Chapter 4

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1886

Sandra lived in a world of her own creation, a world which existed solely within her own mind and was more real to her than that which existed outside of it. It took strange turns and twists, this made human interaction difficult at times as she always felt split between two consciousnesses. It was frustrating for her to move through life. She was never really sure which world she would have to navigate. Some days she would wake up complete and present close to the tactile world around her, other days, she felt like there was a mile between what her eyes saw and where her being stood. She had to work to reach through the expanse. When this happened, she would forget to do normal things and people would get offended or angry with her. They just did not understand why one day she could write an entire column and the next she struggled to reply to the most basic email. How one day she would remember to ask someone how their weekend was and the next, fail to acknowledge their existence.

On this day, Sandra had one foot firmly in both worlds. These days were her favorite. She felt like she got to live two lifetimes in one, she felt grateful for the richness of her existence, appreciating the struggle and the intensity it brought to her life. As she walked, Sandra was lost in thought over the idea that reality is a loosely agreed upon hallucination, when she wandered onto a small pedestrian street downtown. The street used to be home only to an old seafood restaurant, but since being closed to cars a few years ago, more restaurants, bars and shops had opened. The street was cobblestone with planters full of flowers hanging from lamp posts. It reminded her of the green street in Paris where she had gotten drunk because the bartender was from Texas. She was with a bunch of Australians and lay on the sidewalk looking at the stars waiting for her cab to come. She wasn’t sure if the shops on the street were green or if there was a defect in her memory… Another rabbit trail…

Sandra walked alone down the street and glanced through a large window into the Dan and Louis Oysterbar. It was a warm Sunday afternoon, she stopped to watch a couple sharing lunch. The two of them were eating and laughing. She could not hear what they were talking about, but they were clearly enjoying the conversation. She could not see the man’s face, but his hair was perfect and his shoulders handsomely broad. She could see the woman’s eyes smile at him. She remembered when her eyes had smiled at another person, that person was gone now. She watched the woman reach across the table and touch the man’s hand, Sandra felt a hot pang of jealousy surge through her body. Blinded by anger, hands tightly balled up, she stopped herself right before she slammed her fist through the window. She walked away, knowing her face was red hot. She disappeared into the crowd, once again, taken aback by what had sprung into her mind in that moment. She had stared too long into the abyss.

Sandra had been part of the flood of people moving to Portland recently. She had found a job working for a small paper called the Portland Mercury. She did not totally understand what the paper covered, or really what she was getting into, but she needed the job. She needed to leave Los Angeles. She had been using sex to feel powerful, to feel like she was in control of something, anything. Instead, she just felt nothing, interspersed with a deep dread. Dark and empty, she existed, craving intimacy and finding only the sad and pathetic replacement of one night stands.

Walking through the city reminded her of all of the places she had gone with Harriet. Kissing on the shortest railroad, holding hands and walking past city hall. Taking pictures at the tar pits. All of the places that their bodies had touched the city, touched one another. Sandra felt life differently when she was near Harriet. She changed the air around her. It became warm and close. Sandra felt safe. She felt seen and heard, she existed. Sandra began to piece together an idea that had struck her deeply as she walked around Echo Park. With everyone around her, Sandra had felt the need to hide herself. She was a master of hiding. She was funny, she was sarcastic, she could read people and become who she knew they wanted her to be. But that person was never herself, and how could that want something they did not know existed. But with Harriet, there was no need to hide, she just was. And that was intimate, infinite in its meaning. Now she knew deep in her soul that she would never experience that again.

This was her first week living in Portland and she had decided to hit all of the top tourist spots. She had seen the Saturday market, the zoo and walked the waterfront, her last tourist attraction was the Portland Timber’s game. Sandra did not yet have a grasp on the city, but she had enjoyed it so far. She was due to start her new job the next day. After that, she really didn’t know how much free time she would have to explore. It was much warmer than it had been the last time she had been to Portland, and she was able to see a lot more of the city.

One thing Sandra did know, was that leads can arise out of the most unlikely places. Sandra had walked into a shop across from the Oysterbar and was browsing the aisles for a new houseplant. Sandra looked up when she heard the bell above the door jingle. A non descript man walked into the store and went straight to the front counter. She overheard him introduce himself as John, a detective with the Portland Police Bureau. The detective asked the owner if they sold garden plants. The owner said, “yes.” This question send shivers up Sandra’s spine. She ducked behind an aisle so that she could listen without being seen.

The detective asked the clerk, “Has anyone come in recently to buy peony, delphinium and sword fern?”

The store clerk looked confused, He answered, “We don’t sell delphinium here.”

Her blood ran cold when she heard the detective ask if anyone had bought that group of plants at one time.

The store clerk looked at the detective, he replied, “I just told you, we don’t have delphinium here.”

Looking exhausted and defeated, the detective thanked the clerk and walked slowly around the shop.

Sandra snuck out of the shop in a fog, she didn’t want the detective to see her. She couldn’t catch her breath, she didn’t know what to think. Her vision became blurry and she sat down on the sidewalk. Her chest grew tight and she thought she might have a heart attack. It had been a minute since she had felt like this. It was the panic without the pain that brought her to her knees outside of the shop. She tried to pull herself together when the detective walked out into the bright sun and onto the sidewalk. Her mind went to the familiar and comfortable mantra that she had lived in for years. “You’re ok, you’re ok, its ok, everything is going to be ok.” Over and over she repeated her mantra. The familiarity of the statement calmed her breathing. It took her back inside of herself. It took her to the safe place where she hid when the world was scary. Being alone was scary. Being alive was scary.

Sandra wandered around the city in an daze, the situation at the plant shop had pushed her deep inside of herself and coming out of it was like breaking the surface after being underwater for too long. When she finally did break through the haze of her anxiety, she realized that she was standing dangerously close to the edge of the water. She looked down at the brown, muddy, toxic river churning below her, took a sharp breath in and a big step back. She stood on the cement pathway that ran along the waterfront and realized just how far of a drop it would be down the steep wall into the river. She wondered what she was doing there, and more profoundly, what she was capable of in that moment. Had she well and truly stopped valuing her life so much so, that she would jump? Did she have the will or the courage or the desperation to exit stage left and watch the curtain fall on her life? Apparently, not yet. She realized she had a soccer game to go to, the triviality of this thought made her laugh.

Sandra arrived at the game late, still somewhat shaken. She decided to get a beer and find her seat. After what seemed like forever in line, she made her way through the wild crowed to her seat near the front. She had splurged on the expensive seats right behind the season ticket holders. She watched the people chat with one another, they had formed a community over the years around their collective love of soccer. It was soothing to watch. Sandra took a long cold sip of her beer and began to feel relaxed, she could feel the anxiety and tension leave her body. Then, her stomach dropped. She looked to her right and saw the couple from the oyster bar sitting in front of her. She knew that having to watch them meant there was no way Sandra was going to sort the mess that had spilled out in her mind upon hearing that list of plants again.

Looking up, Sandra saw the man turn, and begin talking to his friend, she watched as the little blonde woman scooted closer to the man. He seemed to take no notice, she knew the fate of the strange woman before the woman ever could have guessed. She reached out to touch him and again, he did not notice. When the woman went to get another beer, the man’s gaze rested hungrily on a younger, more beautiful woman. Knowing that the woman in front of her was soon going to be as sad and lonely and fucked up as she was, gave Sandra a wicked satisfaction and left her the room she needed to decide what she was going to do next. What Sandra did not know was that the woman she had observed was too powerful for any one man, or any number of men for that matter, to destroy. But that is another story for another day.

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