There are, presumably, a lot of men named Gray. This is a story about one of them. His name doesn’t really have any particular metaphorical importance. He’s not subdued or subtle or medium or in-between or anything good you’d want out of a man with a name like Gray. Instead, he’s a combination of tragic and awful. Usually I go through a lot of work to anonymize people when I write memoir, but I don’t think I’m going to bother this time. I’m a little salty, even ten and fifteen years on. The reasons will become apparent.
I think this story about Finland starts in Sweden.
It was 2005, and I was twenty-two.
At ten or eleven at night my bus crossed the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo. The border police got on, singled me out, and pulled me off the bus. I was sort of used to that by then. You could play “one of these things is not like the other” in pretty much any non-squatted space in Europe and I would have been the odd one out. I had long hair and patched-up black clothes, sometimes both a beard and a skirt, and you can sort of imagine a haze of flies around me at any given point.
“Where are you headed?” a guard asked once I was in the freezing night air outside the bus.
“Helsinki,” I said.
“Where are you staying in Helsinki?”
I wanted to say “you’re Sweden, not Finland, so it’s none of your fucking business.” Or I could have been honest: “I’m staying with the girl I loved through all of high school, who I haven’t seen in five years.”
Continue reading Why Did You Sink the Red October?
“You poor drowned rats,” our savior told us. “You have to let me take you home.”
It was raining and it was winter and we were huddled in the dark under the awning of some convenience store somewhere on the Oregon coast. No one would pick the three of us up. My friends were Swamp Rat and Tortoise, two women who’d sat in trees and blockaded roads and hopped freight and lived free lives and they weren’t even as old as my twenty years.
Our savior was sixty, with gray pigtails. She told us she was dying of Lyme’s.
We piled into the back of her SUV and she drove us deep and deeper into the woods. She lived far away from anything, like a witch in a fairy tale. Like a witch in a fairy tale, she could have murdered us.
Continue reading The Only Time I’ve Seen the Dead
I am beginning to experiment with writing memoir, but I’ve decided to write memoir in which I suspend my disbelief in the supernatural. This story is the first in that series.
Of all the hundreds of people who’ve picked me up hitchhiking, of all the hundreds of people I’ve picked up myself, only once did I meet eyes with death.
I’ve met murderers before. I once yelled at a murderer, who I knew had a gun and a bad temper, in the middle of the desert about how stupid he was for having once had a swastika tattoo — not my brightest moment.
Not every murderer is death. Only once have I met death.
It was the summer of 2013, I think, and I was driving north through the woods of western North Carolina. I was driving my van Leviathan, the home I’d had the longest and my constant companion still. The sun was up and bright, and I was lost. I mean, I knew the highway I was on, and where I was going, but that wasn’t a good summer for me. I was lost. Atlanta was behind me, Asheville was ahead of me, and death was hitchhiking down the road.
Continue reading I Met Death on the Road