Words by Vanessa Duff
It was a massacre. Strewn across a white Formica countertop was a crime scene of large filleted clams, diced fennel and chopped bacon. The geoducks—bivalves native to the Pacific Northwest and renowned for their delicate flesh and striking resemblance to a male copulatory organ—were bounty seized from his invertebrate zoology class. Their destiny: to become rubbery bits floating in a creamy broth.
“You’ve got to cut off the siphon,” he explained. “If you don’t, it will be too chewy.” He was fearless and undaunted by this meal. She, on the other hand, refused to touch the questionable-looking creatures. She was also compartmentalizing the idea of eating something that looked like it was from a lesson on male anatomy.
They stared into a simmering pot of choices—the first they made together. Bacon, fennel, geoduck and a splash of cream all stared back at their 22-year-old faces.
The salesperson eyed them as they kept circling back to the olive green couch that looked like a pair of soft corduroy pants. The couch was $500 and would be her first adult purchase. “I can sleep on it if this doesn’t work out between us,” she thought to herself. Their relationship was young. The apartment was his, but the caution was hers.
It wasn’t until she found herself weeping in a pile of snow at the base of a ski lift that she realized he was the one. He gathered her up off the snow into his arms and helped her snowboard down the mountain, picking her back up each time she fell.
It was late summer. The weather was just starting to turn. Wedding guests showed up in wool coats and rain boots for a day she had always imagined would be sunny and warm. This is the day they learned that it always rains on September 18.
In formal wear, they stood on a grassy hillside, holding hands beneath an arch woven with flowers. The Columbia Gorge unfurled behind them in layers of powdery blue. He placed a tartan sash over her head as bagpipes softly droned in the distance. Mothers and aunts beamed as the couple sealed their vows with a kiss.
She crawled into a cramped backseat covered in cereal crumbs. She didn’t care that she had to share space with luggage and a car seat—getting picked up from Gatwick Airport was luxurious after traveling for an entire day. She let the jetlag wash over her as his cousin drove them deep into the London suburbs.
Two days later, they both lay on the lawn of the family cottage outside Edinburgh. Still exhausted from traveling, they fell asleep in the perfectly clipped grass, surrounded by peonies and poppies.
They drank scotch in the afternoon and ate boiled potatoes and beef. That evening, when she was doing her hair, the European outlet fried her flat iron. A year later, she would return it to the store, claiming it had mysteriously stopped working.
She wore her hair curly in Scotland, France, Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic. They blended their footprints with the footprints of history. For him, this was a chance to revisit childhood haunts. For her, this was like stepping into the cinema.
They touched ancient stonework, snapped pictures of famous paintings and ate all the double-creamed cheese that was offered. She learned Paris is just as beautiful as everyone says. He learned that, in general, the Swiss do not like Americans. They vowed to go back soon.
She insisted the kitchen had to be remodeled before the baby came: “I want a dishwasher and cabinets that I can open with one hand.” They chose a wenge finish for the cabinets, subway tile for the backsplash and a gleaming white apron-front sink.
He raked walnut leaves on fall afternoons and smoked Chinook salmon on spring Sundays. She sewed curtains with a sparrow print and painted the baby’s room with a pattern of abstract trees on a green background. Green—like the corduroy couch that was now tattered and worn and smelled of a black Labrador retriever named Toby.
The backyard flooded with sun every summer afternoon. A breeze from the two nearby rivers swept through the house. They filled their sunny days with roasted corn and grilled fish. Their cold nights were warmed with wine and smiling friends.
The house was small, and the baby was growing into a boy.
“We can afford it,” he said as they looked at house listings that sat squarely in the “good” neighborhoods. “I believe you,” she told him.
They emptied their first home by filling a shipping container with its contents. Together, they scrubbed years of grime from the floorboards, walls and ceilings. “How did we let it get this bad?” they asked. “Never again.”
Homeownership lesson 1: If you don’t do it now, it may never get done. They hired contractors. They had the years of previous grime and dated interiors erased. They asked for the old kitchen to be removed and decided what to put in its stead. They chose stony-blue cabinets, marbled quartz countertops, honey-bronze hardware and hand-painted tiles from Japan.
