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The last time I moved to the Pacific Northwest

 This is an excerpt from the book I'm working on (very much a work in progress.)

This is a reminder that no matter how bad this move gets, I've certainly survived worse.

The setting -- summer, 1985. I had turned 16 four months before, I was going into my senior year of high school, I lived in Los Angeles and went to North Hollywood High School, which I loved. I went to Houston to spend a month with my aunt and uncle and get a summer job.

The story begins in August, when I got home from Houston:



When I got off the plane in Los Angeles, my friend Kenny met me at the airport with my sister Katie.

 "Where's mom?" I asked, looking around for her, and for my younger sisters, Morgain and Nora.

 He grimaced, and said, "Things have changed. There's a LOT going on."

Yep. She'd sold the house. She'd moved out. And she'd found a place for us to live. In Oregon.

So Kenny, Katie, and my best friend Susie and I went to the old house, and there wasn't much left; my mother had a moving truck come while I was gone, and they'd packed everything up, and all that was left was the animals.

Stupid Sugar, of course, Katie's dog, who wouldn't go anywhere without her, and our doberman mutt, Toby, and a couple of cats, one a mother cat with kittens, and two chickens that had survived our care.

My mother had left, along with Morgain and Nora, in our van.

The plan she had left behind was this: Kenny and Katie were going to go up in Kenny's truck, with a bunch of odds and ends, and they could take Sugar with them, because Sugar didn't go anywhere without Katie, and vice versa.

Katie's friend Tyra could go up for a while and visit and see the new house, too. And Kenny's friend Lenny was going to go visit. So Susie might as well come on up, too.

At this point, Susie was my lifeline. She was the only person outside my family, and I clung to her -- she was the connection to school, to our friends, to the world that I wanted to be in instead of the one my mother was dragging me to. And since she considered herself to be a part of our family, and wanted nothing to do with her own, she packed up a couple of books, grabbed her pet gerbils and headed up to Oregon with me.

We went by her house to get her things. Her mother and aunt barely grunted at her and didn't acknowledge me at all. She'd been staying at our house for most of the past two years, she was only just turned 16 and was a senior in high school and got almost all As and had never been in any sort of trouble, and they just didn't want her around. When I saw they couldn't care less if she disappeared to Oregon for a week or for months, I felt bad being angry with my mother for moving. That lasted about five minutes, until we were back on the road to Oregon.

Then I was furious and betrayed again.

I was livid.

  Up until this point, I had some say in what happened to the family. I was the favorite, and my mother leaned on me for advice and moral support. If said I wasn't going to do something, and I pushed hard enough, my mother would usually change her mind.

 I felt betrayed and hurt and ready to kill someone when I thought about my senior year.

Susie was as strange as I was, and the two of us had somehow found a home at North Hollywood High School. There were 34 people in our graduating class. We were friends with all of them. Senior year, the year we were 16, was going to be the year we finally got Josh and Chris to notice us as girls instead of friends. We were going to go to concerts. We were going to apply to college! We had SATs to take!

  Instead, we were headed to a town called Jacksonville, near Medford. These names meant nothing to me.

We were driving my Peugeot, a tiny car I'd bought with money I'd made from selling a scooter my mother won on the game show. It was August, and I'd had my license for four months, but I'd been driving for almost a year; as soon as I turned 15, my mother let me start doing errands and driving my sisters to school.

 So Susie, a boy named Lenny and I headed out, with a chicken named Belina, the dog named Toby, two gerbils, the cats and as much stuff as we could fit in the trunk. It was a long trip.

I'd never driven anywhere besides Los Angeles, and I'd never been on a long trip by myself. I'd never stayed in a hotel on my own. And I'd never taken care of a lot of animals at once. Going 700 miles with just an envelope full of cash scared me. My mom didn't have a phone at the new house. I only had an address -- no directions. I had an atlas, but the street the house was on wasn't listed. And I hated Lenny with a passion, and I'm sure he felt the same way about Susie and me.

