Next…surviving the loss of love, buying a house, and digging in the dirt to feel alive again

By Neva Knott

Dirty dishes are piled in the sink, one cup atop one plate, atop one bowl and flanked by one knife, one fork, one spoon. There’s a pan for each day’s meal: the saucepan for Monday’s soup, the skillet for Tuesday’s packaged potstickers, and the baking dish for Wednesday’s and Thursday’s pre-seasoned packaged fresh fish. The wire rack in the adjacent sunroom holds paper plates, a coffeemaker and filters, paper napkins, and a box of extra wine glasses. All are remnants of gathering for meals after the long days at the hospital, and after. The cupboards are bare, and the refrigerator holds mostly condiments and those are from summer at best. The dog hair is piled in the corners, the floor has gone dull from dust and note enough cleaning, though there is a brighter pathway from door to sink, sink to fridge, fridge to counter, counter to stove. The espresso maker looks well-used. The wall near it is spattered with coffee drips.

***

I bought the house after I returned from living on Maui for a year with my partner, Adam. I had chosen to return to my teaching job in Portland, having taken a leave of absence for our adventure, but he wanted to stay another year–he wanted to be by himself for a year. That’s all the explanation I got.

StewardStHouse

The first time I saw this house the porch was falling off. I had looked at seventy or so houses in this transitional–affordable–quadrant of Portland. Dump after smelly dump. I was ready to give up when my realtor called, “Neva, I think you should see the house I just listed. It’s a lot of house for the money and the seller is going to do most of the work it needs. If the neighborhood isn’t too sketchy for you…” So I drove by on my way home from work. I arrived to find the porch unhinged, a 70s van jacked up in the drive way, siding the color of rancid butter and dull flat dark brown trim. Dump. I didn’t go in. A day later, motivated by weariness and on the brink of desperation, I called my realtor, “I think I should look at that house.”

I navigated the rickety porch and stepped inside the 1920s bungalow, very traditional Portland in style, imagined it painted in a warm color. I stepped into the living room and saw the original nail-top hardwood floors and built-in shelves. I fell in love with the way the light came into the living room through the clearstory windows above the bookshelves. The living room proper extended into a dining area. I love to cook for people, and room to throw a dinner party was on my list of must-haves. I continued to walk through. I fell in love with the huge kitchen. I fell in love with the attic. Never mind the holes punched in the bedroom walls. Never mind the layers of do-it-yourself projects executed with ineptitude over the lifespan of the house. I walked out the back door, into the big back yard, and saw potential. Never mind the decrepit shed. Never mind the viney, tangled, creeping mess that was the back yard.

I fell in love with the house.

I bought it. I went back, and then I signed the mortgage papers, and moved in. It was the first time I’d seen my name in such official print.

MauiAnniversary1

Adam and I on our Anniversary in Hana, Maui, 2003.

Adam called. I shared the news of my triumph. Home ownership was a goal we had in common, so I thought he’d be excited for me. He wasn’t enthused about the house at all. It seems he’d decided he didn’t really want “a year.” Rather, he missed me and wanted me to come back to Maui, right then. He insisted that, no, he hadn’t ended our relationship–he’d just said he needed some time to himself. There was no rationality in his scenario–I had just bought a house. The school year had just begun. I’d quit my job on Maui. He’d left me sitting alone on a beach to figure out my next move, separate of our relationship, our life.

The previous owner did most of the work to mitigate the damage to the house, but there was much left to do to really bring the house back to its potential stature. I began with the yard. Blackberry bramble impeded walking and took chemicals and my brute strength to remove. Cherries dropped from the 40-year-old untrimmed trees, onto everything, everywhere. Two branches were reachable, and the cherries sweet, but the fruit was mainly for the birds. Large-leafed weeds grew waist-high, though toppled easily with rain. The shed stood, built from scrap and adorned with a black spray-paint skull and crossbones. The squirrels grew fat with random filberts from the tree intertwined with the wire fence.

