TOUR Day 10 - Seattle and Jamie

I am sitting in the back of the van watching the Washington mountains shrink into acres upon acres of wheat and sheepish little summer trees. I thought the “Sophie Johnson This Is Your Life” portion of the tour ended in Portland, but we’re driving through the part of eastern Washington that made up the majority of my trips to and from Whitman College for four years.

Once my friend Ari and I decided we would take this drive over the span of 24 hours so we could see my sister in Portland. We woke up at 4 a.m. and left Walla Walla, drove along the gargantuan curves of river-against-mountain, listening to Broken Social Scene's “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” over and over again, concluding that if the sun could pick a song to come up to, this would be the frontrunner. When we drove back in the late evening, the moon rose even bigger than the sun, bright red. I felt drunk because of the moon’s peacock routine, and I called the boy I had a crush on on the way home. He didn’t answer so I left a message: “ALEX. THE MOON. THE MOOOOON.”

I drove that same boy to Portland for Thanksgiving that year. Every Thanksgiving break I was popular for my green Volvo, and I’d fill all four extra seats with interesting people with interesting iPod playlists. Alex liked that I wanted to listen to Billie Holiday for a full hour. Once we were in Portland, he told me he liked me liked me, which felt like the most significant event of my entire life. In my memory, the background for that high is this: the golden corpse-tooth wheat; the unstoppable, unreachable rock-cliff walls.

I always feel nervous writing about the scenery, because it comes out overwrought and too serious and supersaccharine. But there must be stretches of road like this for everyone: drives you know so well that the memories you hang on them cram into each other and morph. I-84 East has a big, complicated scar on me.

A year ago today, Jamie Soukup died. I knew Jamie along this road, too: she took the helm as editor-in-chief at the school newspaper after I graduated, which means she spent countless Wednesday nights awake with me until press time at 4 a.m. When you stay up until 4 a.m. with someone, you get to know them in intimate ways you never imagined — they change things for you. For example, one night Jamie told me that she ordered her eyeglasses off this website called Zenni Optical. I have bought almost all my glasses from that website since she told me about it; a few years later, I would tell Chris Trew about Zenni Optical, and now he has ten or so Zenni Optical frames he wears every day. Chris Trew, for the record, is sitting in front of me right now in this van, wearing glasses he wouldn’t be wearing if it weren’t for Jamie Soukup.

The last time I saw Jamie was the last time I was on the Air Sex Tour. She and her then-fiance came to the show. We walked around Philadelphia before that; she showed me the inside of her house. She seemed happy and I remember feeling inspired around her; I felt committed to being closer to her after that visit. Which I wasn’t, because we never are when we are far away from people. 

This morning, I woke up and read an essay Jamie’s dad wrote for the sentencing hearing for the drunk driver who drove Jamie and her husband and their unborn child into a tree last year. The loss is oozing out of the corners of his every word. It’s the kind of thing that seems to beg, “But how can we go on?” We just go on. We shoulder our losses, and try every day to encounter life as a brilliant mystery.

The Seattle show was rowdy. There was one guy who kept screaming out the whole time, and it gave the show a weird atmosphere. But my middle school best friend surprised me and showed up; he was generous and successful and, as has seemed the pattern, still the same person he was ten years ago in many ways. Our group of friends used  to sit in the cafeteria, and I would dance around the table, talking about pubic hair like I was on stage. Gabe watching me make jokes about pubic hair on an ACTUAL stage was not that much of a progression, to tell you the truth.

I feel appreciative of these days: I don’t think I’ve ever felt less alone in my life. People come out of the cracks and surprise you sometimes. 

This life is fragile. This life is small. These mountains are strong, and they are big. But even the mountains will give in to time. Even the river will fall apart. Maybe there is some strange comfort in that.