I don’t know how it was for all of y’all, but this is how it was for me.
THAT Summer. Portland, Oregon. First year of the Pandemic.
You know there’s something wrong with your living situation when you’ve had a Go Bag packed since May. And not in case of forest fires.
There were red flags much earlier. But I let my roommate stay on, because I didn’t think I could get through quarantine alone. For almost two months, he was the only person that I saw IRL, other than supermarket cashiers. We were close.
“She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge / She studied sculpture at Saint Martin’s College”
We watched movies together. He cooked for me.
We were friends. I thought.
I wanted to collaborate creatively. Specifically, I wanted to produce a parody radio play about being poor in Portland during the pandemic. I wrote the scripts for two six-minute episodes. The characters were diverse and multiracial. In retrospect the whole concept seems kind of hokey but at the time I thought it might bring people together and jolt middle-class listeners out of their bubble — give them greater empathy for people who’d just had the economic roof cave in on them.
I needed his sound editing skills to turn the scripts into something listenable. We recorded a run-through on my cell phone, but my friend lost interest when I wanted to bring in more voice actors than just the two of us. My Fred Armisen he was not.
That was all before George Floyd’s death. Poverty took a back seat to race then in the national dialogue, as maybe it should. It’s not for me to say.
This is not a victim narrative.
This is not a victim narrative because nothing particularly bad happened to me. Sure, I got groped. Yes, he had angry outbursts. Yes, I slept with my bedroom door locked every night. But I doubt I experienced anything worse during those first few months than your average day as a waitress at Hooter’s.
More to the point, I always had the option to leave. Not great options, sure. No health insurance on the East Coast and it would have been career suicide. But these are better choices than so many women have, who are in so much worse situations. Better choices than a shelter or a tent. There is no comparison.
“If you called your Dad he could stop it all, yeah / Never live like common people”
When it was clear that I wasn’t interested, something shifted between us. Quarantine had eased up by then. He stopped spending time at the apartment. He barely spoke to me. He paid a few hundred dollars each month to help cover expenses. It felt like a more typical roommate dynamic. Except I couldn’t get him to leave.
In the summer of 2020 in Portland calling the cops was not an option. I wasn’t happy with the situation. I knew things would deteriorate when I started dating someone new. But until about a week ago, I didn’t have the cushion to cover staying at a hotel until it all got sorted out. So I smiled and made nice. I figured it was better to stay nominally friends and take his money than force a disruptive confrontation I could not win.
This is not a narrative to absolve or justify my actions.
I had always felt confident that he wouldn’t hit me or rape me. Until a certain Monday morning. He was mad because I went into his room after he left for work and stopped a video from rendering. I thought he just left Internet radio on. The sound was driving me nuts. In the past, this was the kind of conflict that would blow over, but not this time. When he held the apartment door shut on me for several minutes so that I couldn’t get inside, the rules changed.
Luckily, no violence. I got a restraining order, but he left of his own accord before it was served. When we came back this Friday afternoon we had no idea what to expect. But he was gone, and he’d cleaned out his stuff. Took my HD video camera with him. As far as I am concerned, he is welcome to it.
Locks have been changed. Police never had to show.
A bunch of people have told me I don’t need to feel sorry for him but it’s not that simple. I caught him lying to me multiple times. I also know that he cared for me. I had Thanksgiving dinner at his mother’s house a year ago. He believed in my business and my artwork, at least early on. Not that many people did. He wanted to be a part of it.
I remember working on my laptop at a club in Buckman on a Tuesday night last summer, while his friends performed. I felt like a boss — more hip and underground than Neo in the first scene of Matrix. I am glad he is out of my life but truly sorry that it had to end this way.
I don’t think he wanted to live here past June or July. He just didn’t have a better option. That’s what poverty does. It erases freedom and control.
“You will never understand / How it feels to live your life / With no meaning or control / And with nowhere left to go”
He worked full time at UPS as a package handler. Made $15 an hour. Only job he could get with a high school diploma. It didn’t go far, and it was murder on his body. He put everything he had into his music and his films.
White guilt is toxic and embarrassing.
I don’t have a lot of it, because I’ve spent much of my life under the poverty line. To some extent that was by choice. When you don’t have children or other dependents, you can go out on a limb financially. You can follow your dreams. You can travel. You can try a new career and see what shakes out.