I quit the gym, bought a book entitled Plant and a shovel, and took a gift of a push mower from a friend. At night I read about gardening, and on weekends and evenings I wrestled the unwanted scraggle from the earth. I jumped on the shovel with full body weight to turn the earth. I discovered that I couldn’t rototill because of all the trash that’d been thrown in the yard for who knows how long. I found a one-inch drill bit, a hanger with a decayed cotton and synthetic blouse still on it, plastic toys, broken bathroom tiles, bottle caps, bottle glass, duct tape, tin foil, wire, spark plugs, batteries, plastic bags, pencils. I jumped, dug in, and turned.

The work ethic of my grandparents glistened in the sweat on my brow. My neighbors leaned over the fence to chat, glad that someone who cared had moved in. Some time in May, I got the vegetable seeds into a patch of soil under the old clothes-line. Some of them grew.

While I worked, I thought about my life, about what I wanted out of life, about what was next, and about all the “nexts” that had come before. I am detrimentally, to a staggering degree, afraid that my life, in the end when accounts are totaled, will be a waste. Because of this fear, I am always planning the next thing.

While I worked, I remembered what it was like to live with Adam…

The counter was laden with fresh tomatoes, limes, and garlic. The floor was swept clean of dog hair, dishes were done, and there was no dust atop the refrigerator. The counter had been cleared to make a work surface. A knife ready next to the cutting board, a skillet warming on the stove, and a fresh piece of halibut draining in the sink. Soft Brazilian music played on the stereo, and the soft glow of the summer light faded outside. The air was fragrant with the scent of fresh limes mingled with garlic. Cooking began to happen in tandem, a ritual of our daily life.

I met Adam while waiting tables at Alameda Brewhouse in Portland. During summers after graduate school, I worked to pay off my student loans. He was the brewer there. A co-worker talked me into going out with Adam. I did, and fell in love with his tall, thin frame and goofy smile. After we’d been together for a couple of years, we moved to Maui. I got us there by getting a teaching job at King Kekaulike High School.

I remember our conversation about leaving Portland. Adam and I were sitting at the Lucky Lab pub. We were at an outside picnic table, and I was leaning my back against the cold cinder block wall. We were having a beer and chit-chatting, as couples do on Saturday afternoons. I looked up and out at the sky. I was looking up and away from Adam in the way I do when I want to avoid what I have to say or don’t like what I’m thinking. I look up sometimes to escape my mind. I felt like I was going to cry, and Adam said, “What?” My voice shuddered and I replied, “I don’t know. I really fucking hate this place.” My eyes descended from the clouds and met his, “I don’t want to live here anymore.”

I don’t remember why I so badly wanted out of Portland–Portland had always been safe for me. Home. The other times I’d left, for college or work, I’d happily snapped right back to that city by the rivers.

The tone of his reply was apprehensive underneath, in the bass note, but his words and voice were encouraging. We’d always, from the day we started dating, talked about living abroad. I’d travelled extensively as a child and had wanderlust. Adam hadn’t travelled; he’s made it from the mid-West, Indiana, to Portland. The most expansive place he’d been was the Pacific coast.

Before we moved to Maui, I was having some health problems and was often emotional. Adam had had it with my crying and freaking out about not feeling well, but wouldn’t talk to me about it, wouldn’t listen, either. And we were having some problems in our relationship I still don’t understand. Add to the mix that, for as laid back and happy-go-lucky as Adam was on the outside and to the world, he was a very moody and depressive person inside. We never really talked about the mess we were in. Instead, we took our problems with us to Maui.

Adam really came alive living the island life, and when he began diving he found his calling. I joined a traditional outrigger canoe team. Living on Maui cured my illness and brought me strength. Together, we swam in the warm cerulean blue ocean, learned to body-board, hiked in the jungle, jogged in the pineapple fields, and made our home the gathering place for our new friends.

Adam learning to body-board at Big Beach, Maui.

Adam learning to body-board at Big Beach, Maui.

Somehow, though, things got tangled–professionally for me, and for us as a couple.

