When I drove 3,000 miles across the country, carried my things (an air mattress, a card table, a camp chair, a suitcase of books, a suitcase of clothes, some toiletries) into my grandma’s empty house and pulled out my laptop computer, I thought the words would begin to magically pour out of me. There were no distractions, and therefore no excuses. Spotty cell service allowed only an occasional call or text to get through. I had no internet connection. I had no friends calling me, no Portland events pulling me, no clutter, no job, no pile of things to do. All that was left was for me to sit down at that card table and write.
So I sat down at the card table. And I got up for a glass of water.
I ran through the village, all six blocks of it.
I walked along the train tracks.
I fixed myself breakfast burritos and veggie burgers and tea.
I attacked my stack of books, reading with the same voracity I had as a child, shutting the world out for hours at a time.
I drove 30 miles to a bookstore and coffee shop.
I bought more books, including a cookbook, and drank a dirty chai.
I sent emails to my family and friends.
I ate an asparagus and Brie sandwich at a restaurant that reminded me of Portland.
I did laundry.
I bought a box of hair dye.
I accompanied a friend of my grandma’s to dinner and a play.
I drank wine.
I drove 30 miles in the other direction and found another spot that reminded me of home, a place where I ordered a tofu scramble and overheard snippets of conversations from the whitewater rafters nestled in the tables next to me.
I started to write, then got up to eat trail mix.
I worked out alongside an exercise video.
I took long drives in the country, astonished at the beauty of the changing leaves.
I parked at a high school and took a shuttle to the New River Gorge Bridge, where thousands of people gathered to watch BASE jumpers hurl themselves through the air.
I reread cards people wrote me before I left.
I perused the aisles of Wal Mart.
I shopped at Kroger and tried to figure out how that translated in Portland terms — was this like our Safeway or our Fred Meyer?
I bought the ingredients to make cookies.
I moved my blow-up bed from one room to the next.
I visited the small technical college where my grandparents both taught.
I purchased a cheese-beer dip made with jalapenos.
I took pictures of the mountains.
I pulled over to look at the waterfalls.
I recounted my stops along the way: Boise and Denver were the best, though Indiana may be the most memorable on account of the bed bugs.
I painted my fingernails.
I sat on the porch swing.
I sat on a painting stool that was left in the house.
I sat on the floor.
I rolled a basketball on the carpet.
I examined the leaking roof.
I examined the leaking sink.
I listened to the soft drawl of the people who live here and felt like an outsider.
I bought a Brita filter.
I wanted to text the boy I used to date.
When I got ready for bed at night, I longed to hear the buzz of his electric toothbrush, the scratchiness of his beard against a cloth when he washed his face.
I wanted to sit on a couch.
I wanted to watch TV.
I wanted to spend endless and mindless hours on the internet.
I wanted to invite everyone I’ve ever known over for a party.
I wanted to check into a hotel and sleep in a real bed.
I bought the newspaper.
I read a statistic about how 100 percent of female homicide victims in this state in 2011 were murdered by someone they knew.
I felt good about not knowing anyone here.
I treated my bug bites.
I plucked my eyebrows.
I had conversations with a tiny plastic baby.
I bought one potato.
I bought a handful of broccoli heads.
I ate chocolate.
I wanted to text a boy I like.
I wanted to tell him about watching a Golden Girls marathon and eating grilled cheese while invisible bugs ravaged my body in Indiana.
I thought about scheduling a haircut.
I looked around the house and remembered my grandpa and grandma in a million different ways.
I thought of my residents back home.
I thought of my family members long dead.
I wanted to call my parents.
I wanted to say, “When you die, I’ll never get over it.”
I wanted to call my therapist.
I wanted say, “What’s the difference, anyway, between lonely and alone?”
I wanted to make nachos.
I needed to learn how to cook without using a microwave.
I sat on a park bench and ate saltine crackers.
I looked up a recipe for root beer cupcakes.
I mummified myself in a cocoon of blankets at night, longing for the warmth of someone’s skin and bones.
I asked myself what the hell I was doing.
I stopped wearing makeup, because who cares?
I wore sweatpants.
I had dreams about the characters in the books I was reading.
I had dreams about people from my past who had been unkind.
I had dreams about needing to sing a solo in front of a group of people at a church.
I made lists.
I made excuses.
I made cookies.
I gasped when a big dog lunged at me on one of my walks.
I talked to the Kroger cashier about pesto sauce.
I asked the next-door neighbor to help me turn on the water valve.
I craved popcorn.
I wanted to go to a movie.
I wanted to hold someone’s hand.
I cleaned my glasses.
I held my useless phone in my hand.
I drank more tea.
I listened to the clock in the kitchen: tick, tick, tick.
At some point, I sat down at the card table and I began to write. The words didn’t pour out of me. I pulled them out as best I could. I pulled and they pushed and we worked out an agreement.
I wanted to be angry at myself for all the time I’d wasted, all the hours I should have spent writing that were gone to me now. But maybe I’d been writing all along. Every time I went for a walk or read a book or felt lonely or ate scrambled eggs, maybe I was writing the story I needed.