What’s that you say? Entitlement?
The nonprofit gig I have right now comes solely through a personal connection. The funny thing is, I didn’t meet my friend in boarding school or at my elite Northeastern liberal arts college. I met her at a party thrown by a friend I made at the People’s Pint in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He worked at the local food co-op, as did his roommate. He had a college diploma. His roommate was a high school dropout.
That was more than a decade ago. It sort of boggles the mind.
That town was super unusual because it was a place where you could make $11 an hour and sort of get by. A lot of serious money settled around the Pioneer Valley, precisely because it wasn’t the Hamptons or Northeast Harbor. They could blend. My joke was always that you could go to the local bar and have a millionaire sitting on one side of you and a bum on the other side, and not know which was which. That town was one of the least class-segregated places I have ever encountered. Bohemians ruled the roost. Very different from Boston, or for that matter Portland, Oregon.
I don’t know where my roommate is right now, but the ease with which he was able to move suggests that he will be ok. He was only spending about four nights a week at my place the last two months — wouldn’t tell me where he was the rest of the time.
As a white woman, it’s very hard to know how to engage in the battle for racial justice. We are told all the time that we need to be silent and fall back. That the most valuable contribution we can make is our financial support.
The only problem being, we make only $0.81 for every dollar a man makes. Kind of slims down the margin for altruism.
Over 170 years ago, Abraham Lincoln said the nation could not survive half slave and half free. I would paraphrase to say that our democracy cannot survive with 22 million Americans unemployed and sinking into poverty.
It feels pompous and callous to move from somebody else’s personal misfortune into pontificating about policy issues, but dammit, this is one of those times when the personal is political. If we’d had affordable housing in Portland, or universal basic income, or a better economic safety net, the situation between us never ever ever would have gotten this bad. We stayed in the red zone for months, because financially no one had a better option.
Power dynamics poison a relationship, each and every time.
Unless of course that’s what you’re into.
It’s weird to think no closure. That someone who was part of my life for most of the past two years is now gone forever. I wanted to stay friends. I wanted to find ways to work together. But short of me deciding I wanted to be with him despite the fits of possessive rage or him finding some other woman to focus his attentions on, it wasn’t going to happen.
Incredibly unlikely that you find this post.
If you do find your way here, I hope you’re doing ok. I hope that video camera serves you well.
Some regrets, but plenty of good times too.
Previously published on Medium on November 21, 2020
This is not a victim narrative. Quite the opposite.
Think back to the fall of 2019. That’s right. Before masks, before COVID. Back when the only things we had to worry about were Trump and global warming. And oh yeah, everything else. Think back to the evening of Sunday, September 22. I was folding laundry in my bedroom. I was by myself.
How triggered was I when I got your email? Pretty damn triggered.
So triggered that I remember reading an entirely different letter. I still don’t understand how, but I thought you were saying the opposite of what you said. The letter you wrote below (redacted) was thoughtful, compassionate, and entirely appropriate. Keep in mind that all this transpired a year and a half ago. You asked me to cut off contact last June, which I respected. I am posting this belated response on my blog, knowing that you have stopped by the site in the past, in the hopes that you may read it.
I only came across your email this past Saturday night, in the process of scheduling a photo shoot prior to our app’s 2.0 launch. Somehow searching for the word “headshot” brought up the subject line “Heads up” — and this message from you — in my Gmail search results. I was surprised, because I didn’t remember a thread with that subject line. I try not to revisit our correspondence and have deleted most of it. I think what must have happened was that I skimmed it quickly on my phone, but was simply too angry to process or understand the contents.
I am deeply sorry.It wasn’t a conscious choice.
I wish I could undo it. It would have saved us both a series of hostile and deeply unpleasant exchanges, and (for me this is important) it would have provided the closure that I needed. You were willing, I think, to give me everything I was asking for: which was in essence the space to be heard and come to some place of mutual understanding.
Now I doubt if I will ever get that chance. Maybe eventually I’ll write a self-help piece about trauma. Maybe I’ll try to cover these topics in fiction. I wish I had the option of moving on, but that is the most difficult part of trauma. The best I’ve been able to do is stay busy.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Rose C. [who can be wrong about things]
****, far from disregarding you, I have been unsure about how to respond and have been trying to figure it out. I *****************************************************************************************************
don’t even know where to go to find that out, so it’s taken me a bit of research.