I was unwilling to keep teaching there. I taught Senior English and had students who’d never been issued a textbook, assigned reading, or written an essay. I had students who couldn’t write a sentence, yet I was expected to graduate them all. The ethics of the situation flummoxed me. I couldn’t foresee spending my career and my professional energy in that setting. I had to make a decision–stay on Maui or return to Lincoln.

On the beach one evening, after a swim on the way to the grocery, Adam asked me, “So what are you going to do?” I told him I didn’t know yet. Getting out of Portland in general, and living on an island, had been my dream. But, I was invested in my profession. He told me that, no matter what I decided, he was staying on Maui. He never said what he wanted from me. He never tried to help me sort out my dilemma. When I asked for his thoughts, he said he wanted to be by himself for a year. “A year,” he specified.

I moved back to Portland, bought my house, and returned to teaching at Lincoln. Adam visited for Thanksgiving and we made a plan: he’d come to Portland in the spring so I could finish the school year and sell the house. Then, we’d return to Maui together, for good, to make it our home. Adam stayed on Maui until summer, until the day before our mutual friends, Bryan and Theresa, got married. He returned to Portland, very unwillingly, to serve as best man.

Adam and me at the wedding, July 2004.

Adam and me at the wedding, July 2004.

Adam came home in July and we knocked down the shed. We pulled up blackberry roots that spanned the width and length of the yard. We planted grass and put in a mini-patio made of pavers. We sat outside to eat dinner or for cocktails.

The grass seed blew or rolled downhill and made a wispy patch where no lawn was intended. The cherry leaves blew in the wind, and there were seeds sprouting everywhere in the dirt from last year’s crop.

Adam said he hated the house, hated how much work it needed.

We lay in bed and talked about going back to Maui.

***

Adam didn’t make it home from work on Sunday.

He kissed me on the forehead and left for his shift as the beer buyer at Whole Foods. Late, in the middle of the night, I awoke and he wasn’t home. I was pissed, thinking he’d gone to a co-worker’s house after work and had not called to let me know. Around 5 AM, I got a call from the hospital, explaining he’d been in an accident, and asking how quickly I could get there. I called Bryan and Theresa, and Bryan said he’d seen the wreck on the news. Theresa came and drove me to the hospital. Bryan met us there, and we walked into hell. It seems it was really foggy that night. It seems Adam had stopped at a bar where one of his friends worked, but didn’t seem to have had that much to drink, according to his friend and his blood alcohol level. Somehow, he drove a mile past our house, going 88 MPH, hit a bridge railing, and was thrown from the car. Three days later, he died.

The last picture of Adam alive...on the MAX with our friends's kids, the Saturday before his accident, January 2005.

The last picture of Adam alive…on the MAX with our friends’s kids, the Saturday before his accident, January 2005.

Friends came and took charge of my house. They sat with me until I could fall asleep at night. They kept my wine glass full. They helped me deal with the cremation and plan the memorial. Whole Foods sent food. Lincoln sent flowers and cards and chocolate. I drank tea and sorted through photographs, the only way I could keep from losing my mind. I drank tea and sat, wrapped in Adam’s old college-bed quilt, and stared at the wall. When they finally left each night, I cried into a shirt of Adam’s that I held onto as I fell asleep.

 

Bryan, Theresa and I, Adam’s brother, and the Indiana friends, wrote these words for the memorial:

 “Adam loved people. He loved the ocean, and beer, and good food, and to laugh. Whether eating a fine meal with close friends or drinking a beer with a total stranger, Adam loved giving his time and attention to others, and he made sure to never leave anyone out of a celebration. He shared his joys in life through mastery of the brewer’s craft and by becoming a dive master. His kind and gentle spirit gave him a magnetism that drew people to him. When we think of Adam, we will always remember his smile.”

After the memorial, I stayed home for a month. There really was no escape. I lived in the now-empty house just as I lived in my skin. There was an echo of Adam around every corner. I sat on the couch, forever wondering what was in between feeling trapped and that my life was totally out of control. I told myself that the future was all about my goals, my interaction with the world. I could sell and move–back to Maui, or across town closer to friends and farther away from the site of Adam’s car wreck. I could move on without accomplishing anything, with all my time here tallied as a waste, an endeavor of longevity pre-empted because of situation, circumstance.

