In the Memory of the Living (Emerging Writer's Contest Winner: NONFICTION)
In nonfiction, our winner is Eliese Colette Goldbach, for her essay “In the Memory of the Living.”
Ploughshares’ Editor-in-chief, Ladette Randolph, writes that the essay “is a haunting meditation from the far shores of addiction, mental illness, and obsession. Eliese Goldbach movingly chronicles her journey from sheltered girl to damaged woman through her obsession with the tragic death of the elusive ‘Possum,’ which acts as both evidence of her downfall and as a pathway out of self-destruction.”
Eliese Colette Goldbach attended the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Program, and her work has appeared in Western Humanities Review, Southern California Review, and Slipstream, among other publications. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where she is currently working on an essay collection that examines the effects of trauma on identity. “Much of my writing examines identity in the context of bipolar disorder and memory loss,” she writes. “I’m interested in the life of a mind prone to extremes.
About the piece, Goldbach writes: “Obsession became a driving element of this particular essay. Obsession as unchecked action and uncontrolled thought. Addictions and fixations and manias. Obsession as intrusion. Obsession as unruly imagination. My research was obsessive. My rewrites were obsessive. I drafted and redrafted the essay as a love story, as an “other woman” story, as a mental illness story. I drafted it as a revenge story, a recovery story. In some ways, the essay has retained all of these elements, but it is perhaps more a story of salvage, which always implies a loss.”
His wife called herself Possum. He often had nightmares that she was only playing dead.
One night, he jolted awake and scanned the room.
What’s wrong? I asked.
Nothing, he said. Just some crazy dreams.
Later that day, he smoked Maverick 100s at the kitchen table while I washed dishes.
I had this nightmare, he said.
I dreamt that my Ex-Old-Lady was only pretending to be dead so she could sabotage me.
Smoke twisted from the digits of his left hand where the word SEXY had been tattooed in a melting font.
My Ex-Old-Lady. That’s mostly what he called her. Sometimes My Ex-Wife. Sometimes That Hateful Bitch.
He never said her name. Not even a mention of the nickname Possum.
He called me his Old Lady after Possum’s death, but I was not old. And I was never his wife.
His wife died of a heroin overdose in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus.
I met him while working a summer job at a painting company.
I was twenty-two and inexperienced. He was twenty-eight and married.
I dismissed him as taken. He was out of my league anyway with his dirty blond hair and blue eyes. He could wear a Fedora without looking a fool, and he’d eaten the best taco of his life outside a whorehouse in Tijuana. He’d walked over coral reefs in San Diego, and he’d driven across the country while drinking Beam and beer. I figured he couldn’t possibly be attracted to a sheltered girl who once said, “I love Bruce Springfield,” while listening to “Born in the U.S.A.”
But he flirted with me at the company camping trip. His wife hadn’t come. They were on the outs, so he spent his time fetching me beers and lighting my cigarettes. It had been raining for days. The grass had become mud. Everyone else huddled beneath a pavilion, trying to stay dry.
Let’s walk, he said, and I followed him.
We wandered until mud coated my calves.
While walking down a narrow path, we came across a sign that read, Church in the Woods. A semicircle of tree trunks had been laid out as makeshift pews. A wooden altar stood beneath the dripping leaves of oaks and pines.
We climbed the altar and looked out at an empty congregation. He kissed me beneath the storm, which was already moving east. The altar creaked under our shifting feet. When he reached a hand beneath my shirt, I balked. After all, he was a married man.
But your wife, I said, stopping his hand on my stomach.
We’re in the process of getting divorced, he said. She just has to sign some papers.
You can put your hand up my shirt when you show me the papers.
At the end of the camping weekend, I gave him my number. I checked my phone constantly, waiting for a copy of the divorce papers.
He never called. They never divorced.
I couldn’t compete with a wife named Possum.
He met Possum in high school, but it wasn’t until years later—when they shared a nitrous balloon at a party—that they got together. He asked her out for a date of thrift-store shopping and Scattergories. She eventually moved into his house and got them both jobs at an escort service—he drove the girls around while she answered the phones. Eventually, the cops raided their house and charged them with compelling slavery. A friend bailed her out. He sat in jail.
