It was almost the end of the cold yet snowless winter that I lived in Seattle. I spent most of my time at work, and came back every night to sleep alone in a queen-sized bed in powder blue Egyptian cotton sheets. When I was alone, I watched movies and drank coffee with a lot of cream and sugar out of small yellow cups that my mom had given me before I moved away. My scheduled days off were during the weekdays when everyone I knew was at work or in class, so I would go get my hair done, or get a pedicure, or get a bubble tea and go shopping. One day in December, I went down by the Space Needle to drop off film at a place called Panda Photo and ended up walking the whole day, even though it was cold. The sadness of the empty streets moved me, and I didn’t want to get back on the bus.
I was lonely, but I still had made friends and went out often enough – the University District was an endless stream of house parties: beer pong games and cigarettes on porches.
It was at the end of the winter that I met a guy at one of these parties. He said his real name was Clark Kent; his parents had hoped he would have “a sense of humor.” He hated it and went by a different name now. He worked at a produce stand at Pike Place Market, just a few blocks from the store I worked at. Perfect! we said at the moment. “You should come visit me,” he said. Instead, I woke up and immediately regretted having someone I might run into in Downtown Seattle. I avoided Pike Place for a whole week.
It was still cold and windy when I got off work from a rare morning shift, and I decided to face my fears and go see if he was there. I walked through Pike Place and got to his produce stand. He wasn’t there. I was relieved. I stood there and visualized the place for next time; I wanted to get a hold of it in my mind. I walked back to work and felt pressure off of my psyche because Pike Place was no longer forbidden. We did end up running into each other a few times , some on purpose and some not, but it was always in the U District and not downtown.
Having faced my fears, I went to go get a celebratory coffee. Caffé d’Arte was built on a street corner across a large elevated parking lot for trucks. The cafe was grey inside and out, except for a neon sign of a coffee cup – stringy lights of heat coming up from it. There were moments like this when I could see a certain version of my life here – a real life, maybe. In the quiet parts of downtown, in the small restaurants, the waterfront, in the International District. The romance of the city was all about the morning light, the cold humidity of winter, paired with the sleaziness of the sex shops and drunks yelling on the street. I saw a glimpse of this potential version of myself when glamorous makeup-less thirty-three year olds in black linen came in, shopping for sweaters in the store I worked in. A certain version of myself could get my own studio apartment someday. Everything was okay when it felt temporary but it became frightening when the monotonous routine of it all made it feel permanent. I was waiting for the personal to inhabit the beautiful – the sleek architecture and yellow-leaved autumnal trees and the sound of water whooshing underneath a bridge. I was seeking out the background, shopping coffee shops and restaurants to be the stage for my life to unfold.
It did eventually, but far away from the coffee shops and morning seagulls.