Many healthy concepts fall to the wayside when one is recovering from a traumatic event. The cutting of hair, the changing of clothes, the flushing of toilets, the taking of showers (or perhaps the exiting of showers, once three full hours have passed). When my elder brother’s marriage was decimated by insecurity and distrust, he abused hard drugs and became homeless. When my father lost his job, he curbed his livelihood and spent his accumulated retirement fund on scraping by atop a blue sofa.
When I survived the rupturing of my veins, I coped by devolving into a shitty person.
Within days, I had isolated myself from all trusting friends, broken up with my long-term significant other, and watched enough internet pornography to give myself handcrafted genital herpes. Though I had moved off-campus, I was still clinging to the notion of successfully completing my first college year. Every day, I would return to the dorms and insincerely discuss classes with my friends, all the while neglecting a majority of my homework. Every night, I would walk into my ex-girlfriend’s room and beg for her affection, always reducing my logic to some pathetic copout about “being good friends and loving one another but avoiding any real relationship.” Commitment, responsibility, confidence, and overall functionality had become utter strangers to me. I was a pitiful train wreck of weakness and dishonesty.
Yet, by some ugly miracle, an absurd solution came to me amidst the thick of my wretchedness. It was delivered to me whilst sitting at home, trying my best not to think of my most recent counselling appointment (something legally required of me, as long as I wanted to avoid the loony bin). My hands were set upon my keyboard and a good friend of mine (a young man by the name of Levi Nelson) was sitting at the other end of cyberspace. He had been informed of a strange and rare opportunity, something that could change the course of our lives as we knew them.
“Boot companies will sponsor you to walk across the country in their boots,” he wrote me. “We need to investigate this right now. We need to get out soon. I’m going to get ahold of [our friend] Garrett.”
That was all it took to stand me up and dust me off. I needed to travel back to Portland by whatever means necessary. In fact, the very words “by whatever means necessary” may have actually crossed my mind at some point throughout the abysmal, amateur process that we referred to as “plan-making,” an essential and preceding step in what would be the longest fourteen hours of my life.
The original strategy was to drive back to the big city, meet up, and walk across the country (just like that). However, the far-reaching expanse of America proved too daunting a starting goal; we needed something simpler first.
The second plan was then formed; my friends would be driven into La Grande before commencing with a group expedition to Portland. That way, we would be allowed a small taste of a greater adventure, to determine whether or not we had what it took. And yet the use of vehicles made things “too easy.”
Here, the third plan was born; my friends would walk to me, stay for a week or two, then set out as originally intended. Levi knew members of a tax-evading, independently operated semi-cult known to the youth of Portland as “The Boneyard” (a name earned upon their discovery of animal skeletons, uprooted from beneath the soils of their backyard). A sunken-eyed man lived there with his profoundly pierced girlfriend, a fellow by the name of Fini, who dealt narcotics from a truck and proclaimed himself the group’s “acquirer of goods.” He would supply gear for their excursion, covering camping and general survivability altogether.
Nevertheless, Fini’s heroin-laced preparations took far too long and I became impatient. When visiting a friend’s family in southern Washington (and simultaneously contracting a terrible fever), I finally caved, spontaneously deciding the ultimate plan; from White Salmon to Portland, I would walk approximately seventy miles along the highway, stopping for nothing.
When the time came to return to La Grande, I broke the news to my friends and we drove back into Oregon, saying our goodbyes before I departed.
Within the first five hours, I had barely outrun two trains, stumbled into a homeless congregation in the woods, and discovered a garbage bag full of mysterious flesh. There was dog shit on my hands and people shit on my shoes. The sun was setting rapidly and my nerves were quickly getting the better of me. After a certain point, I drew and unfolded a sizable pocket knife that had been supplied for my travels, shambling like some drunken rube down the side of the open road with a dark blade hanging visibly from my shaking fist. Two arm warmers (my inadequate substitutes for bandaging) shifted and began to itch beneath my sleeves, leading me to periodically scratch at my wrists and elbows as I shuffled alongside the speeding traffic. It would have been a feat to look more suspicious.
At one point, after the pinkish sun had at last disappeared behind the mountains, a sudden urge to urinate overcame me like a tsunami within my bladder. Bizarrely self-conscious about leaking onto the concrete road, my sleep-deprived brain informed me of a simple, indisputable alternative; relieve myself into the empty water bottle that I had finished off a short while back. Without questioning such logic for even a moment, I whipped my manhood out in the middle of the freeway and emptied my foul, dark, sickly piss into the frail plastic container. After that, all it took was a quick turn of the cap and I was on my way once more, piss-flagon secured at the side of my backpack and stance shaking like a junkie in the cold.
Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t until a good six hours past sundown that an Officer of the Law was called to investigate my undoubtedly frightening presence. When the alternating beams of blue and red began to wash across the road, I crawled up onto the highway’s median divider and tucked my knees into my chest, wracking my hazy brain for the best way to look like a “good guy” (thank Christ, I’m white).
“You alright?” the man called out to me, speaking quietly into his radio as he approached.
“Yeah,” I told him, greasy and heaving and coiled into a fetal position atop a slab of concrete. “I’m good.”
“Where are you headed?” he asked.
“Oh. Whoa. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Are you armed?”
I thought for a moment. “Yes.”
The Officer stared at me, hand near his hip. He didn’t speak.
“Wait, shit, no… I mean yes. But not really. There’s a knife in my pocket. Like a pocket knife. In my pocket. Also a wrench I found in the woods, but that’s actually in my backpack. Oh, and a giant screw from the train tracks. That’s also in my backpack.”
Miraculously enough, these words seemed to alleviate a small amount of the man’s tension, his hand now raised and bearing a bright light, scanning over me. “I’ll give you a ride,” he offered. “As long as you put the knife in your bag there.”
Keeping my movements slow, I lowered myself from the divider and unslung the rucksack, drawing the knife and storing it within. It was clear that he found me unfathomably shady, but any sense of intimidation had been shed over my cluelessness, and a break from eleven consecutive hours of walking sounded like a dream. Putting my hands up, I began to lurch toward him.
“What are you doing?” he asked me.
“Pat-down,” I said.
“You want me to give you a pat-down?”
“I mean yes. Only if you want to, though.”
Reluctantly, the Officer ran his hands down my body, a wildly concerned eye set upon my face. When he was done, he wiped his hands on his uniform and opened the back door of his car. “Alright,” he spoke firmly. “Get in. You can leave your bag up front with me.”
I did as he commanded, clambering into the cramped, plastic space and jamming my sore legs into the tight gap behind the passenger seat. He walked around front, entered the vehicle, and set my backpack with a heavy thud in the space beside him. “How far are you taking me?” I asked through the barrier of steel mesh and bulletproof glass.
“I can only go about a mile or so toward Portland from here, but I know where there’s a payphone that you can go to.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“I can give you a bus pass.”
“Awesome. Thank you.”
Turning his key in the ignition, the Officer muttered more words into his radio and stepped on the gas, the vehicle jerking slightly upon startup.
Almost immediately, an ungodly stench slapped me in the nose.
Wafting through the backseat, some rank odor had found its way into the vehicle, musty and sour all at once. My face puckered in disgust and I began to observe the front of the automobile, mumbling through sparse conversation whenever it arose.
“My son’s adopted, too,” the man said.
That’s when it hit me, my gaze landing wide and trembling upon the piss-flagon. Its cap had loosened and the rancid urine was splashing in turbulent synchronicity with every bump in the pavement, some leaking down the bottle’s edge and onto the dark leather. At one particular moment, upon approaching the border of Troutdale, the cap slipped off in full and landed in the crevice between seats, wet and foul and lodged into a cavity of the man’s car. Putrid froth splashed out in a thick, yellow glob, landing dangerously close to a small, indiscernible control panel beside the Officer’s right leg. Yet somehow, by some brilliant work of divine intervention, he saw nothing, smelled nothing, and said nothing (well, at least that last one).
Just after passing Troutdale, the Officer pulled over to the side of the road and asked me to exit the vehicle. As soon as my feet touched the ground, agony shot through my knees and thighs; with great effort, I staggered over to the passenger door and waited for the man to open it, speedily reclaiming my bag with a nervous smile.
“I forgot the busses aren’t running anymore,” he told me, handing me a pass regardless. “Good luck out there.”
“Thank you,” I said, taking a step back to watch him pull away.
As the dark shape disappeared down the road, I dumped the flagon out at my feet and watched it bleed slowly into the pebbly earth. The cap was still in the car.
Turning, I continued my journey into Portland.
(Next: My Life As An Accidental Drug Peddler)
Pre-haircut Mack, setting out for Portland on foot – April 5th, 2014