They split up after that, and they stayed apart for seven years. When he contacted her again, it was winter. He picked her up at night. “That first glance I got of her as she walked through my headlights,” he wrote in a journal, “her beautiful green eyes that perfectly contrasted with her vintage orange coat lined with fur. She looked amazing. The very instant we got inside my apartment, I kissed her.”
They married shortly after that night, on March 24, 2006.
That was their relationship. Fierce or nothing—like the Valentine’s Day he bought her Champagne, even though they couldn’t afford it. One of them picked a fight, and he threw the Champagne bottle out the window. Jagged glass clung to the frame. The bottle landed somewhere in the bushes. She called the police, claiming that he’d aimed for her body. He was trying to kill me, she said. I feared for my life. The police cuffed him and took him to jail, where she bailed him out with the rent money. They were left with nothing more than an empty bottle, a broken window, and his freedom.
It was Possum who got him hooked on heroin.
“Things were good for a brief time,” he wrote about their relationship, “but then came an excess of drugs. Although I’d tried heroin [by the time we met], I really didn’t connect with it. […] It would all end badly.”
Before the heroin, he’d been earning a degree in physics. He had vague notions of becoming an eccentric professor with disheveled hair and Velcro tennis shoes. But school got dropped. And family got dropped. And he found himself ripping off quick-cash marts to fund his habit.
Once, when they were moving out of a house in California, he handed her a bag full of used syringes and empty dope bags. Throw these away, he said. It was the one instruction he gave her, but she was too high to follow through. When the cops pulled them over, the bag was in the back of the van. He claimed the syringes were all his and went to jail. She came to visit. Drool dripped from the corners of her mouth. She kept nodding off. There’s no bail money, she said. He blew up, edgy from detox. You’re fucking high right now, aren’t you? She threw back her head, opening her eyes a little wider. No, no, I’m not high.
Their life together was one of breakups and detoxes. Reunions and relapses. They’d disappear into the heroin where they didn’t want to eat or shower or fuck. For six years, every emotion—sorrow and elation—diluted in their veins. It was a forced amnesia.
Much of my own memory has been erased.
During the years he spent shooting heroin with his wife, I suffered incessant bouts of mania and depression. I’d seen doctors. I’d been to hospitals. I’d taken medications. Nothing seemed to help.
In the year of his wife’s death, I was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward six times. I thought the devil was inside me. Occasionally, I’d dip my finger into a bottle of antifreeze and bring it to my lips, acclimating myself to the taste of suicide.
During my fifth stay in the hospital, a doctor recommended electroconvulsive therapy. He explained the risks. Grogginess. Headaches. Perhaps a bit of memory loss, but nothing that couldn’t be recovered. The whole process was touted as a miracle treatment—few side effects with maximum effectiveness—so I signed the informed-consent papers.
Halfway through the treatments, my memories began to dwindle. I forgot how to get to the grocery store. I forgot the plots of books and movies I’d seen and read. I forgot what I’d done the previous day and the previous year. Every time a friend said, remember that time when…, I shook my head. My recollections were all black. When people persisted (my god, how can you not remember that time?), I’d lie. I’d pretend my memory had just surfaced. Oh, yes, of course I remember.
My memory was the only thing that went. The depression remained. The mania remained. I still found myself in hysterical fits, writing suicide letters and loading my father’s antique Remington rifle.
But I never objected to the treatments.
Every electroconvulsive treatment was the same. I dressed in a hospital gown and brown booties. A nurse stuck me with the IV, the doctor rolled in a blue box that emitted the necessary shock, and the anesthesiologist pushed Brevital Sodium—an anesthetic used to induce brief periods of unconsciousness—into my veins.
Goooood niiiiight, the anesthesiologist said as she unloaded the syringe.
For a few seconds, the lights grew gauzy. My body tingled and warmed, as if the seat of myself were thawing into vapor. It was always at this moment that I desperately fought sleep. I tried to keep my eyes open. I tried to breathe more deeply. I wanted to remain in that melting state where the rifles and the manias buckled at the edge of dreamlessness.
After twenty or so treatments, I began consenting to the electroconvulsive therapy mostly for those conscious seconds before the Brevital Sodium took effect. I still wanted to die. I couldn’t recall entire sections of my life. I could barely remember how to spell words like receive and hollow, but I found brief moments of peace before the Brevital blackouts. So I went to the hospital for as many blackouts as I could get, losing pieces of my mind with every treatment. Forgetfulness was just the price paid for the calm of a needle in the arm.
