It’s 7:30 a.m., I’m sitting in a café in Portland, Ore., having my usual (I like to call it my “unusual”) double short decaf Americano (or double espresso with hot water), the drink many Durham baristas got used to serving me. I wonder as I sit here, the ground soaked through and pungent from the night’s rain, if I will become a familiar fixture here to the people at “my café,” “my grocery store,” “I can’t stop quoting”–I so enjoyed befriending the employees of Whole Foods and Fowler’s, and having everyone at my veterinarian’s office know that I was the one who called all the time and asked a billion-gazillion questions, essentially a hypochondriac on behalf of my pets. The things I will miss about Durham only now are beginning to present themselves as I walk, a temporary nomad, through Portland, a city that used to be mine and now feels somehow unfamiliar, like coming home to find your furniture rearranged … a disorienting momentary panic: “Is this my place?”
I remember that when I moved to Durham it was pouring that kind of Southern rain that calls for flash-flood warnings, quickly saturates the earth and sends out deep smells of dirt, rock, grass; it’s like Mother Nature is doing laundry. That was in June 1997, when the big tobacco factory was still running, scrunched in downtown near Torero’s and Fowler’s, the sweet aroma of those tobacco leaves drenching the whole city radius around it. Eight years later, the tobacco plant has been closed down for a long time, and I find myself in the midst of this move back to my home state of Oregon. On the night before I leave North Carolina, the sky delivers an awesome storm show, the kind I’ve grown to adore and the kind that first welcomed me to the South.
It’s not unusual to find yourself dying to get out of a city and once you do get out, to find yourself missing and loving that city like you never knew you could. I spent eight years of my life, from age 23 to 31, making a life for myself in the Triangle. When I first arrived I got a job packing up CD orders at Ladyslipper Music, a label and distributor of women’s music that started in 1976 when I was 2, and which had had a profound impact on the world of music and feminism since it began. I also ran a record label, Mr. Lady records, with my ex-partner, which we operated out of our house on Trinity Avenue for five years before we parted ways. After Mr. Lady ended, I cleaned some houses and developed real and wonderful relationships with some of these people (and their houses, and especially their pets). Most recently I did landscaping; working for/with someone who would become a favorite friend; she showed me how to make beds and gardens and paths, how to make a stone wall look good and be structurally sound, and, as a metaphor for life and creating, how to make something incredibly beautiful where there was nothing before, from the ground up.
My band, The Butchies, got our start in 1998 after Melissa York and I scouted out bass players and found the lovely and talented Alison Martlew. We recorded four albums and toured the country enough times to have been awarded Greyhound bus driver status. Both the record label and the band kicked up a new freaky (in a good way) queer presence, and we were received by the Triangle with open arms, just like the Journey song. There’s nothing like playing a show in your hometown and the feeling that you’re doing what you love, streaming this music out your hands, arms and soul, and all these fans who are your friends who are fans or fans who have become your friends over time (did you get that?) are just happy to be listening and watching you do what the great goddess put you here to do. The Cat’s Cradle, Go! (when it existed) in Chapel Hill, Kings in Raleigh, Duke Coffeehouse and Ooh La Latte in Durham–these all-ages clubs gave us a place to connect and be part of our community, and for me, most importantly, the Cradle provided a place for pre-show Galaga Games (high score: stage 26). All the shows we played throughout the Triangle in our seven years were met with complete reciprocal affection for our audience and them for us–it’s hard to describe the experience felt by all when a show is soooo good, something like heat, movement and melody that jars your body and this exchange of energy entrenching itself in your cells.
Back to now–Bjork is playing loudly on the stereo, a big, neon rose illuminates the back wall; the city is just coming alive, people moving through the café ordering their usuals, meeting friends, co-workers, off to the job. This is the City of Roses. I used to call Durham “Tobacco Town”; most people call it the Bull City, or the City of Trees. City of Trees, City of Roses, wherever is your place?
I made homes in four different houses in Durham. I raised two good bad dogs who, as far as they know, have essentially owned Duke Forest. I was a hermit at the same time I was immersed in a community of creators and rabble-rousers. There are people I leave behind who I can’t even talk about I’ll miss so bad–I cry to even write about it now. There’s so much I could say, in what I learned and lived and what I’ll miss–but the best thing is that I leave this city feeling like instead of departing and wondering if we’ll ever talk again, knowing that we’ll always–and really it’s not just rhetoric–but after all that we’ve been through together, the Triangle and I, we will always be friends.