My family has gone away to a cabin for a long weekend to celebrate Kate’s birthday. It’s sweet to be away, but sad and eerie that everything is closed. We can hike in the woods and cook together, but when we go into town, there’s a heaviness in the air. What if locals see us? What if they can tell we aren’t from here?
For Kate’s birthday, we have a murder mystery party. We all dress up and do a very bad job finding the killer, because we skip the suggested weapon-themed icebreakers (“We know each other well enough!”) and keep talking over each other.
In the end, Ashley the baker killed Mom the heiress.
I haven’t been online the last several days, but on the way back to Seattle, I start to catch snippets of the news. Something about riots downtown, and looting businesses. There were protests this weekend over the death of George Floyd less than a week ago. They were big. Nordstrom got a broken window. I-5 was clogged with protesters and shut down.
I thought this year was all about COVID-19, but now it’s about something else entirely. The story is now about racism-protests-riots-looting-city curfew-BLM-police-social media.
At work, I see my customers, but there’s suddenly nothing to talk about that isn’t tense. The weather? Who cares. Coronavirus? Whatever.
A few customers venture a “crazy weekend, huh?” and I say, “Yes,” but I don’t know where to go from there. I don’t know enough. I don’t know what I’m allowed to ask. Were you at the riots? Were you blocking I-5? Do you know anyone who is a cop? Do you know anyone who was tear gassed? Do you know anyone whose business was damaged? Are you going back tonight? Did you post on social media? Did you set cars on fire? Did you bring your kids? Did you feel safe? Did you feel scared?
The wrongness of the murder of George Floyd is not confusing. But the way to respond to the protests and riots is. There isn’t enough news yet. There are too many layers. There are too many voices. I don’t know who to side with.
And then through all this, everyone still stubbornly puts on their summer clothes and buys smoothies and goes on their jogs and says, “Fine thanks, and you?”
My coworker Karen comes in and jokes, “I miss the good old days when we only had the pandemic. Well, the pandemic and the locusts in East Africa and the fires in Australia and the murder hornets here and Kobe Bryant and the 2020 election.”
Today is Friday, and so I drive to my parents’ house for the weekend. As soon as I arrive, I have to attend a Zoom leadership meeting for the coffee shop. We must decide if we will open our seating again, and if we will put a “Black Lives Matter” sign in the window.
The seating is an obvious yes. The governor cleared King County for “Modified Phase 1,” which means we restaurants can allow seating again. We agree that it will help the business and be a negligible increase in risk.
But the question of the sign, surprisingly, is more contentious. For such a clear-cut issue—no one thinks that black lives don’t matter—there is an abundance of turmoil in how to voice the sentiment. We wonder if putting up a Black Lives Matter sign indicates wholesale approval of the organization. If it will make people uncomfortable. If having a sign in the window implies anything for or against the protests. Or the riots and looting. If it is going too far as an establishment whose job is to serve coffee. If it is not going far enough.
We shed tears, and of course it isn’t about the sign, and it isn’t in anger at each other. It’s in frustration and grief and guilt and fear of getting it wrong. We are three white women who just want to do the right thing as a small business, while, admittedly, at least in my case, minimizing personal discomfort.
We decide to put the sign in the window and start a little free library with relevant books and articles. I feel pretty good about the choice.
Then I leave that call and go to the kitchen, where my family has begun assembling. They too are talking about racism. That’s how we spend the next two hours.
Matt joins me in Puyallup. He and I make shrimp tacos while a lively discussion over charcuterie between the rest of my family morphs into yet another discussion on racism, George Floyd, statistics, protests, looting, personal responsibility, social media, being woke, loving people, the uselessness of intentions, monthly donations to worthy causes, logic, rage, guilt, conviction. It is in turns amicable and tense.
Eventually, after more hours, we’re going in circles, and it’s past midnight, and my brother speaks up.
“We all love each other, and we won’t settle this tonight. Let’s go to bed,” David says. “We need a break.”
All the talks this weekend feel heavy.
Matt and I leave the house with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bell peppers, and a can of champagne, and we drive to Olympia, then turn right on the famous Highway 101 and slither up Hood Canal to hike along a river.
We discuss money, and our respective worries about money.
We discuss the discussion last night, and how impossible it felt to listen to each other.
We discuss Black Lives Matter.
We discuss my coffee shop opening up again.
We discuss social distancing.
We discuss how Matt’s phone is probably on the fritz.
We discuss how bad we both have to pee.
We discuss the corndogs in the deli case at the Hood Canal Market.
“Hey,” Matt says. “Why don’t we go all the way to the Dungeness Spit?”
“It sounds nice today.”
We don’t look up directions or travel times. We just keep driving. We listen to The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan and drive in and out of rain for hours, past the hikes we could have done. We buy coffee at a stand in Hoodsport, then we need to pee again in an hour, so we pull over to the shoulder of the highway and find a lovely clearing in the woods that, by the looks of it, has been christened by many before us.
At last, we come into the rain shadow. The trees are cheerier and shorter, and lavender fields appear around us. The sun is shining and the sky is getting bluer.
The Dungeness Spit juts out of the northeast portion of the Olympic Peninsula for over five miles. It curves to the right and is rarely more than 50 feet wide. A lighthouse is on the end of the spit. It was the first lighthouse built on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“We are walking to the lighthouse?” I say.
“Let’s do it!”
“It’s nearly 11 miles round trip.”
“Let’s get started!”
We are dressed for cold, rainy weather, but it is balmy at first. We walk and joke and jostle each other. We climb on the driftwood and dance with the waves, which are big but friendly. We walk farther and farther away from the mainland, and more of the Olympic Range comes into view. We can see the lighthouse at the end of the spit. I love walks like this, where you can see where you’re headed but it takes a long time to arrive. That is what five miles looks like, I tell myself.
As the spit curves to the right, the wind picks up. We come to the lighthouse and imagine what it’d be like to stay there for a night, so isolated. We agree that it’d be best to stay there in the winter, during a great storm.
When we turn around to head back, it’s evident that the tide is coming in. Matt knew the tide would come in; I just didn’t pay attention to the chart. The waves are growing taller and the wind is getting stronger. Matt cracks open the can of champagne, and it is warm from the sun and gets all over my face when I sip from it, because of the wind.
It takes a long time to get back to the mainland. It takes too long. The waves make me skittish, and the wind makes it hard to walk in the sand. I’m sweating through my warm clothes but don’t want to stop for even a moment, because I’m starting to feel frantic about getting back. I’m embarrassingly scared.
Matt comforts me, because I keep looking at him and fake screaming, and he just chuckles and walks closer to the water.
“Are you nervous?” I yell into the wind.
“It’s scary! We’re going to get swept out to sea!” I say it in a high, melodramatic voice I hope comes off as endearing and adorable.
“Can we get McDonald’s if we get through this?”
We get very hungry and hunker behind driftwood to eat Pop Tarts, and calculate that it will still be hours before we’re done walking. I imagine the relief I will feel once we’re back at the start of the spit, back in the trees, out of the wind, in the car, with the audiobook.
I’ve been to the Dungeness Spit a few times, and it always scares me. But it doesn’t make me fear relationships, or America, or humanity. It just scares me because we could get taken out by a wave.
Of course, we make it back after a long walk, and we get our McDonald’s, and then it’s time to get ready for Monday.