At my best friend’s house in Winston, I reteach myself to sleep. In the cocoon of small-town Oregon, I slip into unconsciousness all night, every night, for a week. While I try to remain optimistic, if I’m honest, I don’t expect this anti-insomnia to continue once I leave.
My running route in Winston has exactly one hill, and I have to veer into the road to go down it. I’m no longer a person who can take descents in a straight shot. I have to criss-cross, lengthen the path, to keep my knees from giving out.
The first day, I see peacocks, a whole gaggle grazing by the side of the road, and I stop to watch them, as I often stop to watch things here. That blue of the males’ feathers is more vibrant than anything I’ve ever owned.
There are thirteen ways of defining trouble. One is, “to agitate or disturb something, especially the surface of water (often passive).”
A gun will go off all week. Every day I run, I’ll hear it, always on the longest, straightest stretch of road. Every time the boom resounds, sucking all sound into its vacuum, the birds erupt in screams that echo for a mile and make me wish I ran faster than I can.
The third day, I pass the place where the peacocks had been (I thought) and find a flock of wild turkeys instead.
Life is hard. It just is, and there’s no way around it. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” It is a promise as certain as the one He made to overcome this troubled world. Even though you’re in love, I still see the weight of all things tugging the muscles that hold up your smile.
Consider the blue sky opening over a barn-red house, tucked back into a field, surrounded by pockets of full-throated trees. I’m starting to forget why I ever wanted so badly to live in a city.
The fifth day, (I think) I see both peacocks and turkeys, side by side. I don’t know if these species coexist, but I tell myself they can and do. What I see for certain: two male peacocks on either side of the road, as if on guard, both receding as I approach. The last thing I’d ever do is hurt them, but of course, there’s no way to let them know that.
On the other hand, only one sheep of the dozens scattered across the dying grass looks up as I run past. I’m not close enough to warrant alarm or even notice from the rest.
Maybe it wasn’t a gun. Maybe it was a car backfiring. Maybe it was construction. I didn’t see. I’ll never know.
In the ten months I’ve been coming to Winston, nearly every time I’ve gone outside, I’ve seen something dead on the road, and every time, it’s a different creature. Sometimes flattened on the dividing line, but usually slumped on the shoulder, as if passed out, locked in a deep sleep for which my passing isn’t worth waking up.
Another definition of trouble: “an actual or perceived failing or drawback.”
My first day back in Portland, I feign knowledge to a stranger who asks me for directions. Within seconds of his departure, I realize I’ve sent him the wrong way. In my core of cores, it seems I would rather lie than admit that, after three years of living here, I still don’t know where anything is.
In Portland, if you look long and hard enough (but really, let’s be honest, not that long or hard), there is virtually nothing you can’t find that you might want. Just today, it occurs to me, do I want to live in a place where there is nothing I can’t find?
Sometimes, I go out to the driveway and sit in my car, just to remember what silence sounds like.
I’m still sleeping, but it isn’t the same.
The dead animals followed me home.