Seattle Part 5: the Dream

September, 2014

I waited until I had a job before moving to Seattle, but once I arrived, they had me wait a few weeks before I could start. My social work license had to transfer, and my background check had to clear. So I ended up with a few weeks to play tourist.

I had first come to Seattle when I was 15, back when my mom was married to Kent, the man who used words and fists to prove his points. (They had divorced when I was 17). The trip had been a whirlwind, lots of time spent with Kent’s family, very little time in Seattle, and then a trip up north, to British Columbia and Vancouver Island. And I had also come to Seattle a few times as an adult, when I was married, and once after coming out. I had a good sense of the city’s most tourist-y spaces, the Space Needle and Pike Market, a few of the gay clubs. But overall, it was brand new to me.

The idea of Seattle was so romantic to me when I first arrived. The way the streets laid out into different neighborhoods. The idea of an entire city with its own history and its own people, one that didn’t revolve around Mormonism. The rich and vibrant gay community. The tech industry. The theaters, the markets, the coffee shops, the restaurants. The delicious cool ocean climate. The rain. The lakes. The nightlife.

I spent a few days exploring different parts of the city, wandering the streets, always with a book in hand. I found quirky street art, wandered through book stores, and drank delicious coffee. I wandered through the university campuses, took a few city tours, and learned as much history as I could. I got a library card, perhaps my prize possession in any city, and felt more legitimate. I was a resident. I had moved here. I’d done something just for me.

My first Saturday in the city, I took the bus down to Pike Market with the plan of spending the entire day. I got there early and watched the shopkeepers arrive with their various wares: carved walking sticks, hand-drawn cityscapes, feather jewelry, fresh-squeezed lime juice, home-grown mushrooms, huge bouquets of flowers. As I listened to conversations, I began to realize the organics of this place. Store front spaces were highly competitive, and very expensive. Rent for a space had to be paid in advance, and was expected in full regardless of sales. Some store fronts were permanent, and others changed hands every few days. The stations that were farthest out were basically just a section of concrete wall, not even a chair or an electrical outlet included, and the peddlers just set up station. Parking was supremely expensive, so most people were just dropped off for the day, and they were expected to be there for the entire day, from early morning until late afternoon. The early morning was a mess of delivery trucks and patrons unloading their supplies and setting up shop.

As the market opened, it was quiet. Everyone clutched cups of coffee and wore jackets. I casually strolled through the place, looking at ornate African cloths, jars of exotic spices and small shelves of kitschy figurines. I was tempted and assaulted by every aroma: freshly fried doughnuts, grilled onions, lines of frozen fish, juicy peaches, burnt sugar, homemade bread, barbecued ribs. And there was a sea of diverse humanity working there, people of every color, age, height, nationality, and style. I watched and listened, losing myself in it all, forgetting it all.

By late morning, the tourists arrived, and as mid-afternoon approached, even more. The empty hallways and passages swarmed with people. Street musicians played violins and guitars and saxophones, entertaining and hoping for tips. The crowd became so dense that I couldn’t move through it without careful navigation, bypassing backpacks, strollers, and families as I worked my way from one end of the market and back, wanting to see how fast I could do it.

Finally, tired and needing sustenance, I bought some delicious items from a few vendors, then made my way to the entrance of Pike, where I sat on a bench and faced the ocean. No one knew me here. No one asked any questions. No one cared that I was gay, or where I was from. No one knew anything about Mormons, or my failed marriage, or those years I spent hiding in my own skin. I could breathe here. I could get lost, and I could breathe.

As I walked away, blocks from Pike Market, I passed through Belltown. And I sat on another bench, seeing a ‘for sale’ sign, advertising a high-rise condo inside. It was a large beautiful building full of condos. Men in suits and women in professional dress walked around me. The building overlooked the ocean. And for just a moment, I let myself dream.

