The house was a familiar sight, wood floors dingy and worn, paint chipped and peeling from the walls, couches stained and torn. We had met here almost a year ago, between sweat soaked bodies and empty bottles, faces brimming with laughter. But now we were drifting away. You told me of a place on the western coast of Oregon where the land juts out in cliffs before the ocean and how you dreamed of flying from those cliffs one day. “Let’s get lost,” you said to me, through a haze of smoke and *****, as you lifted your drink to your lips. You had joked about running away before, but this time was different, this time you had nothing left to lose.
The next morning we woke with the sun and packed the car. Blankets, clothes, and the stuffed dog you’d slept nearly every night with since you were six. You had named him Icarus the day your father left, and you threw him deep into the woods, thinking if you didn’t deserve a father, neither did he. He stayed there for two weeks buried from the rain, in mud and leaves. When you finally could take the loneliness no longer you went out to find him. It took you an hour and a half and when you finally held him you vowed to never leave his side again.
We set out from the Deschutes Valley and I drove towards Tillamook as you slept beside me in the passenger seat wrapped up tight in the Serape you found in the attic the day you moved away. It was musty and worn but it smelled like home. The sun shone warm through the windshield and refracted in spectrums through the chips and cracks. The trees were getting their summer foliage, dark brown limbs hidden now by bursts of green. I turned on the cruise control and placed my hand on your head as you slept. The forest flew by around us, its trees a permeable membrane to the world contained within. As you rested I couldn’t help but wonder what thoughts were being born inside your dreams.
For four hours we flew, treading concrete, in and out of lanes, between cars and trailers, avoiding the animals making their way west. The smell of exhaust poured in through the open windows and mixed with cigarette smoke. The drone of engines gave way to the rushing of wind and four lanes became two. We were surrounded by fields of rock and the road was carved into the jagged earth. Here cement finally turned to dirt and I could see the cliffs you had told me of falling into the sea.
The next day we found the beach and lost ourselves there between the waves and the crisp ocean breeze. Memories of a past life scattered like glass along the shore. The birds flew overhead and played games with us; one diving in close, turning at the last second to avoid the collision, then soaring high back around to see if the others dared to follow. We walked the border of sea and earth, ankle deep in saltwater and sand, and I held your hand as you confided in me every inch of you.
You told me what it was like for you growing up, how your father had left, and how your mother worked herself past breaking to provide for you and your brother. Your father was a hardened man. He had worked in steel mills his entire life and had met your mother one spring on vacation in Oakridge. They were married the following fall and one year later you and your brother were born. You told me that he took to drinking and was let go from his job at the mill, and that he turned with violence to your mother when he couldn’t find work. He walked out on your family the day before your seventh birthday, got in his truck and never looked back. Five months later he turned up dead, he had passed out drunk at the wheel and crashed it head first into the old oak tree at the tail end of town.
That night we slept in the sand and grass in the lee of a dune reaching its hands toward heaven. It cradled us as I cradled you in my arms. I drifted off to the sound of eternity in my head, to the vast planes of emptiness that come just before sleep. That night I dreamt for the first time in weeks.
I was the captain of a sinking ship. I was standing at the helm, sails full, watching my crew slowly drown, and every time you would turn away from me in the night, another wave would come and break over the bow. One by one my men drowned and I watched as the waves came to take my vessel under. Yet there I stood, steadfast at the wheel, unmoved by the power of the sea, awaiting my turn to be engulfed by the endless green.
When at last I woke you were gone, off walking where the sky meets the land, and I went out in search of you. When I found you there sitting amidst a mess of driftwood, you were distant, changed, it was almost as if you were someone else entirely. The night had taken a part of you and replaced it with a longing that I had never seen in you before. You told me you had dreamt last night of the place where you grew up.
"I was there with my mother and my brother, running out to feed the cows, our dogs in tow. I looked up, distracted, and the sky glowed red like the fires of Hell. I walked the rest of the way to the barn and watched as the horses went mad, their blood boiling, racing through the pasture and sprinting headlong through the fence. My father stood off in the distance covered in blood, chopping wood and stacking it on the woodpile. The trees were set ablaze and my entire world began to burn."
I looked you in the eyes and I could see the smoke lingering still. You sat there for hours in a state of suspended animation, staring blindly into the deep green ocean. I sat by your side the entire time and watched the tide creep closer and closer, as if it were reaching out to drag you into its longing depths. I watched ships sail by on the horizon destined for far off ports you once dreamed of seeing. And there you were, lost in the mazes of your mind, haunted, tortured by the visions you had seen.
I sit here years later in the house where we first met. I have repainted, swept and cleaned these floors, mended the furniture. It is no longer squalid and unkempt, but the faces that come and go are the same. There are still bottles shared on occasion and the laughter has not faded, but something in you has. A piece of you died that day at the beach, and you buried it there in the sand between the tides. To this day you will not speak of what happened there and I do not blame you. There are some things we must keep locked deep within ourselves.