Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Coming Up Close

While I was in Seattle last week I had a day to kill when my friends were busy with work and other obligations, and I had the fortune of having a rental car to give me freedom of mobility. I decided I was going to take a little trip to check out some of my old stomping grounds. I sometimes enjoy doing this, because for me memory is very strongly tied to location, yet going back to places that used to mean a lot to me can be very sad, bordering on painful. It can also be bittersweet, though, and I find I am addicted to the sensation. I ended up driving around the Puget Sound to Silverdale in my quest.

But first, let me tell you a story.

I moved to the Seattle area from Spokane in fall of 1993. I was 22. Most of my friends already lived there or had by then relocated there, so I had been going over there for a couple of years on a regular basis and so was fairly familiar with it. I shared an apartment on Bainbridge Island with Greg, and as fall went on I got a job at a mall in Silverdale, which was a twenty minute drive or so from our place on the island. My lame job was Christmas help at a Sam Goody music store. Around this time I began to get my usual winter stir-craziness and began applying for colleges, and the ones I chose were the University of Hawai`i and the University of the West Indies (obviously I wanted to get the hell out of rainy and cold Washington). Little did I know, I was drastically altering the course of my life.

While I worked at Sam Goody, I met a girl named Catt, and we started dating very heavily, even after I got accepted to the University of Hawai`i and moved back to Spokane to prepare to move to Honolulu. I remember that spring and summer as being one of the most intense and excellent of my life, that relationship becoming the standard by which I compare my relationships since. I had been in a few relationships before that, but nothing had ever had this level of passion. Catt ended up agreeing to move with me to Honolulu, a move which was very rash and probably ill-advised on some levels, since she was really at a stage in her life where she needed to remain around her huge network of friends in Seattle.

Things fell apart slowly from there, and though we spent a year in Hawai`i together but somehow we couldn't recapture what we had in Silverdale. It wasn't all my fault, but it mostly was. I can say that honestly -- I was a little self-absorbed back then, and definitely not mature enough to accept my various responsibilities. When I think back now, I tend mostly to think of the first few months of our relationship instead of the time in Hawai`i, and I remember all that quite fondly indeed. Good memories.

So last week, there I was in Seattle with an entire day to kill and a rental car paid-for. I drove up to the U-district, to the apartment where my friend Greg had lived for damn near ten full years. He now lives with his wife in another part of the city. But for basically most of my 20s he lived in the same place and I have a wealth of strong memories tied to it. For some reason, most of my memories come as sense memory, tiny pieces of moments like snapshots complete with sensation. Rarely do I remember events as completely as I remember moments. Who knows, maybe everyone is that way, but for me they are very vivid and always tied in with a sense of melancholy, a sense of having lost something to time, something important. Funny, because I never care too much about what's going on around me at the time it's happening...

The strongest and most meaningful memories of Greg's old place revolve around the spring and summer of 1994, the same time I was so in love with Catt. She was over there many times during then as well and so I've come to largely associate his apartment with her. I drove up to this apartment on University Avenue and parked and walked down to see it. It was in shabby condition, but it always had been. Other than the business downstairs being different, everything looked the same as it did in my memories, as it did in 1994. But rather than being hit with the same feelings of sadness and loss at the march of time, I felt... nothing. It was a place. Nobody I cared about or loved was there anymore. It didn't feel haunted, like places often feel to me, but rather it felt unimportant. Why should I care about it if Greg, or Catt, or anyone else isn't there?

Having the rest of the day to kill, I decided to drive over to Bainbridge Island and check out that place, as well as the mall at Silverdale and Catt's old place. Instead of taking the ferry, which would have taken me right to Bainbridge, I decided to save money by driving around the Tacoma Narrows. This would take me past Silverdale/Bremerton first. So I decided to do those in reverse order, and go to Catt's old place first. Well, it took me almost an hour and a half to find that damn apartment. All I remembered was it was one of the Silverdale exits, north of Port Orchard, that it was to the right soon after coming off the off-ramp, and that it was at a dead-end by the waterside. I figured I'd be able to find it easily once I was back in the area, working off memory, something that usually works okay. But these were eleven year-old memories so it was a real struggle.

I did manage to find it eventually. The moment I made the right turn I felt all the puzzle pieces click into place. And then -- there it was. It was like stepping back a decade through a time portal. Everything was, of course, slightly different. But it looked almost exactly as I remembered it. The sudden backward timeslip made me gasp a little, I admit. I parked in the same spot by the dead-end where I used to park my Geo Metro after driving across the state to see her, and I got out and stood by my car. It was beginning to rain lightly. Seagulls strutted the same rocky beach the apartment looked over. The same dock angled out into the same water. The same blackberry bushes and weeds rustled along the embankment. The apartment now had a security fence, but otherwise was the same white color and still might as well have had the same cars parked in the carports. It was as though the last eleven years hadn't happened.

But one thing was missing: just like at Greg's place, I didn't feel that sense of bittersweet regret at times long lost. I was expecting... what? To feel Catt's presence -- or, more importantly, the presence of a 22-year-old Brian? That there would be ghosts there? There was nothing. Just a 33-year-old man standing by his car in a dead-end by the sea. Catt now lives in California. I've been all over the place, from Hawai`i to Florida, been married, had adventures, grown up.

What the heck was I doing there?

Something major had changed in me, more so that I had expected. I began to realize that, even though I still treasure my memories of good times had in Seattle, or in Silverdale, or in Bainbridge or wherever, I no longer felt as sentimental about them as I once did. What did this mean? Maybe it meant that I was in a place in my life where, finally, I was looking forward rather than back. Maybe it meant my memories have finally achieved autonomy from the places where they were formed.

Whatever the reason, I decided to go. Instead of going on to check out other old stomping grounds in the area, I would just drive back to Issaquah and spend the rest of the day with my friends... the same ones from so long ago, and yet, themselves new people.

And I just got back in my car and drove away.


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