I became his new Old Lady only nine months after Possum’s death. He’d been off heroin for six months. I’d been finished with electroshock therapy for four months.
By chance, we both found ourselves sitting across from one another at a dive bar, along with a few mutual friends. We drank Redheaded Sluts and discussed the merits of Robert Mapplethorpe. Later that night, we hopped into his rusted green pickup truck and let the chill of a Cleveland winter pull at the smoke of our cigarettes. The bars had all closed. The customers at the 24-hour greasy spoons had sobered up. We drove through the sleeping city to the base of the Hope Memorial Bridge, which rises more than 90 feet above the Cuyahoga River.
We’re gonna climb it, he said.
I didn’t mention my paralyzing fear of heights. I didn’t mention my alcohol-induced lack of balance. I just followed him up the steel girders. My fingers numbed on the cold metal. My pants caught on a bolt and tore at the knee. A can of beer, which I’d placed in my pocket before climbing, fell to the ground and exploded with a skating violence. Beer hissed from aluminum. It foamed, it dripped, it went silent. I kept climbing, slightly disappointed by the loss of the beer.
The thing about amnesia is that you don’t know what you’ve forgotten. You don’t feel the memories slip from your pockets. You don’t hear them hit the ground and hiss. They are there. And then they are not. You only know what you’ve lost by what others tell you, and you can only guess at the memories no one now recalls. You search your pockets for what’s remained, piecing together a self with broken flashes and clouded scenes from a past that might have been yours. Are you a girl afraid of heights? Are you a girl who climbs bridges before sunrise? Have you done this before? He thought I was some daredevil tomboy who drank Redheaded Sluts and gloried in a predawn adrenaline rush. I wanted to be that self.
When we finally reached the beam meant for servicing the bridge, I could barely breathe from the fear of the climb.
The city stretched before us in the gray dawn.
He put his arms around me. I warmed my palms beneath his shirt. We stayed long enough to watch daylight filter through the streets, but the sun couldn’t be seen through the clouds.
It was the morning of March 24, 2013—it would have been his seventh wedding anniversary with Possum. I didn’t know this at the time. He never mentioned her name.
Nearly a week later, he moved in with me. There was little discussion. There was little consternation. He moved in and began sleeping in my bed. He moved in and began calling me his Old Lady.
She intrigues me, I’ve often said to those who’ve met Possum in passing.
The most common response: why?
I heard stories about the pet turtle she let roam around her house, which purportedly caused houseguests to contract pink eye. I heard stories about the time someone tried to clean spilled watermelon off Possum’s kitchen floor. Possum tore at her hair, screaming, Don’t clean my motherfucking house! I heard stories about the time she unsuccessfully tried to poison her husband with antifreeze.
I heard stories about the times he’d tried to get clean. She’d call him up, and he’d answer, and she’d say, you’re nothing but a pussy who can’t handle his drugs.
I heard that she was bad news.
Was she pretty? I sometimes asked.
No one answered this question, so I searched for a picture online. I found a headshot of her on an old Myspace page. A shadow masked half of her face. Her hands were crossed over her chest, clutching a black shawl. Her lips were full, and the rims beneath her wide, green eyes were swollen. She was stunning in a Chelsea Hotel sort of way. A strung-out grace.
I heard stories about myself too. Many of these stories had been so thoroughly erased from my memory that I doubted their truth.
I heard stories about midnight skinny-dipping at Daytona Beach. I heard stories about eating conch balls in Key West. I heard stories about taking a mud bath in a San Francisco spa. Many of the positive moments—attending a writers’ conference in Massachusetts, making hammocks in a Virginia commune—had slipped away into vague imaginings of what I must have been like. The more painful memories, however, seemed to have ingrained themselves too deeply to be uprooted. The high-school suicide attempts. The rape that occurred during my freshman year of college. I could still recall the scratchy textures of psych ward bed sheets, but I couldn’t remember the Thanksgiving dinner when I laughed so hard that gravy seeped from my mouth.
And I wondered: what did it mean to be defined by your worst moments, your low points, your mistakes?
I knew Possum as a heroin addict. I knew myself as a bipolar mess.