He cleaned pine needles out of the gutters and fertilized the lawn. She potted bamboo and painted tiny murals on their wet bar wall. The boy rode his bike around the block and played Monopoly with his new friends.
“We’ll grow old in this house,” they said.
When life ends, we don’t know what’s on the other side. But what happens when a dream dies?
Perhaps dreams are like a forest. When a big tree falls, it brings light to the little ones below. On the backs of fallen dreams, new dreams can begin.
Video editing and words by Melody Condon
DREAM ON ME
Sleeping accommodations for the avid dreamer
Dreams and drawings by Carrie Johnston
The driver’s seat
Wearing only a towel, I stand at the base of a colorful multistory apartment building. R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” plays on a loudspeaker. The entrances to each apartment are designed like locker doors with louvers, stainless steel handles and padlocks. Which one is mine? I scan the face of the building uselessly. People are staring at me. I turn to walk home without my things, then realize I’m dreaming. R.E.M. is playing softly on the car radio, and I may be killing the battery.
“… that was just a dream
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream ...”
The Burbank airport. Again. I’m late for my flight, and who knows where my luggage is. Did I even pack? Miraculously, I arrive at the gate and board. The plane takes off, and I fall asleep. I wake up, and it’s dark outside. We’re hovering above a city in the Midwest, nowhere near my destination.
The landing process is sketchy. We’re flying too close to buildings, and I can’t see any landing strip lights. The pilot dips and dives between buildings, looking for a wide stretch of road to make an emergency landing. Panicking, I remember I didn’t pack anything, and I wonder how I’ll get home. Just before the plane touches ground, I become aware of a mess of blankets at the foot of the bed and the imperfect support of my synthetic down pillow. I’m already there.
An ocean pier. Bowing and swinging along with the waves. Why are they always so old that they feel unsafe to walk on? The sky is gray above, and below, maybe 10 feet, the water rises and sinks and slaps against the pillars. Tiny whitecaps are visible through the gaps in the wood planks. People gather along the edge to get a glimpse of a tremendous submarine docked perpendicular to the pier, its nose tucked a bit underneath. I walk behind the crowd and quickly move across a sunken area where the boards are especially broken and worn. A little farther along is another sunken area, this one in even worse condition. I take my chances. Don’t be afraid.
The boards crumble under my weight like soggy crackers, and I fall immediately through the air and splash into the dark, choppy water below. This is it, I think, I fucked it up. I took a risk and didn’t get lucky. Gasping, I look up from the ground and see the hammock swinging above me.
I’m peering through a large front window of a house that’s for sale, admiring the vintage décor: wood paneling, a worn velvet sofa in a brown and mustard floral print, a stunning Danish credenza, twin walnut table lamps. In my periphery, I notice an old woman and her dog, a pug. They’re standing motionless outside of the garage, watching me. The dog and the old woman have the same head, but the dog’s expression is clownish—frozen in a state of exaggerated surprise. I tell the old woman that I like her house and try to back away but notice I can’t move my right leg. It’s numb. I hobble away, remembering I’m sleeping on a hard 60-year-old sofa.
I look up and wonder, Why am I in the front yard? A pink comet streaks across the black sky and startles me. I’ve never seen one before. Waking up, my neck is stiff, my arm is tingling, and I feel a cold little puddle of drool between my cheek and the arm of the chair.
The sleeping bag
I zip up the side of the sleeping bag and pull my hat down over my eyes. I drift off wondering whether I’ll feel too cold or too hot when I wake up—it’s always one or the other when sleeping in a tent. But then the tent is an elevator, and when I press the number for my floor, it starts to shake. Suddenly, it plummets, falling with incredible speed through a hundred floors, curving to the right and left like a bobsled, finally coming to a violent stop. The doors open, and I am trembling. Through a window, I see that I am, inexplicably, on the top floor of a skyscraper. I find a stairway and sprint to the rooftop. Outside, the sun beats down on a white concrete roof and dozens of humming air conditioning units. The heat overwhelms me, and I collapse, peeling off the top layer of the sleeping bag.
