1 | They Don’t Write Songs About Portland
My eyes opened and you were gone. I tried to remember the last thing I said to you, but it’s just black. The sun dropped into the harbor, and then the golden moon rose above the buildings of midtown Manhattan. I remember your smile, in the distance, a glimmer of something, then your eyes grew wide, but mostly, blackness.
I shifted off of the couch. Somehow I ended up on the couch, and kicked the pillow with the sunburst on the floor in the middle of the night, I guess. The ten square feet encapsulated between the stark white walls of the living room felt as though I woke up in prison. Or handcuffs, I don’t know which.
The dirty dishes in the kitchen, a couple of plates and a couple of bowls and a few dirty cups and the like left in some sort of tomato-ish-Hamburger Helper sludge in the sink. The trails of a roach across the back sill.
I called your name. The words reverberated around the three rooms. I laughed, and hoped that would entice you. To call back, or hell, even to come jump on me and throw me back on the couch. When calling you happy didn’t work, I called you angry. And when that didn’t work, I lowered my voice into the most pitiful squeak and told the you that I thought was there and hiding that I love you. And still, nothing.
A light shone from the bathroom. Seemed to turn on by itself or maybe we just didn’t turn it off before I passed out. Or maybe you left it on as you gathered your things quietly, obviously trying not to wake me because then you would have had to explain. I went to turn it off but it suicidally turned itself off with a sharp whir. I flipped the switch on the wall, once, twice. A few times, but nothing. I tapped the bulb and it seemed fine, but rattled inside so I guess it was out. I tried to remember when we bought it, and I didn’t remember anything at all.
For the first few hours, I simply thought you went to get breakfast. Maybe coffee from your work, or scones from the bakery around the block. Maybe you would walk through the door at any minute with that venti triple cappuccino, or whatever order they train you to say it in. And then I realized, you must be working the early shift. You had to pre-empt the dawn walkers – the early caffeine hounds that are there the moment your mermaid logo turns green and your doors open. You had fill the bakery case and make the mocha swirl and fill the hoppers with pounds and pounds of Pike Place.
So I threw on my dirty jeans and that pulled sweater and grabbed my jacket and ran down the four flights, through the glass door and into the crisp Manhattan air and stopped. All was quiet on the busiest island in America.
The grey sidewalks rested with just enough light– clean and pristine. Like new concrete without the spots of gum and dogshit and cigarette butts, and the usual chatter of tires and delivery trucks and Mexicans gave way to pure silence. My Chucks hit the pavement and I felt the cold air dry my lips and I pulled my jacket tight and walked the half block to the Starbucks to find you.
Except when I got there, the store was dark. I pulled the front door and, it’s not that it was locked, it didn’t move. Where was everyone? I spun around and looked down towards Broadway and saw no one. I turned my head towards West End and, again, saw no one for a distance. I thought I was dreaming, but then I heard footsteps, and a voice, and a figure approached me. I thought it was you, I hoped it was you. Your hair pulled back and your jacket wrapped around you, and your scarf bunned around your neck, and as this you got nearer and nearer I felt so much relief from the morning because as much as we fight and as much as we swear and as much as we–
It was just a girl. The figure grew closer and bigger and I could define the face and I saw someone I didn’t know, without any distinct characteristics it seemed until I thought she doesn’t look like anyone and then I could see even clearer and she started to pass me and as I stared, she smiled and spoke into the mic of her wired ear piece. Just a girl on a phone.
A greenish white light broke the darkness and I spun around and saw the mermaid with the white cups and a bar full of white button down shirts and green aprons that I swear weren’t there before.
I pulled the door, half expecting it to still not budge but it opened with so much force that I slammed the door against the brick of the exterior and heads cocked towards me from inside.
“What can I get for you?” the blond behind the register asked. I didn’t know her voice or her face or any of it, but still I asked for you. “She’s not here today, I’m sorry. Can I get you something?”
And so I walked out, triple venti cappuccino in hand, of course. And a grande bold for you, because you never drink as much coffee as I do, even though I know you tried to explain to me that my triple venti cappuccino is only about 5 ounces of espresso and 15 ounces of warm milk. As I neared our apartment, I saw my first car of the morning, a box with wheels until I got closer and I saw it was an old Ford, one like my father used to drive when I was a kid, same burnt red color and everything.