After finding that picture of Possum on Myspace, I developed a compulsion to learn more about her. I searched Google and Yahoo and MSN. I purchased a membership to Ancestry.com. I contacted police stations in search of arrest records.
I felt an obligation to record her, to establish a history other than the stories I’d heard. I wanted to believe in her life as something other than a disaster so that I could believe in my own life as the same.
After he and I had been dating for a few months, I began seeing possums everywhere. Beneath bushes. On sidewalks. Dead on the side of the road.
One evening, I walked into a garage. Flies swarmed my neck, my face, my arms. I found a dead possum in the corner, its body nearly disintegrated. I ran out of the garage, shaking with fear. I wondered whether his Possum was trying to send me a message. I began imagining his wife as some kind of demon. I imagined her as he dreamt of her: a woman intent on sabotage. Wicked. Malevolent. The hateful bitch. I spoke to a priest. He gave me holy water, which I sprinkled on the possum carcass before setting it out to be collected by garbage men.
I watched a possum scurry beneath a bush, skittish and vulnerable. Something fearful of predators. I imagined Possum on that night he wrote about in his journal—when she walked through his headlights wearing the vintage orange jacket that contrasted her green eyes. A striking woman with a light step. The type of woman who might disappear if you don’t kiss her quickly.
I passed a dead possum on the road. Its body was bent and mangled. The flesh has begun to decay. I imagined Possum as an eight-year-old, wearing a flower-patterned bikini, running through a sprinkler, shrieking in the cold water. And I imagined her as an addict. Scoring, hooking, cooking her heroin in a spoon. I imagined her craving. I imagined the infected flesh at the bend of her elbow.
I found a vintage orange coat lined with fur in a thrift store. I immediately balked. This must be her coat, I thought. This must be the coat that so perfectly contrasted her green eyes. For a moment, I was too afraid to touch it. Was this coat a curse? A haunting? A friend of mine picked up the coat and insisted that I put it on. I did, and it fit perfectly. That coat was made for you, my friend said. I admired it in the mirror. My eyes are also green. I reached into the pocket, but my hand slipped all the way through. My friend bought the coat and insisted I keep it.
On Possum’s birthday, I found a penny in my closet. It was heads up. Lucky penny, I thought. I remembered a myth I once heard as a child. Heads-up pennies are messages from the dead. If the date on a lucky penny matches the birth year of a dead relative or friend, it means the person is looking after you. I examined the penny. It was from 1979. The year of Possum’s birth.
My obsession with her grew. I considered a séance, but I was too afraid. Instead, I imagined her. I created her in my own mind. I imagined that she hated me for taking her husband. I imagined her scowl. I imagined her disgust. I imagined her as a witch. I imagined her as a medicine man. I imagined that she has entered me, possessed me. We were inseparable. I imagined that he was not my lover, she was. She was some kind of soul mate I couldn’t find in time. In a past life, she was my wife, my husband. In a past life, she was my mother, my daughter. Now she followed behind my shoulder, waiting to be recognized. I imagined that she wanted me to be a successful writer, a traveler, an adventurer. I imagined she wanted me to be what she couldn’t be. And I imagined myself as what she was. I imagined myself as a heroin addict, even though I’ve never picked up a needle. I imagined myself selling my body for drugs, even though I don’t know the price of sex. I imagined myself as a woman who traverses the country with little fear. I wore my vintage orange coat lined with fur and pretended to not feel fear.
I spent hours imagining. I spent hours dreaming up. I drove to the grocery store so lost in imagining that I had no idea how I’d arrived. We are made of our memories. When those are taken, it is easier to get lost in the imaginings than face a reality where we no longer know what we are.
I heard a rumor that Possum’s graffiti was still present on the wall of a bathroom stall in a local dive bar. I took a friend to the bar to investigate.
What are we doing here? she said.
We’re looking for my boyfriend’s dead wife’s graffiti, I said.
You’re so creepy.
Perhaps so. After all, I was stalking a dead girl. But I wanted to touch something Possum had touched. Something other than her husband. Something stable and inanimate. In my mind, the graffiti would solidify her as more than a memory in the process of being forgotten.
Well, what exactly am I looking for? my friend said.
She just wrote her name.
I ran my finger past the Fucks and Damns and declarations of undying love written by urinating drunks. I paused at every jagged letter, but there was no sign of Possum’s name.
