In two days a year will have passed since I flew to India, since I left Korea, since I stepped in cow dung on the broken concrete outside our hotel in Delhi’s Paharganj. The skin of my foot was bare against my sandal’s straps; an Indian boy offered to wipe it with torn newspaper from the incense stand beside us. Those shoes are gone now. I left them somewhere in the south, I think, once the straps became so loose my toes began to slip over the edge.
In Portland the tree outside our balcony is naked. Its leaves disappeared somewhere between October and November, when the winter crept in, threatening to stamp out the flickers of light that were sparked inside me last May, when I leaned against Joe on the backs of motorcycles, sun blazing our necks, winding past Land For Sale signs in Lombok, Indonesia, green, green, surrounding us all the way to the horizon.
Lately I’ve been thinking about motherhood. About my friend Paula, who has a toddler and also a plot of land on which she has started farming, planting silver seeds into the earth. She can start a farm and be a mother, I think, with a flash of awe. It is possible to be many things. To teach a child how to embrace their tiny place in the world. To forge ahead with creating your own wilderness.
What scares me is the lack of sleep. Do their little fingers wrapped around yours ease the transition of stumbling through the days in a fog?
Joe has started volunteering in the emergency room of the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital. Yesterday he watched the trauma team surround a woman brought in after a car accident. She had broken her leg. The attending doctor of an ER is not a surgeon, Joe says, but they must understand all the intricate parts of the body, must be able to stabilize a heart, to set a bone or deliver a premature baby. I ask if being this kind of doctor could match the thrill of surgery, if it requires less time in med school than that of an aspiring surgeon. It wouldn’t take less time, he says, at least not much.
Med school is a mountain before us, not quite Himalaya-sized, but high in the nearing distance, with a lot of dreams on the other side. Maybe we will live in Haiti one day, or Uganda. Maybe Joe will start a clinic in a neighbourhood where too many people are dying. Maybe I will write about their lives.
In Cambodia we bought a watercolour painted by a 19 year-old boy who we watched perform in a circus in Battambang. The picture has two pairs of huts on stilts above a river, a loose streak of blue in the sky between them, and two canoes below, watercolour people inside. We chose it because we loved it, but also because I wanted it to remind me that a one-room hut on stilts is enough for entire families to live out their lives. That we don’t need all the things we think we need. A few weeks ago we took the painting to Luke’s Frame Shop on Belmont and now it’s hung in the hallway of our apartment. After, I fretted over the colour of the mat–was it too dark? Should we have gone lighter? Forgetting the whole point of the picture was simplicity, a stripping down.
This year has shaken up the lives of almost everyone I know. There have been breakups and near-breakups, the loss of jobs, surprise children, marriages and also miscarriages. We keep moving forward, but the weight feels different, a kind of lightness I remember from our early twenties fading. But more depth, too, has emerged. Perhaps this is the tradeoff of growth, of the stacking of our pasts, one experience after another piling on like the stones of those stone towers Joe and I saw on the shore of Ulleungdo, Korea at sunrise.
People ask me how I feel about moving to the US, and I tell them the truth: In Portland, it’s easy to forget. It’s the West Coast, I tell myself. As if the West Coast is a country of its own, the one I daydreamed about from Busan, with crisp air and staggering trees. You forget the power of the grey, its ability to distill a mood or thought, to dampen. You love this country anyway, knowing that the creek in the forest is near, and when you walk to see it, like Joe and I did yesterday, you will hear it too, its moving waters louder than the highway or the noise in your restless mind.
On the way back we bought soap ends at the Co-op on Thurman for 79 cents. They are round with a tiny hole in the middle, leftovers in the soap-making process. They smell like eucalyptus and vanilla.
This morning Joe sent me a message from the streetcar on his way to school: Take a walk past Lovejoy and 19th today. There’s a tree with flowers blooming. Springtime baby.
I can feel it, on its way.