaped on June 7. Three months, three weeks, and seven vacation rentals later, Sparkles and she are home for now.
And they have some stories to tell.