The last time I was in Seattle, I got arrested. I was 20 years old and flew in from Tucson to meet my family. On the second night, my younger sister and I were wrangled to go to a party somewhere in Bothell. If you are not from the area, Bothell is sort of like, the slums of the suburbs.
Everything at the party seemed pretty standard— cases of Bud Light stacked in the fridge, kids making out on the carpeted floor, pot smokers on the balconies, terrible 90’s house music. The situation was this: some naively optimistic parents had moved out and left both an abandoned house and a teenager with keys.
As expected, the neighbors called the cops.
When the police came, they weren’t wasting anytime. There was a helicopter flooding lights through the windows and they surrounded the house. Some partiers ran, but I had hatched a boozey scheme to hide in a closet upstairs until they were gone. Alone, I listened as the cops busted down the door and the party hushed. I waited about a half hour, then when it was quiet, I snuck down the stairs. Just before I thought I was in the clear, I heard a cop yell, “Grab her!” While all the other kids were sitting on their hands like naughty school children, I was cuffed and thrown in the back of the cop car, like they had already seen my profile on America’s Most Wanted.
Since I was a drunk, a kid, and raised in the suburbs, at that moment, I didn’t have a clear understanding of the legal system or, at the very least, how to mitigate the consequences of getting caught doing something illegal. This wasn’t like The Wire where kids in gangs and ghettos are taught to placate the police just to avoid some superfluous nightstick beating. Ironically, I was slated to start law school the following year, but this did not help matters. Lesson being, when you don’t *actually* understand Miranda or the 4th Amendment, best not be trying to kick out the windows of a cop car and yelling about your rights.
They booked me and set the bail at $1000.00.
My biggest regret is the mug shot. I am crying, caught in a moment of weakness (very Lindsey Lohan). We still have copies of it, which my brother likes to occasionally post on Facebook to remind me of my indiscretionary youth. I think if I could do it over, I would be smiling or mocking the cops with a slight smirk as if to say, “Yeah, I’m busted. You can’t scare me. I like handcuffs.”
Truth be told, I was scared shitless: I had been stripped searched, fingerprinted and forced to wear what I considered to be a very unflattering orange jumpsuit. Sobering up quickly, I waited the night for my parents to pick me up from the cell. In the meantime, I did a lot of handstands, which, apparently, were some indication of “crazy” and I got moved to the “padded room” (which is sort of a gymnasts dream, actually).
Ultimately I was charged with underage drinking and disorderly conduct, a fun little conviction I had to explain to the Minnesota Supreme Court when all of the police records were sent over in my application to the State Bar. Turns out, the reporting officer was very descriptive in exposing my character, including such lively quotes as, “You, officer, are a loser, ” and “I hate this fucking state.”
Even though Washington still holds my personal record for “longest time in one place” and I still have family there, I haven’t entered the state since my court date in 2001. When I was supposed to meet some friends in Seattle last fall, I turned around right before I reached the Washington border. I think it was subconscious, as I contrived several other reasons NOT to go: too much work, the drive too long, and simply, I was tired of traveling. But, why did I make the drive all the way from San Francisco, through Oregon and only then make the decision to turn around?
Seattle is one place in a string of many that I have been avoiding.
Since returning to the States, I have thought a lot about the places I chose not to go. There were obvious refusals—I was in Turkey during the revolution in Cairo and was invited to tag along with some of those adventurous types who don’t mind being in war zones. In addition to the fact that it was dangerous and most Americans were trying to get OUT of Cairo, I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t belong there, like if I actually showed up, it would be something like wedding crashing.
Last year, I had every intention of making it to Italy. And I was only a border cross away. Despite the fantasy of eating nothing but bread and pasta through Naples, Milan, and Rome, I couldn’t help but remember that psychic—the one who told me that I would fall in love with an Italian. After all the trouble I went through to get out of marriage, why would I want to go to fatefully fall in love again and (gasp) even settle with some sprightly Italian: “No love for me! Even if by fate!”
I like to trick fate when possible. So yes, Italy seemed like a bad choice, regardless of how hot and young the psychic told me my new Italian lover would be.