***************************************************************************************************************** ************, entirely well-intentioned time together last year.
2023 is a work of fiction, set in a future Portland. All characters are composites. Any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
This is a parable. It is about a young woman named Michelle who decides to organize a resistance after her girlfriend Lauren is taken in the middle of the night by a sinister government organization known as the Sentinels. They both live in Portland.
Michelle is short with spiky hair, bleached blond at the tips. She has a quick temper and wishes people would take her more seriously. Her girlfriend is a few years older. Lauren is medium height, with shoulder-length light brown hair. She is the grown-up of the couple — has the car and the office job. The lease is in her name.
Lauren works for a nonprofit, and Michelle works for Starbucks. Lauren’s only crime was going to one Antifa meeting and also participating in a bunch of marches, including Pride. Michelle feels mega guilt because she hid when the secret police came to their apartment, so she decides to organize a resistance to free her girlfriend.
The one other hacker Michelle knows in Portland won’t help her, so she writes her own game mod (for a first-person shooter, very primal and raw) as a recruiting tool. She attracts a fair number of followers, many of them ex-military. The kind of people who play paintball on the weekends.They decide to plan a raid.
They are successful at breaking into one of the three detention facilities at a camp outside Spokane and freeing prisoners, but it turns out not to be the one where Lauren is held. Michelle is even more guilt-ridden because the experienced soldiers would not let her lead the raid. They told her she was too green and also too valuable. She watches the action play out from a hilltop, with two guards for protection.
People died because of her. She has a movement on her hands and the Sentinels are on to her…
Part One: “Taken”
I had insomnia that night. Got out of bed, left Lauren sleeping. Raided the fridge. Pistachios, gummy bears, and queso. Hit the boards, played the new Star Wars game past the point of idiocy, and was counting the hours until my shift began at the coffee shop when I heard a knock at the door.
No doorbell. Just loud, insistent knocking.
I checked my phone. It was 3:53 AM, exactly. That’s not a good time for anybody to be knocking at your door. Not that fall. I’d heard the rumors. I’d heard the stories.
I was going to run back to the bedroom and warn Lauren. I swear I was. But I just froze.
Then she came down the stairs, an angel in a blue bathrobe, and answered the door. WTF? Why would she do that?
And I am so ashamed of myself, but this is what I did. I hid.
Not any place fancy. We didn’t have any secret bunker. No safe rooms or go boxes. It was a $1200 / month Victorian walk-up off Alberta. I hid in the coat closet. Shut the door behind me so fast. Would they hear the sound? There I was, trying to breathe through Polartec and GoreTex, while they took my baby away.
I couldn’t see at all. Even the words were muffled.
They asked her name. They asked her for identification. I remember her saying:
“Why are you taking my picture?” “Why won’t you read me my rights?” “Am I under arrest?”
They never identified themselves. Never said what agency or branch of government they were with. They wouldn’t answer her questions directly. They never asked about me. Queer invisibility is worth something, I guess.
They just said, “Come with us, ma’am. And there won’t be any trouble.”
Ma’am! Lauren is 27. She went quietly, I guess. I didn’t hear much of a struggle.
The last words I heard her say were, “I want to speak with my lawyer.”
A muffled shout. Feet shuffled out, and then the front door slammed.
I was shaking. My heart was racing. I could barely breathe I was so scared. I was crying and I think I thew up a little bit in my mouth but I was trying my best not to make any sound. I had my phone with me the whole time but I was too scared to use it. I mean, what if they could track that? I stayed inside that closet until I could see gray daylight filtering through the crack at the top of the closet door.
The apartment was empty. Lauren’s unmade bed. Her work clothes set out neatly for the next day. Jeans, black velvet top, brown ankle boots. Her lunch in the refrigerator. Her car in the driveway.
I felt so guilty, and so sad.
I wished I’d had a gun. I would have used it. Wouldn’t have made any difference in the long run, but we could have made it to the getaway car, gone out like Thelma and Louise, in a blaze of glory.
Maybe, I wished I’d just fucking gotten myself together and run up those stairs to warn her in time. Maybe we both could have hid. Maybe it would have been better if they’d taken us both.
I didn’t want to go home. Fuck, maybe they were waiting for me too.