Lenny was a strange kid, a little older than I was, 17 or so, going in to his senior year, too.

He had a family, and there was a story about his family having money, but they had disowned him, or he'd left, or something.

Here's the thing, though. Susie and I were SMART. That was our thing. Other people could be cooler than we were, other people could be funny or rich or could dress nice or could be cheerleaders, but we were smart, and we wanted to be around people like us.

Lenny was as stupid as they come. He used to say this stupid, idiotic, moronic, fucking annoying catchphrase: "Beisbol been bery bery good to me," over and over and over again until we'd want to wring his neck.

Why was he in the car with us?  He'd met Kenny, somehow, through work or school. But Kenny wasn't really friends with him; Kenny was older, 22 or 23 at this point, and Lenny was from a white middle-class family and didn't have much in common with Lenny. I think Lenny's family must have been so awful, or he must have been so lonesome, that he just needed somewhere to go. He came over once, with Kenny, to smoke some dope or get something to eat, and he saw that there were a bunch of teenage girls there, and lots of food, and that no one would turn him away, and he just kept coming back.

We had a lot of people like that. Katie's friend Tyra, who had a mother with an abusive boyfriend. Susie. Another friend of Kenny's, who had the misfortunes of being young, black, very gay in mannerisms, and named Lester.

All of them ended up with us in Oregon.

  And somehow, we got stuck with Lenny for the ride up, "Beisbol" and all.

Packing the car was like doing a logic puzzle: Putting a doberman and a momma cat and kittens into a car with two gerbils and a chicken simply doesn't work.

So we kept the gerbils in a cage up front on Susie's lap, put the doberman in back on Lester's lap, and put the cats shut up tight in a box, with the chicken in another one, and tried to ignore the noises they all made as they lunged for each other.

  About two hours into the trip, we made our first stop and tried to get out to go to McDonald's for a drink. The dog got out, letting the chicken out into the parking lot, which we chased for fifteen minutes. Then I checked on the cats and had my first real inkling that I was in over my head and didn't know what the fuck I was doing.

The cats, a mama cat and her four kittens, were soaking wet and shaking. The tiny box was way too small for all of them, and they'd had no air and were slowly suffocating. The mama cat was gasping for breath and barely mewling at me.

I started shaking, realizing I'd almost killed a bunch of animals simply because I was overwhelmed and wasn't thinking. After some water and some air, though, and some towel-drying, all of the cats seemed to recover pretty quickly, and we got back on the road.

Somehow, we made it to a hotel for the first night, where all three of us fell into bed, in our clothes, after securing the chicken in a drawer, the dog in the bathroom, the gerbils in the trunk and the cats in the car with the windows cracked.

The next day, despite getting a ticket going 88 miles an hour (the cop gave me a stern lecture for going 33 miles over the speed limit, for having so many animals in the car, for being so young, for driving so fast, for having bald tires, for having the music so loud, but finally had to let us go,) we made it to Oregon, and it was beautiful.

First we hit Medford, and we thought we could be OK with this. Medford was a decent sized-town, and Oregon had to be better than Texas, and I'd always heard that cool people lived in Oregon. I didn't know anything about the state, really, except that it rained a lot.

Medford looked great -- artsy and on a river and with lots of mountains and green trees. And then to Jacksonville, which was a smaller town, but on a roaring river, and we had to drive through some of the most beautiful valleys and mountains I'd ever seen.

I was convinced the Adirondacks were the most beautiful place I'd even been, but this place was competing.

Tall mountains, rushing water, lots of open spaces and curving streets that went in and out of valleys with farm stands and cute shops by the side of the road.

And the drawback to the Adirondacks was that it was so far from the ocean -- on the map, it looked like the Pacific was only an hour or two away.

In Jacksonville, we stopped and got out the directions we had to get to the house: Drive north to Medford. Hang a left to Jacksonville. Ask someone how to get to the small town of Ruch, nearby. Follow signs to the new house.