I don’t think it’s here, my friend said.
Let me look a little longer.
I searched the entire bathroom twice more. My friend crossed her arms, impatient. She didn’t seem to understand that I needed to find this graffiti. I needed to touch some tangible evidence of Possum’s existence—something independent of another person’s recollection. To do so would make my own amnesia seem less bleak. If the memory of a dead heroin addict could remain on a bathroom stall, then maybe my own memories were merely hidden, waiting to be unearthed.
Listen, my friend said, touching my elbow, I think you’re too late.
Around the time I began seeing possums, he began calling me the perfect girlfriend.
You’re never a bitch, he said. You don’t nag. You don’t give me shit. You’re not like all the other bitches out there. You’re the perfect girlfriend.
So I assumed that role. The more he told me I was perfect, the more perfect I became. The more he told me that I wasn’t a nag, the less of a nag I became. I needed a role. I needed a self. The self I had before the electroshock therapy didn’t seem to fit. I was told that I was an intellectual, but I could no longer remember the plot of Hamlet or the point of The Republic. I was told that I was a writer, but I couldn’t spell words that a fifth grader could pen with ease. I was told that I was a sweet girl, but I often fantasized about murdering the handsome doctor who’d electrocuted my brain.
The perfect girlfriend, however, I could believe. I was very good at not being a bitch.
He added to the reasons for my perfection: I was flexible and agreeable. I didn’t complain about PMS. I didn’t check up on his whereabouts. I didn’t accuse him of infidelity even when he made eyes at barflies and barkeeps. I was fun and adventurous and interesting. He took me to a park in the woods and prompted me to climb a nearly vertical rock that rose some thirty feet in the air. I began climbing, but I stopped halfway up, terrified. My fingers dug into sandstone. I couldn’t breathe. My vision narrowed. You have to keep going, he said. You can’t go back now. So I kept going. Beside his easy confidence, I could climb the rock. Beside his poise, I could be the life of the party. Beside his apathy, I could let myself relax. Beside his humor, I could be witty. Beside his experience, I could be a girl who scaled bridges at dawn.
I became the perfect girlfriend. I slipped into that identity. I put on that shell. The perfect girlfriend was fascinating and levelheaded and desirable. She was demure and helpful and hilarious and beautiful. She was not shrill. She was not irritating. She was not offensive. And she most certainly was not mentally ill. She did not have bipolar disorder. She did not put rifles in her mouth. The perfect girlfriend did not need electroshock therapy. She did not end up in psych wards. She was perfect. I was perfect, so long as he said so. And I did everything I could to keep him saying so.
When he spilt beers on the floor, I’d clean them up. When he whispered cunt to me in the privacy of our bedroom, I laughed it off. When he compromised hundreds of pages of my writing by watching anal porn without virus protection on a computer I repeatedly asked him not to use, I made only the smallest protestation. If I broke down in tears, I did so beneath a bathtub full of water. It was a slow suffocation of the self beneath the shell, but it was more comfortable to drown in his perfect version of who I should be than refashion the flawed version of who I was.
The stories I heard about Possum often began with a disclaimer: I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but…
This disclaimer always led into a story about Possum as a bitch, or an addict, or an occasional whore.
I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but…
But I knew there were other stories. There were moments for which she wasn’t given credit.
He occasionally spoke of his memories in the plural.
The best rack of ribs I had was in Missouri, he said. We were broke and starving, and we stopped there. It cost sixteen dollars. The best fucking ribs ever.
I always assumed that Possum was the other person present in such stories:
We stopped at the Indy 500. It was like Hillbilly Mardi Gras.
We used to smoke weed out of this bowl that someone had carved into a sandstone cliff in San Diego.
When he spoke poorly of her, she was the Ex-Old Lady, or the Ex-Wife, or the Hateful Bitch. But in the fond memories, she was always only the other half of his we.
I went with him for a walk at two in the morning in Clearwater, Florida. We’d been together for nearly a year. We were drunk and vacationing with his family. I was in a foul mood, although I tried to be chipper. I tried to be what he wanted me to be.
Less than two weeks prior to this vacation, he got blackout drunk and pissed on the gifts I had bought my family for Christmas. When I became upset, he said I was ruining his holiday. I had no reason to be angry. So I smiled. I acquiesced. I returned all the urine-soaked presents for non-urine-soaked presents. I made sure we had a nice Christmas. But my smiles were becoming more difficult to force.