I had to tell her family.
Her mom. Her brothers.
But the only way I knew to reach them was Facebook. And that was a no-no. Just trust me on that one!
Did she have an address book hidden away somewhere? We’d only been going out seven months. Would I know if she had a written record of her contacts, apart from her phone? I started to look, rifle through drawers and bookshelves like the Sentinels hadn’t even bothered to, but then I realized it was all just fucking pointless.
They were coming for all of us, or they weren’t.
They had the power. They had the data. They had the money and the numbers. This wasn’t one of my games. There was no Rebel Alliance. I was on my own. Dragging anybody else in was too dangerous.
So I did what I had to do. I locked up, grabbed my bike from outside, and went to work.
Made it there on-time, with seconds to spare. I don’t know what it says about me that no one much noticed that anything was wrong. It’s true I was insomniac and/or hung over and/or stoned a good 70% of the time. How much effort does it really take to press a button that says “Espresso”? I never tried to make the little hearts with cappucinno foam. Mine always came out wobbly, or demented, or both.
And it’s so funny, nobody at work even noticed anything was wrong.
There was no, “Michelle, are you ok?” “Michelle, you look kind of out of sorts?” “Michelle, are you feeling all right?”
We all just went along our way. Happy robots as usual.
I could only think of one person to call.
I had to think really hard about this. I didn’t want to get anyone else involved. I had an inkling of where this was going. And the outlook didn’t look good for anyone.
Plus Mike’s girlfriend was always really, really jealous! Even though I was a dyke, with really short and spiky hair, and like 10 years younger than both of them. She hated my guts.
#cisgirls #whatever #workonyourownissues Except they never do that. They just pop out kids and pass on their insecurities to the next generation. I watch that slow-motion train wreck every day of my life.
So I pulled up Signal on my phone when no one was looking.
> What are you doing after work today?
We made plans to meet at the Bye & Bye, at 5 PM. At least Happy Hour wasn’t illegal yet.
No cocktails for me that night. Kind of wanted a beer to steady my nerves, but then I was like, what if the Sentinels came at that very moment and I had to snake my bike through traffic in the wrong direction (no helmet) and onto side streets to lose them? No way was I taking that chance.
We sat down. Mike got some bowl with rice and avocadoes. I had french fries. Lauren’s last lunch (untouched) had been dolmeh, hummus, and carrot sticks. In honor of her, I was thinking of turning vegan.
“They took her,” I told him.
“The Sentinels took Lauren, in the middle of the night.”
“No fucking way!!! You’re shitting me.” Mike was incredulous.
“I wish I was. I was hiding in the coat closet. I didn’t see it, but I heard the whole thing.”
Mike lowered his voice. “Was Lauren into anything, you know, radical?”
I laughed and shook my head. “She went to an Antifa meeting once. And she marched in, I guess, six or seven protests. Climate change. Women’s equality. And of course, Pride.”
I gave him a long stare.
Mike backed up pretty quickly. “I didn’t mean to imply anything. It’s more just like…”
“You wanted to know, was she cooking up bombs in the pantry?”
“We–she–has–had a really nice pantry. And honestly, it would be really more my style to build a bomb. And think about what room of the house would be best for bomb making.”
“Uh huh?” Mike asked quietly.
“But I haven’t done that either! Puh…leaze. I don’t even visit your warez server.”
Mike broke in. “Michelle, this is serious. Are you sure this is the best place to talk about it?”
We’d all had the paranoia discussion, so many times online. In a sense we believed in it, but none of it seemed remotely real. All the ways *they* could be listening: the microphones on cell phones, video cameras on monitors, smart TV’s. I never “X’d” out the cameras on my monitor with tape. But that was because all I had in the way of hardware was a beat-up Sony Vaio laptop. And my phone. And the Xbox I bought Lauren. (That was a bowling ball named “Homer,” if ever there was one.)
“Can you think of a better place?” I replied.
Mike sipped his beer, and paused before speaking again.
“So you think they were Sentinels?”
“I do. I didn’t see them, but it’s how they operate.”
“Michelle, how much do you know about the Sentinels?” he asked me.
“I know they were created after the quote-unquote Terrorist Dirty Bomb Attack of 2021. Created the very next day. And they aren’t answerable to anyone except the Oval Office.”
“Rump and Pants. Our President and Vice President.”