In May, Adam’s family, our close friends, and I took his ashes to Maui and put them in the ocean. We did it the Hawaiian way, we wore leis, and each of us, after throwing in a handful of his remains, dove in to take one last swim with him.

Me on the boat to put Adam's ashes in the sea.

Me on the boat to put Adam’s ashes in the ocean on Maui.

A while later, one of my oldest friends asked, “So kid, what’s next?”

I replied, “That’s the question, isn’t it? Until I find the answer I guess I just go to work and pay my mortgage, just like everyone else.”

***

It’s been three months since Adam died. This weekend friends came for a visit, the same friends that spent the weekend of his accident with us. Friday night I cooked goat cheese and black bean enchiladas, messed up the whole kitchen, and we ate together at the dining table. On Saturday we built two raised garden-bed frames and laid black landscape plastic over the clay and stubborn weeds in the side yard. We hauled 24 bags of dirt from Home Depot. We planted seeds: bush beans, snap peas, carrots, radishes, lettuce. We made flowerbeds around the porch. I took the potted herbs outside. It rained the whole time we worked. In the evening we all piled onto my bed and watched a movie. The next morning, while I was making the bed, my friends’ four-year-old daughter said, “Adam didn’t die.”

How I wish her statement was true.

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Collage of life…saving cards and reading them years later

By Neva Knott

I’ve been going through those boxes… you know, the boxes stuffed in a closet while moving or while reallocating space in your home. Today I found my basket of cards, overflowing and priceless. I picked it up and thought, do I still want these? Instead of making a snap decision, I sat down on my bed and read each card–its cover and the personal inscription.

The basket of cards I've saved over the past 10 years.

The basket of cards I’ve saved over the past 10 years.

Then I decided to use William Burroughs’s cut-up method, which allows for random order in arrangement of words–usually, the result is intriguing and somehow spot-on. I typed the key line inscribed in each card, determined to come up with a free-form poem.

Here’s my excerpted version:

I just love the blanket you gave Cora. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I LOVE the camera. Thank you so much for the notebook, I love it. Our room looks out over a snorkel cove and I am sitting on the balcony listening to Sophie read her Greek homework to the sound of the surf. You’ve weathered such a storm the last two years as gracefully as one could hope for–crying jags in Target notwithstanding.

You will always be in my heart.

I cherish our friendship–don’t know what I would have done without you in my life all of these years. I’m glad you moved back and look forward to spending more time with you. We love you and will always be by your side. A book should be arriving from Amazon soon. You are such a sweetheart and it’s been a pleasure working with you and getting to know you.

Wishing you strength in this difficult time. All the very best all the time on your journey. We’re here if you need us. There’s nothing like a home…especially a first one. Congratulations, you’re a grown up now. I got you a thank you card for your birthday–the picture reminded me of you.

We’ve come a long way from being a bunch of drunk kids to being a bunch of drunk adults. Thank you for the beautiful ornament and years of wonderful friendship.

I love you–Mom.

I am so glad you came home–you are my friend, cheerleader, adopted sister. It is better to stride with integrity as you’ve done. You are a fabulous, vibrant artist and I appreciate all that you do to brighten the world. Finally watched Gatsby and was thinking of you.

Free like a butterfly to visit.

Thank you for being an amazing friend who is kind, thoughtful, generous, and always up for my crazy ideas. Thank you so much for coming to teach girls’ self defense. Thanks for helping me set up my website and showing me those cool sites. My blog makes me very happy…thanks for helping me with it.

A special thanks for reading so beautifully the sensual excerpt from the Song of Songs at our wedding ceremony. Thank you Neva and Josh for the Wimpy Kid book. I wrote lots of stuff in it. Words can never really express the incredible gratitude I have for your friendship.

We can have a blast, and we can also dig into the shit and make shit-tastic lemonade.

Hope you had a good trip back and that Josh didn’t miss his portable bowl. Thank you so much for the awesome cookies. I know you don’t live in the islands anymore, but they still live in you. I miss you. We love you. The best part is having you back home. Thank you for the girls’ Valentine’s presents…Stella has worn her tights with overalls four days in a row.