As we walked the Florida streets, he said that he wasn’t having a good time, because I was in a bad mood. I had almost ruined his holiday, and now I was ruining his vacation.
Without thinking, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and squared my shoulders.
Maybe you should find someone who’s in a better mood, I said.
I said nothing more. I turned and walked in the opposite direction of our hotel. I didn’t look back. He didn’t follow. For the first time in months, I felt relief. An opening of my chest. An ability to breathe. It was not the kind of relief I used to experience in the seconds before the Brevital Sodium rendered me unconscious during electroshock therapy. It was less ethereal than the cusp of a blackout. It was the relief of being alone and alive and answerable only to myself.
As I walked forward, something hunched and white moved in the corner of my vision. My breath caught. I stopped dead. A possum stood in my path. We stared at one another for a moment, both of us startled.
Don’t go back, something inside me said. Don’t go back, don’t go back.
At first I thought it was Possum’s voice, or God’s voice, or the Universe’s voice, but it was my own voice, clear and insistent. It had been a long time since I’d heard that voice. Don’t go back. The possum scurried into the bushes.
The following evening, I bought a single Greyhound ticket from Florida to San Francisco. I would leave him and traverse the country on a trip that would take nearly four days. I would no longer be the perfect girlfriend. I no longer knew what I would be. This was a terrible, gut-wrenching relief.
Nine months before I became his Old Lady, Possum called him from San Diego. They were separated at the time, and he was living in Cleveland.
Meet me in Vegas, she said. We’ll have a good time.
It took some convincing, but he agreed. Maybe they could have another reconciliation. Maybe this one would stick.
She boarded a Greyhound bus, which rolled toward Vegas in the heat of a Southern California summer. She walked into the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and searched her scarred veins for the best place to insert the syringe. The heroin relieved her, but whatever euphoria she felt wasn’t from the drug. She was traveling to see her husband. She was going to touch his bearded cheek and smile into his blue eyes. Maybe he’d meet her at the bus station, embracing her without saying a word. Maybe he’d kiss her recklessly, and onlookers would envy the way he cradled her head between his tattooed hands. Maybe they’d be man and wife again—two forces against the world.
Her eyes closed as the bus rumbled forward.
When the Greyhound reached Orange County, a fellow passenger realized that the woman with the striking green eyes hadn’t come out of the bathroom. Someone forced open the door, but Possum was already gone.
I boarded the Greyhound in the evening. I found a window seat and angled my body in such a way that the other passengers couldn’t see my face. Before the bus pulled out of the station, I began crying. Snot dripped down my chin. I didn’t reach to wipe it away.
I cried for all those reasons that leaving a man is difficult, but I also cried for the memories I never mourned. I cried for ever having consented to electroshock therapy. I cried because I already knew the story he would tell our mutual friends. He would tell them that I was a hateful bitch for leaving him in Florida. Mostly, however, I cried for my tiny, flayed, evaporated self that could no longer hide behind what he said I was. A self blinking and disoriented. A self with an illness. A self too knotted to ever be one thing.
The bus pulled onto the street and headed north.
When I regained my composure, I opened my wallet to count what little money I had. As I flipped through a few bills, I came across the memorial card from Possum’s funeral. Weeks prior, I had found the memorial card amid his personal items. I placed the card in my wallet, not to hide it from him but to save it for myself.
There is a black-and-white photo of Possum on the front of this card. Her dark hair frames her high cheekbones. Her eyes are bright and wide. She looks nothing like the strung-out woman in the Myspace picture. I wanted to remember her in this way. I wanted to remember her as someone poised and beautiful. And she was. She was poised and beautiful and adventurous in ways I will never be able to imagine. Perhaps she was once the little girl in a flower-patterned bikini jumping through the sprinkler. She was smiling and gorgeous and addicted and a whore. She was a hateful bitch and a manipulative disaster. A track-marked wreck. Full of grace.
I folded the card in half and placed it back in my wallet. The sun began to set behind highways lined with palm trees. The bus crept toward the coast. I watched the passing horizon, imagining the white-capped waves of the Pacific, anticipating the self I might be when I arrived.