Words and photo by Nick Mitra Lloyd
A real email I sent on Wednesday, March 18, 2020
From: Nick Lloyd
To: My half of the wedding guest list
Hi socially distanced friends,
I pray your loved ones are healthy, that this tumultuous moment is treating you as well as could be hoped. You may have already heard or guessed that Keya and I are postponing our July wedding.
The new date is: Sunday, June 13, 2021.
Rather than lament our personal situation at a time of much larger stakes, I think this is an opportunity to place something wonderful in the distant future that we can all look forward to together.
Picture it with me: A week before solstice in a place where the evening sun mellows over rolling grapevine hills and distant mountains. You’ve spent the weekend reclaiming a world you’d lost for too long. Hiking behind roaring waterfalls, dipping your toes in the cold Pacific. Now you’re here enjoying the chance to dress up and have a bare-handed stranger serve you another refill of wine (or maybe hibiscus water). There are kids running in the grass without shoes. Around the fire pit, old friends and new swap stories of the unreality we’ve all just shared apart.
And there’s Keya, radiant in white. The woman who changed my life. Whose vows were effortless and poetic and pitch perfect. She is smiling, asking about your life with true curiosity as if this big day wasn’t for her.
Then it’s time for an Indian dinner, for toasts and singing and bad dancing to songs you’ve heard a million times.
Friend, I sincerely hope you can be there in person. You are already there in my dreams.
It’s winter and our dreams have changed. There is now no need for a wedding. We still want a wedding. I pray next June is not too soon.
We eloped in mid-August this year. Something about the frequency and cumulative weight of life-or-death decisions made it easier for us to face other life-changing choices. The prospect of regaining control of our story became irresistible.
If you’ve never eloped, I recommend it. A pandemic is as good a time as any. Better than most. People will appreciate not being invited.
Do you remember the last time you felt joy? Not just a good day or a great one. Not the half-distracted happiness available online or the shattering relief when medical test results come back negative. But a joy that sandblasts the well-worn anxiety out of every nook and lash, that releases you weightless into the moment.
That’s what eloping is.
Ours was a camping elopement, high up in some far-off mountains. The ceremony was in the woods beside a lake several miles and a few thousand vertical feet from the nearest road. It was just us, a close friend and his new boyfriend. The friend was our officiant, ordained by a website and our goodwill. The boyfriend was our witness, photographer, gluten-free cupcake baker and (when my phone ran out of charge) our DJ.
The happy tears started right away. The vows were earnest and thoughtful and peppered with inside jokes. The dancing grew slower as we added jackets and gloves in the sharpening alpine night.
And now the state of Oregon says we’re done. No more paperwork required. I have a wife. My wife has a husband. Turns out we didn’t need an audience. And yet—
What is it that attendees bring to a celebration? More than “awws” and applause, do witnesses change the event itself? Are they the event—quietly watching the bride pass by in the aisle, assiduously trying not to blink in group photos, heroically grabbing seconds from the buffet?
In a world where any one of us can be the vector that superspreads to the strangers and loved ones nearby, could it be that we have always been so intertwined with the experience of the whole? The meaning?
It’s winter and our dreams have changed. We don’t want to get married in front of our friends and family. We want our friends and family to marry us.
Picture it with me: Seven months after the first vaccine, and you still feel naked without a mask. So you wear one on the way to the venue, then let yourself leave it in the car. You hear the crowd before you see it on the hillside lawn. Your heart thumps fast. You’ve missed this. You’re scared. You’re still learning how to not be afraid of friends, hugs, your own breath. But you’re here, and your legs are stepping forward before you’ve told them it’s OK to move.
Someone shouts your name, and suddenly you’re pulled out of your own head. A tentative embrace. A glass of wine. A rush of the familiar. When the time comes, you sit and you “aww.” Someone sings a sappy pop song, and you let yourself hum along. You get misty during the vows and clap at the kiss. And then the ceremony is over. Keya and I are hand in hand, returning down the grassy aisle. People around you are cheering and whooping.
And then our eyes meet, you and I, for only half a moment. You’re grinning so hard it hurts a little. Your shoulders and neck unclench that last little bit. You open your mouth to say something, but I look away because you’ve already done enough. Done what you came here to do. What only you and everyone else could do together.
Friend, the music will start soon. I can hear it already. We are all worth the wait.