Speaking of love, I avoided France because the last time I was there I was traveling with my French ex-boyfriend. We had basically fought our way through Toulon, Nice, Cannes, and Monaco. For me, when I look at a map, France is like a black hole of baguettes and cigarettes, and films that I once loved. Now, there was too much associated, too much past wrapped up in my memories and my former life. While part of me thought I could somehow “replace” older memories, I was also feeling too fraught about having to recall some of those frustrating (admittedly painful) experiences to even bother.
This is the same reason I hate Boston, although, to be fair, the subway system, accents, drivers, and it’s inferiority complex with NYC are also supporting my cause.
With freedom comes choice, and inevitably, too much freedom can impose unregulated questions: where would you go if you could go anywhere? Also interesting to consider: where wouldn’t you go? It seems a bit like the spots on the crossword puzzle that must be left negative, even with their potential.
Deciding to “arrive” has a lot to do with fantasy—and most of the time, that fantasy will be destroyed. For example, I knew that Casablanca would never meet my expectations. Even though I was only a few hours away, I purposely never made an effort, wanting to maintain the vision I had of Humphrey Bogart and that iconic scene when Ingrid Bergman walks into the club: “ Of all the gin joints in all of the towns in all of the world, she walks into mine.”
The truth was, I had already heard Casablanca was a shithole, and I wanted to preserve my memory and fantasy—in black and white, the texture of the scratchy film, so much more compelling than anything I could have experienced myself.
Sometimes, for this reason, I wish I had never been to New York (cue Jay-Z/ Alicia Keys).
I never made it to Eastern Europe either, even though I had a flight booked to Bulgaria and had planned several weeks of travel through Poland, Romania, Hungary and Ukraine—last minute I backed out and flew to meet a friend in London instead. This seemed like a natural avoidance. A friend who used to live in Ukraine wrote me the following email the week I was supposed to begin my Eastern European trek:
Honestly, as a single woman, I don’t think North Eastern Europe would be all that much fun right now (but perhaps that’s what you’re looking for?). I don’t mean in terms of safety. I mean, it’s cold. Really cold. And probably covered in snow. I spent a few very isolating months there when I first arrived. There’s barely any ex-pats, and most others don’t speak much English. There’s also almost no tourists until May–and those are mostly looking for sex. I say this only as someone who had to deal with the three single Western women I knew there complain constantly about what a paradise the place was for men (true) and what monotony it was for women (unless you’re into ugly uneducated abusive alcoholics who all look like skinheads).
Oddly, the part about “perhaps that’s what you’re looking for,” was kind of fitting. I remember thinking that I needed a masochistic, painful, kind of travel experience, something harrowing to remember, something to make me feel like I had really “been there.” Not unlike that 30 hour train ride from Saigon to Hanoi.
In the end, I couldn’t do it. I knew that my going to Eastern Europe was more about the kind of trying experience I could mark down—but I just didn’t care about that anymore—and truth be told, I was sick of being alone. And no uneducated, abusive alcoholic who looked like a skinhead was going to make that any better.
Then there were the places that just didn’t make the cut (this time), particularly India, a place that is to me, romantic, and not in a Slumdog Millionaire kind of way. Just that the food, the people, it’s religious diversity, and still operative caste system have always been compelling (and jarring). I have a friend who was traveling south through India and got stuck on a train where everyone was sick. By the end of the trip, he was covered in vomit because the passengers above him were throwing up out the window.
I had heard so many stories about traveling through India, that when I do go, I want to be ready. Yes, like in Home Alone. Only instead of setting booby traps for crooks in the suburbs of Chicago, I am going to be getting malaria shots, brushing up on my knowledge of protozoan infections and figuring out how to avoid that puke-train.
I sort of like the negative space in the world, the places I haven’t been or seen, possibly more than the ones that have already been marked…some will remain a mystery, that won’t be contaminated with realities, or stories, or marked by experience. I like that whether I make it there or not, those places occupy a place in my mind. There is something to be said about “being there,” but sometimes reality can be twisted, and leave a mark (and then, even more twisted, is memory.)