“Their raids are nearly always in the middle of the night, and they target U.S. citizens suspected of quote-unquote terrorist activity,” Mike intoned, then stopped himself. “Am I mansplaining?”
“No, I’m interested. Keep talking.”
Mike continued. “What is interesting is that the Sentinels have no ties whatsoever to the criminal justice system. They do not charge individuals with a crime. They simple seize them and hold them.”
“America’s home-grown Gestapo,” I chimed in.
“I’m afraid you’re right. Nobody knows who they are. Nobody even knows what their budget is, or how many of them there are,” he said.
“What I want to know is where they took her,” I told him. “So I can break her out.”
“Don’t try to talk me out of this.”
“Ok, then. How are you going to do it?”
“I don’t know yet. But there’s got to be a way.”
“Michelle, these facilities are heavily guarded…”
“No system is uncrackable. How many discussions have we had about that?”
Mike looked flummoxed. “Sure, in theory. But do you know what the consequences would be if you got caught?”
“Do you know what the consequences were for Lauren? Who had done absolutely nothing?” I whispered in a hoarse stage whisper, since I couldn’t shout in the crowded bar. “Sooner or later they’re coming for all of us.”
Mike was shaking his head.
And this was where I lost my cool, I admit it. “Look Mike, I know you’ve got a good job. I know you’ve got a lot to lose. I know you’re a straight white male. But you’re not immune.”
Mike got really defensive, then. “Don’t play that victim card on me! You could get a job as a programmer too. You have the chops. I’ve seen your code. Just go back to school.”
“This isn’t about that, Mike. You are acting like we’re still living in 2019. We’re not. This is the new world. Nobody is safe.”
Mike’s face just froze up. He wouldn’t talk to me. At the Bye & Bye you pay at the counter, but I saw him glancing around as if maybe a waiter could rescue him.
“I’m sorry, Michelle. I don’t know what you’re looking for. But I can’t help you.”
I stared at him, incredulous.
“Look, Michelle. You should be more careful. Just try not to attract attention. You’ll be fine.”
“But. What. About. Lauren?”
Mike was talking faster now. I could tell he was nervous. “And you know, really do think about a coding bootcamp. You’re a very bright young woman! I hear there are some where you don’t even have to pay anything up front. They just take 30% of your salary until the tuition is paid off.”
Now was my moment to get up and push my half-empty water glass and plate of cold fries away.
“Mike. Don’t give me advice.”
And then I made my daring getaway by bike. I really did weave in and out of traffic, and get honked at twice, but it was mostly because I couldn’t see through the tears. The only person I had trusted to help had just let me down.
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Kirin Bhatti. Earth-Based Healing+Strategy Guided By The Rhythms Of The Seasons And Our Bodies. For The Change-Makers, Leaders And Healers Who Are Hungry To Resurrect Ancient Blueprints On How To Lead And Live Naturally. Email
New // Narratives. Robin Carlisle is a Multidisciplinary Healing Arts Practitioner, working with a wide range of therapeutic modalities from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Mindfulness, as well as variety of Somatic practices. (503) 457-2749
Tara Jade Nichols. Star Alchemy ~ a seemingly magical process of turning one’s life into gold. Astrology readings allow for discovery of your Soul’s contract, blessings, and challenges. This insight can lead to significant personal growth. Contact online
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We’ve put together a list of helpful national and local Portland, OR and Seattle, WA resources for mental health and suicide prevention, updated for COVID-19. Please let us know if any of these links are broken, or if you have new ones to suggest. Thank you, and be well.
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Telephone and online chat available.
https://www.nami.orgNAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Oregon NAMI Chapter:https://namior.org/
http://gettrainedtohelp.com – Suicide First Aid. Free trainings in suicide prevention for the general public, youth workers, and more. Includes the ASIST curriculum. Trainings temporarily suspended.
www.AlcoholRehabGuide.org – This guide doesn’t promote any specific clinic or service, but it does provide valuable information to help people understand the effects of alcoholism and the variety of ways to find help.
https://bipolarlifecoach.com – A Portland-based practice offering one-on-one coaching to individuals with mood disorders, and their family and loved ones. Sliding scale spots available.
http://www.juliefast.com/ – A Portland-based site offering books and resources to individuals living with bipolar. The author also offers coaching services.