the treasure of the escape

hi. i moved back across the country, back to my beloved adopted hometown of pittsburgh, PA, after nearly a decade’s absence. it mostly feels really good. i’m feeling really good. in part because i got transcranial magnetic stimulation which helped me feel….not depressed? for the first time in my conscious life, maybe? but also because i quit my stressful social work job and returned to the city that has the highest per-capita population of people who love me.

california is amazing and i’m grateful i got to stay there for as long as i did. it’s where i learned a lot and was awed by beauty on a regular basis. it’s the only place i’ve ever lived where the general population wasn’t super freaked out by queerness or unusual names, where admitting to radical ideas isn’t an automatic shun. it was a healing experience. it’s the first place where i didn’t have to just work the shittiest lowest paying jobs because people didn’t want to give me a chance.

but it just wasn’t working out anymore. i was numb and traumatized and sad. i no longer saw any point to being there. i was more isolated than i’ve ever been in my entire life. my brain–the lizard part of it, the ancient part, that is focused solely on survival–felt like my tribe had abandoned me, out in the woods. felt like i’d been left to die and maybe i was going to actually die.

so i chose to get rid of my okay-enough life, quite a few of my possessions, connections built up in my chosen field, and go back to a cold, hilly place, where a bridge just collapsed due to sheer neglect. i’m so happy that i did.

there have been good things and bad things about the move, about being back. one of the worst things is that i sent some of my photo albums via the postal service. most of my possessions were sent via greyhound package express, but i sent my books media mail. i thought they would be safer. two of my 15 media mail boxes got destroyed, and two of the things that didn’t make it were photo albums of my youth, which is pre-cell-phone, pre-digital-camera. they contain all of the pictures i have of two of my most iconic, beloved dead friends. i try not to think about it, because there’s literally nothing i can do about it, but when i do i feel a physical pain in my gut. just the thought of going through the rest of my life without seeing their pictures. it feels like such a loss, when there’s already been so much loss. it feels unbearable. just writing this, i’m feeling a weird energy travel down my fingers and my legs.

our apartment is beautiful, and slightly overpriced, and tilted, and haunted. the bedroom is beautiful and the kitchen sucks. i spent weeks gathering furniture from facebook free groups, thrift stores, craigslist. hauling it, mostly without a car. i brought a coffee table on the bus, apologizing to everyone for getting too close. the bus driver yelling, like i enjoy doing this. like i have a car stashed somewhere and i’m just bringing an ikea coffee table on a bus because i live to annoy others. amanda and i tried to carry a couch about half a mile but i was too weak. we met a friendly weird guy who offered us a ride but his car was too small, and then a totally different person gave our couch a ride in their truck. the first weird guy told us he used to live in 0r0ville (mangling it so it doesn’t show up in search results) which is pretty close to sac. he said, “you know what people say about 0r0ville, right?” and i said, “no!” and he said, “come on vacation, leave on probation!”

i keep expecting to run into him, since we’re neighbors. but i haven’t. i’ve also already forgotten what he looks like.

i got an african violet from a free pile group. it’s looking pretty unfortunate but i have this wild hope i can nurse it back to health. i turned a plastic clamshell case that used to hold mixed greens into a little greenhouse for thyme and parsley seeds. i got a book shelf from the prison book program where i spent many years volunteering–they were moving out of the neighborhood just as i was moving in. there’s nobody who volunteers there who remembers me. it was white and dusty. my boyfriend helped me move it home, balanced on a razor scooter, and i painted it blue and purple and lilac, put my zines on the shelves, plants on top.

something pretty rough happened during my second week here. it was very hard and sad, but it also expanded my heart, my capacity for love. it reminded me of the ways i can show up. it showed me the ways other people can show up. it reminded me of all the ways we survive.

i was just re-reading a book of poems because i’m going to lend it to a friend. the author writes a lot about mental health, and they wrote something that was like, “hold on to the people who are able to hear anything. they’re a treasure,” and i thought, yes, i’m a goddamn treasure. that is one thing i have been complimented on, many times, mostly at work–my ability to not get freaked out, to hear horrible truths and be calm, accepting. to find joy and humor in the darkest places, the darkest time. to synthesize pain into meaning.

i just flipped through the book again. i can’t find the line. but i’m pretty sure it exists.

last fall i was very unwell, mentally. but, inspired by a friend, i committed to writing a thousand words per day. i recently re-read it and was surprised at how good some of it was, even when i was hurting so much. eventually i had to stop, but for a while, i could show up and write. that was a treasure too.

i think i need to start doing that again. this is the first part.

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