You know, all of these years later, who’d have guessed we’d end up where we are if they’d seen us back then. We’ll have to go for a margarita or a piece of cake next time we see each other. I am staring at two elephants right now… I am proud of you, Neva, and you need to appreciate yourself for the warrior you are. Love getting little snippets from you on Facebook. It’s been so nice to be able to reconnect with you.

Love you much, my wonderful Seastar.

Thanks so much for the camel.

I’m a bit bashful about posting some of these comments; seen here they seem self-congratulatory. But that’s not what drew me to blogging about these cards…what I love about having kept them is the reminders of the depth of my relationships. Each card connects to a moment shared with others, documents the birth of a baby, the sharing of a weekend, my little cousin growing up, my friend’s son advancing from signing his portion of the card with a scribble to using his first-grader’s careful printing to thank me for a gift.

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Some of the comments are very personal exchanges of our co-joined lives and some are philosophical meanders. Several are hand-made Valentine’s from the children of friends. And, I received the same card twice from my mom, the cover reads, “More than anything else, I want you to be happy…”

The senders document the diversity of the people in my life: my seventh grade best friend from our time living in Thailand; my high school boyfriend and his wife; my eighth grade best friend and her “little” brother; my cousins, aunts, uncles; my sisters and their families; college friends; colleagues who became friends; mentors; friends gathered on my path of life; children of friends and family; intimate notes from lovers; seasonal cards from my mom.

Sometimes, the card’s text IS the message:

Life is like a roller coaster. It goes up and down, makes you scream, and costs a lot to ride.

It’s your birthday!!! I got you a card!!!

Now listen here…you don’t stay young by playin’ by the rules. You gotta party outside the lines, stir up a little trouble. Know what I’m sayin’? Now get out there and make me proud.

To stay young, the doctor says exercise and eat the right foods. What? I thought he said accessorize and buy nice shoes!

With the right heels and some junk in the trunk, you’ve got a ticket to ride!

I also love the imagery, color, and graphics of these cards. Sometimes, the medium IS the message:

Another gem in the mix was the collection of cards my mom sent to me on behalf of my dogs, cards expressing Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Birthday, and one telling doggy Josh to take me out to lunch with the enclosed check, and intimating that he could bring some of his friends, too.

I don’t know why I began saving cards. I do know each card reminds me that, even in my toughest times, I am loved and appreciated and never alone. For all the sentimental reasons enveloped in each card, I will continue to fill my little basket.

 

 

 

Scream

By Neva Knott

The lights were on the band and I was dancing next to the guy I like, feeling guilty that I like him and wondering what he’d do if he knew, because my boyfriend just died two months ago and they were friends.

I looked around that familiar room, a bit like the room that held our collective youth, and wanted to scream. Primal, loudly, and to let it be drowned by the sound of rock and roll. In that moment my mind shattered into pieces of some other reality that still included Andrew…our first public kiss in just about that spot, a time when jobs and money didn’t matter, the reality that preceded the twenty wasted years of my life.

As the lights flashed on stage and the song changed my mind came back into focus and my heart flashed on reality. This is my life, these are my people, in this room, and I don’t want to waste any more time elsewhere. I left it all behind by stepping away into adult life. Fuck that, it’s been a let-down.

Not that I want to be destitute and irresponsible. I want to feel alive. The whole time I taught, and went to bed at 10 PM and arose at 6 AM and spent evening upon evening on my couch using my own time to grade papers that were shit and most of them shouldn’t have come to me until they were better written by students who largely didn’t give a fuck as long as their parents weren’t on them about grades, I was lost and angry and miserable and sad.

Andrew was what I missed the most. He, by that point, had shaped my life as much as I myself had…he and my dad. I told him so in his dying moments before the morphine was hooked up, that he and my dad made me who I am. Andrew was always the center of the scene for me…even after I accepted loving him in the sense of all things are beautiful and one rather than being the girl with the biggest crush on him. All else was the backdrop, but I loved it all and valued it, too. The people, the bands, the late nights.

