Part One in the “Stories from The Big Yellow House” Series
The yellow house is much yellower now, though in my memory it is not so bright because I’m not there. Neither is anyone else I know, but it was so precious while it existed in my world, and now in my memory. I am glad that The Big Yellow House is so entrenched in my core, because it will never fade.
Because when the Big Yellow House goes, so do my memories of a lot of other people. This entry is for them, and starts with a conversation between Bryn and me regarding our “shared childhood.” Now that we’re older, we both think of each other as children back then. I was 19, so I think that makes her 14 or 15 when we met. She would remember. I can remember everything but her age. 😛
Saying Bryn’s name out loud because she’s one of the, like, three people I would entrust with this conversation at all. Anyone who knew I was talking about it with someone and cared could easily guess all three. That’s because neither of us are the main characters. We were the ones that snuck off to be bad girls.
She wasn’t quite old enough to be bad properly, and I was a computer geek. We just sat and talked, and increasingly listened to jam sessions that were mildly interesting as background music and right now I can think of at least five people who are going to read that sentence and hate my guts. And two who will absolutely fall on the floor laughing and go, “she went there.”
I was never into the banjo. I hated it. Just for the record, but no one asked me… whereas I would say that anyone who learned to play the banjo in The Big Yellow House was clearly trying to isolate me. I am certain that was on purpose (one of the only jokes I will make about my time in The Big Yellow House, because it’s a shame that I can’t. Not right now. Even a decade later, it’s still Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
It’s because I have love for some of the people I met there and still have on my friends list, and some others that are a memory. Still alive, certainly, but with no need or want on either side to reconnect. Actually, that is a lie. I do not know for certain about them. I know for certain about me. I am not willing to do anything to help things along in terms of getting closer. I am reaching out to the people at that house when I was there. I feel that my ramblings might give the impression that I mistook the part for the whole and was trying to say that everything was bad.
This series is a way to say thank you for the things that they gave me while I was also in hell. I haven’t forgotten it, and I don’t want to focus on darkness. I want to bring this into the light, because that’s where they brought me. I cannot regret coming to Portland, because I wouldn’t have wanted a chance to meet Dana and then blown it by not coming back.
I definitely would have met some of these people one time, but they would not have raised me the way that they did. I’m kinder because of them. I’m a better person because of them, even though they knew nothing about me.
For the record, some people believe that I am a liar and I am just crazy. I don’t believe that, but they do. I believe that I can express what I’m feeling better than at least half the world, so my faith in my sanity is fairly sound. However, in my tribe, no one is perfect. It’s just that the more of us there are, the more it’s likely that one of us is all right.
The Big Yellow House will look at my experiences in Portland through the lens of one particular backyard… with two particular young girls… and three particular puppy dogs (Bunce, then Barley, then Maisie in score order). We’ll look at history, both personal and American, interestingly enough. We’ll go to church, where I was basically the youth group (what’s new?). We’ll walk up 36th to Division, then 37th up to Hawthorne so we can go to trivia.
We’ll listen to Outpost at the Block Party. We’ll go to Le Pigeon. We’ll invade the kitchen at Tapalaya and drink at Biddy McGraw’s. But we’ll start with a prayer for ablution. Water is washing over me and my tears are stinging my face. We’ll start with 1997, just a snippet of a memory.
Alex was one of the first people I met in Oreon, predating the yellow house by quite a few years. She had my heart from day one when there was a party at The Little Gray House, and men were bothering her. She asked if she could be my girlfriend for a second to get them away from her. To know how funny this actually was, you’d have to know Alex and me. She’s a diva, the amazing kind that makes you pray to the voice gods before an audition that you don’t have to follow her. I’m short and I don’t like many people. Enough said about that except to say that “Odd Couple” moment made me think that maybe I had more than one friend in the neighborhood. Alex and her husband have blessed me many times over just by being them. I have told their story before, and was crying so hard in the middle of a Starbucks that my mother thought we should leave so I could calm down. I think she thought I needed Xanax, when in reality it was the best sermon I’ve ever heard, and I will put it up against anyone, anywhere, because the structure ENDS ME to this day. I am sobbing right now just thinking about it.
At Bridgeport, we divided the service up in to different duties. Instead of always having the pastor du jour (our word for having rotating preachers and an alarmingly deep bench- mostly brilliant lesbian preacher’s kids and ordained pastors kicked out of other churches,tbh… theological academician crack) do what we called “the offering pitch,” different people were asked (generally five minutes before… not planned, but useful because people will rarely say no if you don’t give them a chance to think about it).
Greg, Alex’s husband
I’m sorry. This is going to take a minute to get out because I know this story and you don’t. I cannot breathe all the way down, and this happened such a very long time ago. It’s a core memory that is one of my blue orbs hoping to find yellow and avoid red. My emotions are turning inside out.
I can remember about 10 years ago losing my everloving mind with grief as I relayed this story to my mother, where I wailed and she said we should leave Starbucks.
Greg walked to the front of the church and stood in front of the baptismal font. He pointed and he said, “this is where I was baptized.”
Then, he walked to the altar rail and looked toward the windows facing north, and he said, “And this is where I got married.”
This is the part where I am crying so hard I think my heart is going to break. I haven’t been back here in so long, and it was the most traumatic thing that has ever happened in our community. We will never get over it. We had to learn to live with it, our entire church life beginning back over at the Book of Acts, or as I call it, The Gospel of “Holy Shit, What Do We Do Now?”
Greg turned so he was standing behind the Communion table and he said, “this is where I buried my children.”
It was true. Greg and Alex lost their twins, Eleanor and Quinn, to a rare genetic disorder. They were only about two weeks old.
Today I learned that grief makes you cry out louder than you thought you could.
He used the resurrection of the Christ to show us how we resurrected ourselves. That the loss of his and Alex’s twins didn’t go unnoticed because it bonded us. Love poured out for them and back into us.
It was a sermon. And I remember it all. I am absolutely sobbing and it was almost 20 years ago.
The people who visited The Big Yellow House were often more important than its residents.
Over time, the color never faded. It just got brighter, especially with the telling of it. “A little brighter than it used to be” was “it BURNS” by dinner.
I assure you, the people who have also been there share this opinion. In fact, it seemed to shine more every year. As we got older, it got smarter. It remembered our secrets and our lies, told to each other in the dark summer nights filled with beer and conversation.
I was 19 when I met the church at the opera, 20 when I met the church that used to have green carpeting (and is still known that among my crowd… I’m 45), and 21 when I knew that these people were my life.
By 24, I was driving up I-5 feeling like I’d been punked. This had nothing to do with the Big Yellow House and everything to do with the fact that I’d only visited Oregon in the *summer.*