Purgatory Angeles

A year before the Green River Killer was arrested, I was a thirteen-year-old girl determined not to become one of Raymond Carver’s sad Port Angeles waitresses like my mother. When the only thing encircled by Mom’s refrigerator padlock and chain were perspiring blush bottles of rosé and an expired jar of sauerkraut, I placed my Narnia Tales books in a cardboard box. I needed to sell something that might be valuable at the secondhand bookstore for grocery money. Mom said that food stamps were too humiliating. I read books on display, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and flipped through a book by Howard Zinn as I waited for the clerk wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt to decide how much Nag Champa and marijuana-scented bills he would give me to buy food for my mom and siblings.

A month earlier, we had spent out last money to move to the town where Twilight was set. An Olympic Peninsula paper mill town where people pronounce the silent R in Washington and the cycling culture is a line of bikes corralled outside the dive bar closest in proximity to The Mill. Old rusted Huffys with squealing brakes and pink tween bikes formerly belonging to the children of millworkers with too many DUIs to risk driving to work tomorrow morning. My mother told me that Port Angeles was only one of five places in the world where the mountains go straight into the sea. I looked at a map to see if she was right. But the aerial view looked less to me like mountains than a wash rag being wrung to squeeze out the Hoh Rainforest’s excess water. Our transience was an ongoing game of hide-and-seek with my father who had threatened to kidnap and/or kill us. Years later, when I would try to lead a normal life and work in a normal office, people would ask me where I grew up. “Oh, are you a military brat?” they would ask when I named all the states where I had “grown up.” I tried to dodge the question by explaining that my mom was a “gypsy spirit” instead of getting into the complicated truth of my father being a violent felon with a knack for human trafficking because restraining orders don’t do anything to protect you until the police arrive hours later.

I think drinking reminded Mom of what her life was like before she had children. Cocaine did that too.

Blue smoke poured from Mom’s nostrils and White Zin sloshed in her hand when my little brother announced that I was gay. Mom screamed from the front steps that my bad influence was no longer welcome in her house. As she screamed, I thought I could hear the click of door latches opening.
White window blinds bent into aluminum V-shapes. 135 degree slats for eyes to peer out at the commotion. Neighbors gathered to watch from their tiny porches, the sunset searing their silhouettes featureless.

I walked to the high school because I could not think of a better place to go than the place I needed to be tomorrow. The sky darkened and the neon crucifix on the hill above the football field lit up. I imagined the trees lowering their limbs as night fell to embrace me in a verdant hug.