november stories, pt. 1

Let's just make this a thing.

This is a month where change happens, where the wind howls through the streets and rips the leaves from the trees, leaving them to dance and swirl endlessly, tracking themselves everywhere. It's not a gentle breeze, either. It's the relentless kind, the kind that saps the warmth from your bones. It's the kind of cold you can only really get in the death throes of autumn. This is a cold far more real than anything winter can throw at us. This is a month where everything is stripped bare and left raw and gasping for warmth.

I've written so many words about these pale blue skies, about distance and alienation. The skies are never right, especially in November. But it was a November, long ago, off a back road somewhere in Montana, I think, when I last trusted a sky. I stepped out of the car and stared at the stars, so bright and clear on this bitter November night, and I smiled. I could have stayed out there forever if my traveling companion hadn't woken up and ruined the moment with the dome light of the car. "What are you doing? Are you all right?" I let her drive after that.

I never thought I'd have a moment like that in the city, but the other night, between the buildings that make up Seattle's skyline, this beautiful pale moon was rising. I stood there in the middle of the street, with the leaves whipping round me, and suddenly felt like the sky was right. Someone shouted at me from a passing car and I smiled and waved and kept walking. It didn't matter. There would be warmth again. Things were going to change, finally, truly.



The day before I left for good--right before I actually told her I was leaving for good--she started asking me prying questions. Some of them felt like an interrogation, but mostly it felt like she was trying to get me to open up. (That's probably fair: I'd certainly closed off since I decided I was leaving, which I guess is why I hadn't told her yet.)

What stuck with me about the questions, though, was how her version of events seemed so different from how I remembered. She asked why I'd done something that I remembered her doing. (We had a particularly heated argument. We got drunk and she started kissing me, then abruptly stopped and said she just remembered what I'd said earlier, and she couldn't stand sleeping next to me. I slept on the couch in one of her t-shirts and prayed her roommates wouldn't notice. She asked me why I'd left to sleep on the couch that night.) I wondered which one of us was wrong. Or maybe we were both wrong. I felt certain I remembered things correctly, but I'd long since realized that certainty is usually the best sign that you're very, very wrong.

So I spent the evening lying and evading questions. I probably should have felt guilty about it, but I'd told so many lies since I came (starting with, I suppose, "it's good to see you again") that I hardly even noticed. It seemed easier and more natural than just telling her that I remembered things differently (and starting another argument, prompting a question like "why do you always pretend you don't remember the unacceptable things you've done?"). So I dodged questions for an evening, until it was too much. "I'm leaving tomorrow. I won't be coming back."

Neither of us said another word that night. She kissed me like she meant it then. Until morning we could both pretend things had been different.


ghost story for the day of the dead

You can never cross the same river twice.

One last ghost story, then--though I suppose all stories are ghost stories eventually. This one came after a summer spent at sea on a salvage vessel, so far north there were days where I thought I'd never see another sunset. But even endless days have to end sometime, and eventually the dark crept back into the world. We were trying to get as much done as we could before the winter made our work impossible.

This was the night of the equinox. I didn't have a calendar, but I could feel it in the air: this was the day that summer was finally in retreat. So I went above decks, and I watched the ocean, and my thoughts turned dark. How many men had died here, under this moon, on this ocean? How many had never received a proper burial, and were left adrift forever?

A truly ancient sailor's ghost joined me on the decks, then. I don't know how he got there, or how long he'd been standing there. I didn't dare speak, but I watched. At first I thought he didn't know I was there. Then he turned to me and looked at me with empty eyes and told me his story, which I sensed was no longer merely his story. It was the story of a man who had left everything behind for a life adrift, and who fled that life, terrified that he would be adrift forever. It was the story of a man running: running from stability, running from chaos, until ultimately running was all he knew.

He died at sea. He could just as easily have died in some quiet seaside town. What I think he wanted to impart most is that he did not die at peace. He seemed relieved, having told his story, but he did not go away. I sat with him, and we waited for the first dawn of the winter. Then I went below decks and slept like a stone. I'd never been so eager to return home.