Maybe I would meet an architect, or an engineer, or a lawyer. Maybe I would fall madly in love with someone handsome and kind, and we would spend evenings sipping wine, weekends going on hikes. Maybe he would cook for me and I would write him poems and we would fall in love, suddenly and slowly. Maybe we would buy this little condo in Belltown, where we could have friends over, where we could walk along the ocean front and talk while holding hands. Maybe on Saturday mornings, I would walk down to Pike Market and buy fresh vegetables and flowers, and I would come back to the condo and put things away. Maybe my future was here. Maybe my sons would come down on holiday breaks, or for full summers, and I would show them this miraculous city, and they would both feel loved and important and also know that I was happy. Maybe I would open a little corner office where I would see clients a few days a week and I would write the rest of the time. Maybe I would end up feeling like this was my path all along, and I wouldn’t grieve my past anymore. Maybe this was how it was always meant to be, with Mormonism, and self-shame, far far away.

Maybe this would be my new life. Maybe this was my future.┬áMaybe… maybe I could be happy here. Maybe I had possibility.

“What a Sticky Mess.”

gumwall.jpg

“I don’t know what to do, okay!”
The voice shrieked over the noise and bustle of Pike Place Market, a woman’s voice and it sounded like she was in distress. I navigated my way through the busy crowd and down a flight of stairs, past a couple of strollers. A woman dropped her freshly purchased flowers and the bag of water they were in broke, cascading all over the floor as she swore.
A man shouted back. “Well, that’s just perfect! That’s just fucking perfect! Isn’t that just perfect!”
I looked over a ledge and down into the section of the market the breaks into the alleyway with the famous gum wall, a wall of brick that is covered in chewed pieces of gum, varying colors floor to ceiling in a polka dot design that is both beautiful and makes you want to retch all at once. I still couldn’t see them, but I heard her yell back.
“I did my best, okay! What do you want me to do! What, you gonna hurt me now!” Her questions didn’t sound like questions, but like yells.
I couldn’t hear them as I worked my way around a group of people and down a flight of stairs. When I made my way into gum alley, I finally found them in a corner near the base of the stairwell. The girl was sitting down in a heap on the ground, knees up, the skirt she was wearing bunched up around her thighs, leaving little to the imagination if you were at just the right angle. She had a frayed sweater on top, light makeup (when she uncovered her face with her hands long enough for me to see), and her hair was in dreadlocks and a red bandana. A very muscular man stood over her with strong calves, red shorts and a tanktop, and a ball cap; his arms were massive. He was bending down, elbows on knees, and shouting at her, his face level with hers. He appeared to be establishing dominance somehow, making me even more worried about her.
“I told you to watch for it! I told you I wanted it! But you wouldn’t listen and you were a total bitch and now it’s too late!”
“I said I’m sorry!” She uncovered her face again and screamed up at him, and he stood and walked around, pacing angrily in front of her, clenching and unclenching his fists.
I looked around the crowd, the usual bustling group at Pike Market, and wondered why no one seemed to be stopping to notice what was happening here. There was no concern or regard for the situation, which was clearly escalating. A mother walked by with three kids on a leash, three young girls were staring at the wall of gum and making fascinated grossed-out faces at it, a man held his wife’s hand as she held her pregnant stomach, another couple spoke French as they looked at a map in their hands. Just around the corner, an older Willie Nelson type, frayed denim shirt and jeans and a long white beard and ponytail, played the guitar and strutted around, singing in an amateur voice while hoping people would toss money into his open guitar case. His voice carried over the alleyway though I couldn’t see him, a bunch of unintelligible melodies, and the only word I could make out was ‘bastard.’
The man yelled while strutting. “It was the perfect present! What else am I gonna get for her!”
And she screamed back, tears streaming down her face. “I already told you! I was looking at the other shelf for ideas when someone else grabbed it! Back off!”
Wait, they were fighting over someone buying something that he wanted her to buy? I looked confused. There were a hundred different shops with a thousand different shelves and ten thousand different items for purchase all around them, and this is what they were fighting over? I watched closely, ready to move on but just wanted to make sure she wasn’t in any danger.
The man pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to check something, and things were silent while he texted something and the girl sat there crying. Then he put his phone away, looked coldly at the girl, and said, a bit more softly, “I should have never shared my Ecstacy with you. What a waste.”
Then the man walked away, up the stairs, and out of sight.
The woman sat stunned for a minute, then leaned back against the wall, hands dropped onto the dirty ground, and she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Great, but what about me!”
This time people took notice. A couple of the college girls walked over to comfort her, make sure she was okay.
Me, I looked over at the gum and, with the events that just happened playing in my mind, said out loud, “What a sticky mess.”