Semantic notions about life: an exploration of words and signs, and the stories they are trying to tell.



Paadee, 6 SE 28th Ave., Portland, OR, USA

Paadee, 6 SE 28th Ave., Portland, OR, USA

set·tle /ˈsedl/

Verb. (1) To accept or agree to (something that one considers to be less than satisfactory); (2) To cause to sink down gradually; (3) To dispose of finally; close up.

Two days before my fortieth birthday, my wife reaches out to inform me that we are doomed.

“We have to move,” she tells me. “Now.”

In the seconds that have passed since I picked up the call, she has been spitting out a series of words, a breathless, frantic jumble. I swivel in my office desk chair, pulling the cell phone away from my ear to make sure I’m speaking with who I think I am. The name and number match my expectations. My cheek has left smudges on the screen.

We have been here before. I do what I have learned to do: re-adjust to a measured voice, trying to sift through her staccato sentences. I mine for gold, pieces I can collect to craft a truth.

The truth is, Portland is the one in danger. And by proxy, so are we.

She’s spent this particular morning reading, re-reading, then re-reading again an article about the Big One coming to the Pacific Northwest. How we are long overdue. How it could happen anytime.

“Where are the kids?” I ask.

“Downstairs. I kept them home from school. You’re not listening to me. Listen to me.”

“I am listening,” I say, watching the instant message notifications light up my laptop screen at 10:03 am. Do you have a second. Do you have the report. The report is missing. The report is late. The holiday is coming. The client is asking for the report. The client is asking for you. Are you coming to this meeting. The meeting has started. The meeting is over. You’re late. Are you there. Are you here. Why aren’t you here.

“...Here’s what it says: ‘Hillsides will shift. Roads will cave in. Buildings will crumble. Bridges will fracture. Some will fall.’ ” Her voice trembles and teeters. “Do you know what that means? We’re not going to make it. We have children to consider. To protect.”

“Are you crying?” I ask, my syrup of frustration and exhaustion poured too quickly, saturating the thin batter.

This is what hits her pause. Her breathing slows for the first time since this started. The pattern detaches. And the response that follows is a frozen lake of ice that is inches and inches thick.

“Why aren’t you?”

With my free hand, I hold a black ink pen, making notes on a yellow lined pad originally intended for those trying to make sense of the laws. I draw lines of nothing on these pages, while studying the lines of my own, tree-ring dating their way around my fingers, my wrists, my arms. I write my number, 40, over and over again. I write scribbles, then circle my pretend phrases to give the impression to my colleagues within eyesight and the boss that is always watching that I am doing what’s expected of me. That I am on top of it. I am in control.

“We can’t live like this anymore,” my wife admits. “It’s time to leave.”

I agree. I tell her we will move. We will move as soon as possible. I give her these words, little gift wrapped packages in shiny silver paper tied with perfectly curled sky blue ribbons, knowing very well that there is no safe place to go.