While pondering all of this I watched one of our friends watch the band and remembered that the last time he saw Andrew was the last time I saw Andrew–and he was dead. I wonder what that was like for our friend…in the moment, in the hospital, in that frozen moment, he said “oh buddy” over and over, with tears in his eyes.

What became clear or just made me want to scream last night as the band played on was that the times in my life I’ve felt guilty weren’t about something I was or wasn’t doing at work, or how much money I was–or more likely wasn’t–saving, or about accomplishing goals. It was that deep inside of me I knew that I was denying my true existence by unintentionally, though with resigned acceptance, walking away from all this love and friendship and creative purpose…this essence of life.

I admire the people who surrounded me last night, immensely, because they have not succumbed to that fear.

Acceptance and grief are funny things. They bite you in the ass when you least expect to be gnawed raw by their brutal teeth. All the usual commentary becomes trite…you know he loved you, no one knew he was so sick, we all wish we had more time, if he would have taken better care of himself, so sad that you two finally got together and now he’s gone. All trite, but all of it what we say to each other as salve for the bite marks.

I need to scream because I am over getting over shit. My list is long…I was hit by a car age seven and had to learn to walk again; I realized, in a hotel room in Saigon in the 70s at age eight, that my mother really didn’t like me and that we’d never get along; my father died when I was fifteen leaving me alone with that bitch; I took a profession and pushed at it and pushed at it and exhausted myself pushing at it for twenty years so that I wouldn’t have to call myself a failure. I lost touch of myself along the way, and then I met Adam and he died; I moved to Maui and failed professionally and left behind my dream of island life; a few years later I got laid off, then I got fired. I left Portland to return to Olympia, this time to manage my mom’s estate after she died–a move “home” that never works for me. And came back. And then I lost Andrew. And then I had to put my dog down, mercifully, because of his old age.

So I will scream, though sometimes silently in the lonely dead hours of the night when I am alone. And I will dance and let the music fracture my mind into a different reality, one filled with life and love, but none of that will fill the hole left by Andrew. This time, I know he’s not coming back from tour, I know I’m not going to run into him at a show, I know we won’t get together for a drink someday soon.

I will scream because I can’t fill the hole left in our world by Andrew’s death. I will dance because I am surrounded by all of this truth and beauty and love, because the people who died, died and I am alive.

Leaving: the longing, nostalgia, and truth of traveling young.

By Neva Knott

1968 was a time of global intensity; mores and values were changing, driving social unrest. 1968 marked the significant increase in American deaths from the Vietnam war. It also marked the date of student protests in France that were considered a cultural, social and moral turning point in the history of that country, and 1968 marked an equally intense protest at Columbia University. It was the year of the My Lai massacre and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wonder what was going through my father’s mind the following year as he made the decision and the requisite following choices to move his family out of America and into the world of third-world countries and extensive travel in the South Pacific and Asia. As he retired from his thirty-year career at the Washington State Department of Game and maneuvered us to live his boyhood dream of traveling, did he think about Vietnam raging out of control?

My parents with one of the brown suitcases, so happy and in love.

My parents with one of the brown suitcases gifted to my dad by his colleagues on his retirement, so happy and in love.

 

I realize now how I’ve lived much of my life in the same way–going without consideration of what’s to come, valuing experience and the journey over the outcome or the destination. I pause—how are those two things connected…my father’s choice to take us out of the country at such a tumultuous time and my lose-the-map way of living? Is there a connection? Or, might I just be supplanting perspective on my memory of him and my fascination with that time?

Dad's Retirement Notice in the Daily Olympian

Dad’s Retirement Notice.

We left the States in September of 1969. My dad’s new job was on the island of Saipan, in the Marianas Islands, in Micronesia. A small island, just fourteen miles long and five miles wide. The Battle of Saipan was a major offensive of WW II, featuring the Allied troops against the Japanese. Another historical tidbit–one theory on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart is that once her plane was downed, she was held hostage by the Japanese in a Saipanese jail. Saipan is part of the Marianas Island chain which sit along the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the Earth’s oceans.

