Yesterday I sat in my sister’s garage and drank beer and talked about how just a week and half ago we’d thought we lived in a different country than the one we actually live in.
“I used to complain about people moving here, but now I’m like: Move Here! We want you! We’ll keep you safe!” My sister spread her arms open, her eyes wide. I nodded. And I felt so sad.
When I was in the eighth grade some old family friends came to see us at our home in Corbett. They’d moved to Montana several years before and were back in Oregon for a visit. My older sisters took the girls back to our room to talk while the adults caught up in the living room. They’d never seen our kind of clothes, clothes we bought at the mall. I remember how they laughed at us; they thought our stretch pants and high tops were ridiculous. “Those are like long johns!” they squealed.
I left the older girls in the bedroom and went out to the living room. The mother was ranting about all the rich folks moving into Montana, how the locals hated Ted Turner and his liberal pacifist wife Jane Fonda.
For years later my father would tell the story of how this friend had said that Bill Clinton wasn’t “her president” and that if he came to Montana and had a meal in her local cafe she wouldn’t show him any respect.
My father was shocked and amused. “I mean, he IS your president,” he said.
She shook her head and crossed her arms across her chest. “No, he’s not. He’s not my president.”
I remember thinking that even though this family had at one point been close to ours, that somehow, shaped by the forces of geography and time, they’d morphed, had grown hard and angry, crusted over and bitter. I was boggled – it struck me that they lived in another world where people denied the presidency and had no awareness of mainstream fashion trends.
I have to admit though that I also thought it was funny and quaint. And I felt sorry for them – they lived in a rural backwater, undisturbed by pop culture and diversity. Over the years as we periodically reminisced about this encounter, my attitude and the attitude of my parents was that it didn’t matter what we thought of the family because they were culturally irrelevant.
I am sick with worry.
I have hives and overwhelming anxiety. Over the past week I’ve lashed out at friends and allies. I start writing a sentence and then think of the KKK and internment camps and mass deportation and then don’t know what I am writing or saying.
I wonder what will happen when my stockpile of medication is depleted. I think back on the decision to get my adrenal glands removed in 2010 and I wonder if it was the right decision. Would have I done it if I had known that Trump was going to be president six years later? Did I anticipate how I would feel knowing that if I am denied my medication for more than 24 hours I will go into a coma and then likely die on day three, when faced with a fascist president? Of course not.
I had made the decision to become a cyborg, completely dependent on a medication made in a factory from synthetic materials, controlled by pharmaceutical companies, when Obamacare was nonexistent, when I knew I had no other choice. It was either get my adrenals out or die. Someone told me that I shouldn’t worry about making the right choice because in the end I will always make the only choice I can make. It seems cold comfort now, now that we are all worrying about the hard choices ahead. Now that it seems like these choices will be life and death.
When I got on the Oregon Health Plan I could breathe finally.
Today I’m having trouble breathing again.
It’s been cold and rainy, the sky starts to gloom at three pm. I wake up in the McMansion in Happy Valley where I housesit. Here, every night since the election, I wake at three am. Out in the darkness a family of coyotes wail.
I come home to two deer in the front lawn. They look at me with wary eyes and move quickly away.
When I finally pack up and go home and sleep well, I wake up to the same reality. It’s still weird. My brain has been filled with magical thinking and irrational hope that when I make it back to my own bed that things will somehow right themselves.
But everything goes on normally. And it’s not normal. We’ve woken up in a dystopian nightmare that gets worse every day. How could this have happened? What is the emoji for barfing face melting heart breaking worry and pain?
When I was 17 I traveled to Kansas with my sister and grandmother to visit her extended family. I was shocked by the small town where my grandma grew up. There were no new buildings. Most of them looked like they had been built in the thirties by the PWA. Half of them were crumbling. An abandoned farmhouse decayed in a field of millet. There was a new Walmart in the next town over. People complained that it was putting all the small grocery stores and restaurants out of business. Everyone commented on my toe ring and how weird it was. All the cousins I met told me I looked old. I couldn't understand why. The fanciest restaurant in town served meals on paper plates. My sister and I rode four wheelers around on our elderly cousin’s farm, cascades of grasshoppers moving through the air, bounding in the tall grass. The cousins were near retirement and didn’t know who would take up the farm as their only daughter died in her twenties. We stayed in the basement in the dead daughter’s room and I made a list of things I wanted to do before I died while I listened to the Counting Crows and Fiona Apple on my Walkman. At the fried chicken place with the punched tin ceiling and the pinball machine I heard my cousin tell another man that he was thinking about “getting some Mexicans” to help him out with the harvest. “Bob just got a group of Mexicans, you should call him,” the man replied. I saw my first real lightning storm and my first lightning bugs. I noticed the ditch weed growing along the road. I asked one of my cousins if anyone in town smoked pot.
“Only the faggots,” he said.
And later I would tell this story and laugh. Horrified at the smallness. Sad that none of my cousins had seen the ocean.
It was I who was small. Who had never seen them. And still don’t.
A week and a half ago Portlanders were arguing about vintage bungalows being torn down, the character of our neighborhoods. How our favorite bar was being turned into condos. I was wrapped up in the grief of our city’s irrevocable growthing, turning and sliming and the manifesting of grotesquery and mutations, malformations, the triumph of new money, the erasure of the past, the churning of brick and steel, of old growth floorboards and sidewalks for the rich only, of the degradation of our local parks and watering holes, of Airbnb. This all seems like nonsense now in the face of our current horror show. Now our police violence, our constant harassment of the homeless, our tolerance of poverty and our racism and our bigotry and our worship of corporate power, and Vanport and Celilo and all the rest, it's all a monstrous hen. It’s a hen we didn’t think was our hen.
Was it our seed, did we sow it? Is it our bed and do we really have to sleep in it?
It wasn’t us, we told ourselves. It was the past we wanted to erase.
People talk of seceding from the United States, taking Washington and California with us. The truth is that the red has been bleeding blue for decades. People came here because it sucked so bad elsewhere. In my selfishness I wanted Portland to myself. I didn’t want it to change. For the past three years I have been writing about our housing crisis, how the city is being ruined by newcomers.
I want to apologize. I was wrong. I didn’t know any better.
Portland may happen to be the city where I grew up, but it’s also an idea, just like the whole West Coast is an idea. And it’s a beautiful idea. Portland has already saved lives. I was just too blind to see it.