My friend sends me photos similar to this from the Spokane Public Library. It has a killer view and is a warm or cool (depending on the season of course) place where someone can go to get out of the elements when they don’t have anywhere to go. The library is mostly populated by those that are seeking some sort of refuge from the outdoors and not so much patrons of paper bound books anymore. It’s a beautiful building with the best view of the falls. He likes to go there to write.
Most people say things like, “Wow, Spokane is so pretty.” Or, “Hmm is that near Seattle?” And then sometimes I get asked if the the Capital is in Washington and I have to clarify that I’m speaking of the Northwest and not D.C. Either way, it is very pretty and it is about 5 hours from Seattle on the Eastern side of the state, closer to Idaho. We grew up there.
Well, I grew up in a version of Spokane that is different from my peers in some ways. Our memories and perspective on the town/city can be varied in great and small amounts. I mostly hate it with a compassionate and empathetic sort of deep disdain so it’s very confusing. Spokane scares me. I visited it recently to see a friend and to treat Spokane as if it were one of them, one of my old friends that I had lost touch with but had good and bad stories with and maybe it would be nice to reconnect. To see if anything was there still after all this time. You see, I moved away 16 years ago. I’ve been back but it’s normally a touch and go. Most of the time I hang in the basement of my Dad’s house in the Valley by the fireplace, because it’s Christmas when I visit and I drink mini bottles of wine that I hide in my purse, and eat Zip’s burgers, and then drink small cartons of wine I hide in my suitcase. My presence is absent.
This time I’m honestly clean and sober for the first time since I was thirteen and I decide that maybe it would be good to feel something other than resentment for a place that cradled me and shaped me. A place that so many of my favorite people are from. Where we shared street names and complaints about pot holes, and rode bikes and learned how to drive a stick shift, and smoked our first cigarette and kissed our first boy, or girl, and danced and sang and cried and it was our home, and I wanted to find out if I could feel home there.
I also went to see about a Man. Jessie. He was one of my first boyfriends, like a real boyfriend and not the kind in grade school where you tell people you’re going out and might hold hands on field trips or in the back of the class when the lights are off. We were intimate and interested in each other’s thoughts. He was a tough kid like me, and we were trouble and I was a runaway, and he was in and out of institutions and we connected on that, and I cared about him very much.
Not all of us made it out. As is life I guess. I’ve always wondered if my class or the immediate classes before and behind me were exceptional in the amount of lives lost to drugs and alcohol and crime. If we were special in that. If Spokane was at fault for that. Or was it, as my Mom suggested, just the kinds of kids that I hung out with? That hurts, when she says that because it makes me feel like it’s somehow my fault. Like everything was somehow always my fault. If I would have hung with kids that didn’t have mental and emotional issues and substance abuse problems, that didn’t come from poverty or a single parent houses, that didn’t play sports but preferred to kick it in the smoking section and listen to Too $hort and Brotha Lynch and drink Mad Dog 20/20, that maybe more would have survived. That maybe I could have survived it unscathed, unharmed with joy and peace in my heart for my hometown.
When I was twenty-five years old I seriously started my venture into sobriety. “Seriously,” is more like it but I did stop drinking alcohol for a full year then and I entertained the idea that I might not be able to manage my own life. I spoke to Jessie on the phone then. I was living in Arizona and had gone back to college and was doing good. I had removed the alcohol but not a lot of the issues, but at least I wasn’t losing my wallet or my underwear and dignity all of the time so I was feeling together. We spoke about sobriety. He was on that path as well and we talked of love for the kids we were. In that place.
The next time I heard news of Jessie was on the actual news, and he was sitting on a curb in front of a police officer and he looked dazed and done for. The story was that he had been high on spice and hit a woman with the SUV he was driving while she was walking her five year old grandson. The boy lived but she didn’t. He had done what I know we all fear but refuse to acknowledge while using. A common conversation us sober people now have. That it could have been us that murdered someone with our car high or drunk. That could have been me so many times, but he had actually done it. And then just like that Jessie was another statistic to me in my mind where I keep a chalkboard of slashes of each one of my childhood buddies that loses the battle.
I went to Spokane recently to see him. He served three years in prison mostly in solitary confinement by choice. I can’t imagine the guilt and shame. I had to see him and I had to know that if he could come to peace with our hometown and his past behaviors, could I? I can’t say that I have and maybe it’s something that will just take time. Walking the streets solo one morning to get a cup of coffee I decided to take a trip over the pedestrian bridge to say hello to the rushing river. As I passed over the bridge to the other side I noticed that it was all barricaded because of construction in the park, and I got trapped in as a man was coming across the bridge who mind you could have been completely harmless, but I panicked, and suddenly realized how desolate and lonely that city feels to me and how much trauma I carry to the point where I can actually feel the impact of the city against my body, as if in a collision with it. So I ran. Coffee in hand as fast as I could out of the enclosed wooded portion of the park and past the man on the bridge.
Jessie just celebrated four years of living without drugs and alcohol. He sends me photos of the falls from the public library waiting for another shot at living once he is released from probation and from government punishment. The woman’s family has long forgiven him. He will leave Spokane the moment he is able, and I hope for his sake and mine that someday we can both go home again.