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The Henry Clay

April 2, 2021

I’ve felt at home places and not felt at home places.

In Dublin, Ohio, I had my two-bedroom decorated to shabby chic perfection, all from Craigslist finds and antique shops. The antiques are so much older and so much less expensive in the East compared to the West Coast. I had everything I wanted. I’d spend weekends alone, traveling here and there, combing through shops, looking for more. No single friends my age, so I did it on my own. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t depressed, because I’ve always been depressed, but I was doing things I enjoyed. I was doing things I had the motivation to do. I got out. I didn’t think I’d leave Dublin. I thought I’d live and die there.

I worked weeks without days off in Hawaii, long hours, overnights. I loved the work, but I was a haole. I took a job away from a local. So much passive aggressiveness in the various cultures there. If you vacation there, it’s paradise. Living there, there is little mercy. I was so unhappy, I’d lay in bed and look at the popcorn ceiling and say to myself, over and over, “This is only temporary. I won’t always be here. This is only temporary.” And it was. Everything is temporary after all.

Then I lived in the old farmhouse in Puyallup for ten years. I loved it there, at first. But the yard was too much, and the price to maintain the three-acre yard was too much. Much to my landlord’s dismay, I let the ivy cover the entire front beds.

At first, I had it decorated like I wanted, then I started dating Vance. He’d stay, often. I moved from the upstairs to the downstairs bedrooms. Each had their charms. I think I was trying to get away from him. But upstairs or down, he always followed.

The last half of my time there, I was completely unsettled. That was during the time I helped pay Vance’s rent. I didn’t want him to move in with me. And I couldn’t let him be homeless. I loved him. But he terrified me. He upended my life. But I let him.

There are five cats buried in the rose garden behind that house. I mentioned once to my landlord it wouldn’t be a good idea to rototill the rose garden. But dead is dead. Dead bodies are just dead.

Then I moved to moms. I had sold or gotten rid of everything from the Puyallup house, and I moved to mom’s with twelve boxes. That’s it. Twelve boxes. That’s it. We struggled to find equilibrium in our relationship. We always have when we live together.

Then the unexpected job offer in Louisville. And all the shit that went down in Louisville. My first two years failing at job after job, no income, getting more and more caught up in the unhealthy ugliness of the affair with Jeff.

Then that third year, free of Jeff, at least the physical presence of Jeff… Finally having an income. Making friends, starting to get out, becoming a regular at the local bars, making friends with the burlesque troupe, a fixture at local restaurants. Ubering about town on my own, vising new places. Seeing movies alone. I remember A Star is Born, particularly, then going to the Back Door after and meeting Talina, now a close friend. Meeting strangers, taking men home and fucking them, all for fun. Then writing all about it.

I really did have the time of my life. In so many ways, that last year in Louisville, really all those years in Louisville, are the most memorable, freeing, growing times I’ve ever experienced. So much more good than bad. So much bad, but so much more good.

And that last year, finally, my life was on an upturn. I was still depressed, because I’m always depressed. But I loved my studio at the Henry Clay. I was thrilled to walk into the building and into my apartment every time.

I loved sitting at the bench of the grand piano in the atrium, gazing at the oversize Christmas tree with the huge round glittery ornaments.

I loved to walk into the atrium and see lines of bridesmaids posing for photos. “Excuse me, excuse me,” I’d say, smiling at them, making my way towards the elevator. They’d look at me in surprise, bouquet in one hand, then looking down, carefully moving the folds of their gowns out of the way of their towering heels so they wouldn’t fall when they moved to let me by.

I’d get up to my apartment and I’d open the window by my bed to hear the sounds wafting up from the ballrooms on the lower floors. Happy voices, musical voices.

I loved the long empty halls on my floor where I could let the cats out to run up and down, just hoping they wouldn’t walk onto the elevator if the doors opened. But there wasn’t much traffic on my floor.

Sometime early 2019, I recycled all the cardboard boxes I had been saving in case of a move. I knew Louisville was my home. The place I would live and die. It was everything I wanted. I wasn’t where I wanted to be inside of me. But I was moving ahead.

Then the call came in early May, Derby Weekend. I made plans to fly to Washington five days later.

I thought of taking pictures of my studio before I left but knew they would be like daggers when I visited them again.

When I left for the Uber to the airport, I deliberately did not look back. I walked straight out the door, eyes trained ahead. I knew deep inside it would be the last time I walked out of that studio.

When I walked down that long hall, I breathed in that oddly pleasant old building smell for what I knew would be the last time. When I got back to Washington, and unpacked my things, they still smelled of the Henry Clay. I held them to my face for a very long time. Old smells don’t last in new places.

I got on the elevator, and for the first time ever, I didn’t lean my head back and look up at the can lights on the ceiling, remembering what it felt like when Jeff rode up with me and buried his head in my breasts at the very start of it all.

I own those memories, but to know there will never be new memories in that magical place is unbearable. Magical. What a word for it. Magical is the wrong word. But maybe it’s the exact right word.

I don’t quite understand how I can miss a time in my life where some of the worst things that have ever happened to me happened. And how can you separate your experiences from where you physically are? They seem inextricably linked. Was it Louisville? Or who I was? Or what I was doing? Or who I was becoming? Or how hard I was fighting? I made such small steps, unnoticeable, except in the lookback.

And do I simply think of those good times in Louisville as magical because it’s easier to remember magical things, even if they weren’t really magical at all, than to live the life I’m living now?

The list of horrors I experienced in Louisville is long long long. I was I a psychiatric hospital. I attempted suicide, twice. I write about that ugliness, often. Those writings are sad and agonizing and difficult, and even sometimes impossible to read. And yet, I find it so easy now to remember all the good of that time. Why? Fuck. Always me with more questions than answers.

I will go back. To visit and perhaps to live. Someday soon, or someday a long way off. But it will never be the same. And for so many things that is a good thing. But for so many things, the grieving of the loss is wrenching. And a part of that loss lives with me every day. And I believe it always will. I hope not. But every day I touch on that loss and it doesn’t seem to want to leave or even lessen.

And yet, I Persevere. And life goes on.

The Henry Clay, 604 South Third Street, Louisville, Kentucky



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