It’s been a good hard rain for two, maybe three days. The sun still sets at five and the glorious Oregon landscape, such a popular destination these days, is all lost on us locals, given the rain, given the dark. Out back behind the bar we all stand together on a wooden picnic table underneath a white tent cover too small for all of the smoking people, and drinking people, and people trying so hard to get along (this is a good thing) all so we can share our misery together. Misery likes company, which is just another cliché but there is a reason why clichés are catchy, I figure. I sit at the end of the table, on the damp picnic table bench in my red vintage overcoat, the one people always call me Red Riding hood when I wear, but I laugh inside because it doesn’t have a hood, the jacket. A young man tells me, “You’re gonna get your jacket all wet” and reply that this is my Party Jacket.
photograph by Kirsten Lara Valenzuela
Looking up at all the party people—the ponytailed women and ballcapped men with logos from their respective logging companies (there are two in town) silhouetted against the snowwhite tarp like the people are all on stage, I watch and I write sentences in my mind. My most gregarious local friend (the girl I came here to meet) is spouting off about NOTHING and we are all entranced, absolutely spellbound, or at least we are pretending to be. Some people know how to keep an audience, they’re comfortable with it. I am not one of those people. Which is why I write. I watch Becky and I vow to write about her—silhouetted and spouting words and beer fumes in the rain in winter.
My boyfriend would no doubt say that this is not miserable and that no one, or maybe not everyone, is experiencing misery as they inhale and sip inhale and sip and who knows what else. My boyfriend and I, although we are at the same place now, come from different sides of the partying spectrum. He, raised in perhaps the most wholesome home environment I have ever witnessed, no smoking, no drinking, no cursing, is a rebel against stability. Where I was exposed to, most likely, all-of-it, and so have a deep-rooted attachment to the life. Which is something that I regret most of the time but fall back into it like a comfort blanket…still young, still free (see unattached, no babies, no nothin’) I may as well “live it up” while I can. We are at the same place now but he has not seen the end result, I have. I say let’s get out while we still can he says let’s stay for another beer. I say Okay, for now.
But my boyfriend isn’t with me tonight. (The question begs, then why am I even out?) My girlfriends and I had a quick and serious discussion at the beginning of the night—at the Mexican restaurant that serves marguerites where we were seated by the restroom, which I always hate…saw as a bad omen, but vowed to let it not ruin my night. I choked down an enchilada regrettably ignoring (not so much) the scent of artificial bathroom cleaner and Mexican food shit. Anyways, we discussed and decided that we wouldn’t let any men buy us drinks…cause if we did we might actually have to talk to them. One older local gentleman (who always sends a shiver through me no matter what) had swooped in and paid for our Mexican dinner. Then he left but we wondered, what would he someday want in return? I personally would regret even having to speak with him again. But this is all beside the point now as he is inside the bar, and I am safe outside in the rain with the chubby, domesticated late-thirty-something logger men and my expressive Aries girlfriend who is making animated moves with her naturally tanned mexican hands and her golden beer is sloshing out of its glass in the streetlamp—like lightning.
A woman next to her begins to tell a love story…about how she and her husband met in California in 1974, they had a child after a year or two, they were young, he was wild, so she had to set him loose (this was her talking, not me) and after 5 years they reconciled and have been together ever since. Nobody says anything in response, she starts to go on, and I’m thinking of saying “And it’s been sweet love ever since!” I want to validate her, I like her love story, I want one too, I want good love karma, I enjoyed her story (she actually had something to say) and I want her to know but as I am thinking, the moment passes, it’s a little too loud, the jukebox speakers, the rain, the conversations happening to my right, to my left, she is at the end of the table and so I do not shout it out, though I nod vigorously and smile her way as she finishes saying “I have never loved a man so much, never wanted to. He is my soulmate.”
Maybe tonight I came to the bar solely for this message. It certainly wasn’t for the beer, the music, or the food. This is a unique message because while I have heard soulmate, I have rarely heard soulmate plus forty some odd years. I hear soulmate then I see a breakup and I hear soulmate again and so on. I am thirsty for the truth of soulmate and long lasting intimacy. I think I am capable of this but alas my track record does not reveal such.
The bar is not a highly inspiring place. But in-between the lines there is a surprising lot of beauty. Awkward conversations between strangers, tonight: a girl from Houston who just flew in yesterday and hasn’t even SEEN Oregon yet, given the rain, given the dark, but keeps saying how she loves it here, how pretty it is, and how she might move here someday. I am getting to know a little better the freckled girl from the mini-market, who I see on Saturday’s when I deliver the mail, when usually it’s just a passing quick hello.
Ultimately, I am scared off by the man who sends a shiver through me every time as I approach the bar for water and he comes in close, tells me I am special, and I stumble backward, afraid. My eyes dart around for my friends and they are lost in conversations with other locals they know so well. I eye the clock and its 11:30. “I have to go,” I tell the man. He fiends concern asking me if I am okay to drive and I hastily reply that I have been drinking shirley temples and cokes all night, as to say, what a joke you are, you don’t even know me. And I’d like to keep it that way.
The moment underneath the glowing white tarp is gone. It is time for me to take what I have gotten, the sentences gathered in my mind like supplies with which to paint the blank pages back home, and leave. “Do you live close?” The man asks me. His shitick is that he used to be a correctional officer, which makes him kind of like a cop, which makes him good, which is not at all true. I shiver and stagger out of the bar, waving quickly to my friends, maybe looking scared as this man has resurrected the flight response inside of me.
Outside I am walking on the gravel driveway and alone, I look back at the bar to make sure no one has followed me. I climb into my car, and lock my doors. I am shivering and who knows if it’s the man or the Oregon chill. As I pull out of the lot I look at the bar again and in the faint yellow-lighted doorway is a man—a silhouette. I gun it all the way home. I take the night for what is was, not good, not bad. Just life. I vow to write. It’s all I have. I am a woman who speaks very little. You talk, you act…I will read between-the-lines and write about the night.