I was six, a few days from turning seven. My sister was four, just weeks from turning five. I remember the leaving. In my little girl mind I was unaware of all the steps—my parents leaving their jobs, the packing, the selling of house and cars, garnering of passports, inoculations, the intricate decisions  about what to take and what to leave behind. We left our dogs. We left my pet bunny. We left our house by the lake.

The night before we flew out, we stayed at grandma and grandpa’s. I asked my grandma to come with us, a simple child’s request. At four in the morning my sister and I were awakened, and left the twin beds in that room we’d napped in so many days of our childhood. The beds with the polyester flowered comforters, one pink and one yellow, the colors we’d fight over in choosing a bed.

Grandpa and me, Rachel and Grandma, a few months before we left for Saipan.

Grandpa and me, Rachel and Grandma, a few months before we left for Saipan.

My parents had traveled to Hawaii the year before, something neither my sister or I was aware of until we found the slides, Kodachrome images of mom and dad as tourists, iconic in their 60s garb and naiveté as travelers, holding up pineapples, wearing leis. When Rachel and I saw those images, we realized just how green our parents were at travel that morning we left behind the warmth of grandma’s. As we left the States, we stopped over in Honolulu before catching our flight to Saipan. In Hawaii, Rachel and I stayed in a hotel for the first time. We swam in a hotel pool and the ocean for the first time.

Hotel pools were to become the mark by which my sister and I judged the fun factor of each of many long trips to places like Bangkok, Australia, Indonesia, India, Saigon. Hotel pools were where we formed our bond as the world got bigger and bigger and we knew we had to stick together.

In Honolulu we shopped at the Ala Moana Center, then a new mall, visited the Polynesian Cultural Center and Pearl Harbor. In a sense, that first trip was a rite of passage to our new identities as world travelers, as little girls who would come to know that most cultural practices were wildly different than our world of Olympia, Washington.

Flying from Hawaii to Saipan was a journey from the first world to a pin-dot on the globe in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Because of Micronesia’s remoteness, our flight stopped at little islands along the way to drop supplies. When the plane landed on Saipan, a fire truck raced it down the runway, just in case. The airport was barely more than a cement hut. Over time, we’d come to love the empanadas sold at a stand there, full of spicy, greasy meat that dripped onto our hands with each bite.

The first night on Saipan is forever etched in my mind. I can’t find the adjective for the sum total of the experience, but I remember the scene. Rachel and I were beyond tired. Our parents were tired. Collectively, we were clearly out of our element, and even at six I got this. We stayed at The Hotel Hafa A’dai. The hotel’s name means good day in Chamarro, the mixed language of the islands. The hotel was the best on the island, yet we were unseasoned travelers and didn’t know what that really meant. Our room had that musty smell I now know is inescapable anywhere in the tropics, a smell I now equate with longing and nostalgia and truth. There were geckos on the ceiling, they chirped all night, and my mother was scared of them. The air conditioner was loud and erratic, also a now beloved common feature of tropical hotels the world over. It seemed dark and dingy in the room, and our parents worked to smooth over the rough edges so that we could fall asleep in one of the double beds. Our new life awaited in the morning.

Our house on Saipan, on Capital Hill

Our house on Saipan, on Capital Hill.

During the four years we lived on Saipan, we went to the Hafa A’dai often, for dinner, to entertain visiting colleagues of my dad’s, or just so our parents could socialize while the kids swam in the pool. Music played from the bar, and our parents would linger while my sister and I went to the gift shop for Cadbury chocolate bars.

I don’t know what my dad intended, but I do know that traveling and living overseas during that world-gone-crazy time of the late 1960s and early 1970s shaped my world view. Maybe those experiences are what allow me to cope in these similarly chaotic times. I know they shaped my persistent belief that there are only two types of people in the world, regardless of social norms, politics, race, gender, creed, or culture–there are those who love and those who hate.

The swimming pool at the Hotel Hafa A'dai.

The swimming pool at the Hotel Hafa A’dai.