I walked back up the four flights of concrete stairs and I pictured you at some point in the night moving out, without a word or a note or a sound or anything to tip me off and at all. Your trips up and down stairs, probably an armful of FreshDirect boxes or old Starbucks boxes you took from work stacked four or five high. I imagined you carrying them down past that stair that I once fell up– the one with the gum stuck to the bottom of the lip. Past the landing where I first kissed you. And past that other landing, of course, where I pushed you onto the stairs, and we– Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you just had to get out and so you just left with the clothes on your back and the torn memories in your head.
I slid the key into the door and pushed it open and hoped to find you standing there, naked, maybe in a towel fresh from the shower where you’d take a sip of the coffee and then kiss me with your thin lips. Instead, I found the apartment the way I left it. An empty living room. A disheveled couch. An empty kitchen. A bathroom with the light burned out.
I sat down and waited. As the hours passed and your coffee grew cold, I waited. I looked through drawers. Besides a few pairs of socks and panties– my favorite pair still bundled to the side– no receipts. No ticket stubs. No maps or printed emails or anything that might have told me– even hinted to me– that I wouldn’t see you when I woke up this morning. Wrapped up in bed. Or in the kitchen. Or in panties.
There’s only so many rooms I can search, but I searched them, and found nothing. Just a few sprawled pages of the Portland Journal.
The day went on. The noise from outside grew to a familiar hum with cherried accents of sirens and the wall shaker that the police trucks blare from Amsterdam Ave. I checked my phone but there was no service as usual. And so I lingered and anticipated your return, and with each passing second, I grew more sure that you were gone.
Your fascination of Portland, I don’t understand it. Your fascination with hippies and organics and complacency. It’s a culture of being satisfied with exerting only little effort. If anything, it’s the true opposite of why we were in New York to begin with. You told me that yourself. Still… as the day passed, I knew.
I pictured you in a yellow cab, passing by the Times Square Marriott on the way to Port Authority or Grand Central or Penn Station. I wonder, did you look up? Did you think about me? Do you remember the night we spent there? After a crap stone rub at a fancy all night massage place. A yellow cab up Broadway at 4am. Street cleaners with wide brooms sweeping away the night’s memories, millions of stained paper cups and Playbills.
You put your hand on my leg. We told the driver to stop, and ran into the Marriott. Took the elevator up to the 40th floor. Floor-to-ceiling windows with a God’s eye view to a team of workers waxing the shine onto an old worn out Square. That god-awful orange Simba glow from the thirty foot billboard glowed on your pale skin.
I thought about your cab on the bridge out to LaGuardia, or heading uptown to the Queensboro or the Triboro because it’s faster and you know that when cab drivers take you through Williamsburg, they’re just screwing you out of an extra ten bucks and twenty minutes. Or maybe you went through the Tunnel and headed out to Jersey. I thought of you swiping your credit card three or four times through that slot under the TV that never works. The first two, too fast, the third too slow like always. I pictured you on the plane. The seatbelt too high across your waist– wearing it like a fashion accessory. It’s a fucking seatbelt, for Christ’s sake.
You’d take the window seat, but you’d close the shade. Why you did that, you never told me. Every trip with you is a mystery. Part cerebral mystique, part literal discombobulation. And when the plane took off and you finally left the city we’ve loved and built a life around, you must have held your breath until you heard the wheels pull up into the undercarriage– somewhere between the shithole that is Co-Op City and that tight left they always take over the Hudson River and the GW. It was then that I normally would have held your hand.
As I grasped the realization that you were gone, I opened up my laptop and kicked through iTunes to Miles. Bye Bye Blackbird.
New York was gray today. Windy. You would have felt turbulence flying through the low clouds and on that tight left. And since I wasn’t there, maybe it made you so nervous, so terrified, that you threw up in that little paper bag in the seat in front of you. Maybe they didn’t have any trash cans. Maybe you got some on you. Maybe that was what you had to smell all the way to Portland.
I hit song after song, horn after horn, classic after classic. I tried to make you a playlist for your cross-country rendezvous. You know what I learned? They don’t write songs about Portland.