Not much to go on, but off we went.

  Lenny was driving us crazy -- he was narrating from the back seat, as if the trip was a baseball game. I still didn't know why he was there, and he was instantly irritating. The worst part was that he was sort of good-looking, in a vacuous, white-bread sort of way, and when we stopped for a bite to eat, the waitress would always be nice to him and assume he was in charge and we were just his girlfriends.

Nothing made me more pissy than someone assuming that a stupid man was in charge.

We'd stop to ask for directions, and they'd start explaining where to Lenny where to go. And he'd nod his head, sagely, though he probably didn't know what state we were in, and I'd just elbow him out of the way, and say, "I'm driving, so I should probably listen, too."

We asked how to get to Ruch and got a map, and I started to get worried.

Jacksonville was cute, but tiny. There was a grocery store and a gas station, but not much else. And Medford, the big town, hadn't looked far on the map, but it had taken 30 minutes at least to get here, with winding, mountainous, two-lane roads, and I'd never done that kind of driving before.

  And the guy at the gas station said Ruch was another twenty minutes down the road.

  I asked about where the high school was, and it was in Medford. I asked how far it was, and it was at least a 30-minute drive from here. Add on another 20 minutes to get to Ruch, and it was starting to look ugly.

But we found our way to Ruch, which was  really just a gas station and a crossroads, and in the middle of the intersection was a big fluorescent sign that said, "MEAGAN, KATIE, KENNY and SUSIE, THIS WAY ------>>>>>>," and so we followed it. We went down another winding road, with a mountain on one side and painful death by chasm on the other, and a couple of mile later, we saw another sign, this time on a paper plate with highlighters: "TURN HERE!!!!"

After a couple more of these, we finally saw a driveway, a long, unpaved road with four or five smaller roads forking off from it, and at every turn, there was a paper plate with a fluorescent pink "Turn here, Kenny and Meagan!"

It was dark, so we stopped at the bottom of the driveway to figure out which turnoff was ours, and one of the cats jumped out and streaked off into the woods, and we never saw him again. We'd traveled with the damned thing for 700 miles and figured how to keep him alive, and now we couldn't find him, despite searching and yelling and looking. We finally gave up and went up the driveway, which was at least three-quarters of a mile up a narrow, rutted, gravel and dirt road, completely dark and hemmed in both sides by tall, overgrown pine woods.

When we reached the clearing at the end, the house was lit up, and I could see why my mother had chosen it. It was like something off the cover of Architectural Digest: A huge, three story wooden cabin, with huge triangular windows, set up on a hill in a clearing, looking out at miles of forest and woods.

My mother was standing on a huge balcony on the top floor, under sharply angled log roof, and she was grinning and waving and yelling, "Isn't it GORGEOUS??? Don't you just LOVE IT!!"

  She was so excited that it was hard to be grumpy, and even Susie and Lenny started to grin and laugh, and we unloaded the animals and told her I got a speeding ticket. I was afraid that she'd be furious -- I knew that 90 miles an hour was completely unsafe, and I had friends who'd had their licenses taken away for going over 70. But she just said, "Well, at least you made here safely," and wanted to show us the house. It was older inside, very 1970s hippie chic, and it looked like there should be macrame planters and ferns sprinkled all over the inside of it, and there were orange tile countertops and green appliances. But it was big, and open and beautiful, and we were all together again -- Kenny and Katie had gotten here the night before.

The biggest drawback to the house was that I hadn't been there to call dibs on a bedroom. We had a long-standing tradition that I got the best bedroom. It was as simple as that -- I was the oldest, I read a lot and was home a lot, and I was willing to fight for it. I got the best bedroom.

But when I got there, Morgain and Nora had one of the bedrooms, and Katie and Tyra had one of the bedrooms, and mom had the master. So I got a basement bedroom, strange and musty with dark paneling and windows at the top of the walls, and Susie fashioned a bedroom in a partition of the garage, and Lenny took the actual garage.

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