Sometimes, I dream of that first night on Saipan. Often, I dream of the Hafa A’dai pool and the beach just beyond its edges. I think I travel in my sleep to that innocent time, when my parents were alive and happy, to try to get back to whatever part of my soul is still there, listening to the geckos.

 

Remembering Andrew

 

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I sat in the darkened Club Vera in Holland last October, listening to the music on stage and thought, in this messed up world, there is no greater humanity. What I saw on stage that afternoon brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face, simultaneously. I sat, holding Andrew’s hand, as band after band, all friends of his, took the stage to honor him. Each band played one or two Dead Moon songs, some set to their own band’s style like the lounge electronica version of “Dead Moon Night” by Das Audio Combo. Andrew’s dear friend Jozzy took the stage with the Dead Moonlizards (they’d changed their name for the night, adding the “Dead” to their usual moniker the Moonlizards) to sing “I need a shot of Dead Moon,” a song he wrote about Andrew for his own band The Bips. The music ended with a jaw-dropping solo of “Dagger Moon” by Eric, another dear friend.

Andrew watched the stage all through the show with pure adoration. At times he’d mouth the words to a Dead Moon song, or tap the drum beat with his cane. But what he was really doing was cheering on, with deep pride, his friends and their musicianship. He knew the night was about him, but for Andrew, the night was about friendship and music. That was the shared humanity I felt in that room.

Andrew was not driven at all by ego and the need for fan adoration, but by love. He needed to be loved in all the forms of that emotion, especially in the form of friendship. His friend Kate Fix called him an empathic imp, the perfect description. Andrew was generous with his love and friendship in return. As the Beatles line goes, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” To have a deep bond with Andrew was to have the best friend ever in your back pocket for life.

Thankfully, we have music to heal our wounds in a time when we have to create gofundme campaigns for people who are sick. Andrew’s world was one of dimly lit clubs, loud bands, and friendship–not one of doctor’s offices, radiation masks, CAT scans, hospital beds and the rest he’d endured in the past year. Ultimately, Andrew’s world was one in which he inspired others to be their best selves.

I can’t pinpoint any moment that marked the beginning of the end. His death came suddenly and unexpectedly, it was not on par with what the doctors had been telling us. It will be hard for all of us to let go, to believe that Andrew is gone and won’t “be here later,” walking through the door with his buoyancy and smile and jokes. Though there will forever be a hole in the heart of our creative community here at home and around the world, Andrew’s left us with some good rules to live by, though…in addition to his music.

  • Live your passion on your own terms–be the drummer, not the dishwasher
  • Treat others as you want to be treated
  • Don’t miss opportunities–actually, he told me he learned that from Fred
  • Don’t sell yourself short
  • Wear a good hat

Andrew was the person I admired most in my life, though this is not my loss alone. We live in a messy world during tumultuous times. But, even when we feel our own lives are out of control, we have to be outward with our good intentions. We have to keep spreading the love.

I’ll leave us with these words from American author Ralph Waldo Emerson as they embody Andrew’s enduring spirit:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty and to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better through music or your relationships; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded.”

Camping at Summer Lake Hot Spring, Oregon

By Neva Knott

I amble around the Pacific Northwest often. A recent Memorial Day, my friend Chandika and I took off on a suggestion from a coworker of mine to Summer Lake in Central/East Oregon. We stayed at the Hot Spring campground there; it’s a cool place–the owner has set up Airstream trailers as cabins and a tent area in a field. It was casual and friendly, so much so that he made us coffee in the morning, since we’d forgotten the French press.

These photographs were shot with my Holga plastic camera and film. If you’re not familiar with Holgas, the distortions and vignetting are part of the charm of the camera.

Beachscapes at Fort Stevens, Astoria, Oregon

By Neva Knott

A photography teacher once quoted a famous photog, whose name I’ve now forgotten, stating that photography has nothing to do with the beach. I disagree. The place where the sky meets water and water meets land is magical, mysterious, and abundant of life.

Footsteps, Fort Stevens, Astoria OR

Fort Stevens, Astoria OR

End of the beach, Fort Stevens, Astoria WA