I’m smiling from ear to ear when I decide to move to a tiny town in eastern Washington with my abusive partner, away from my family and everyone I know. It’s a classic tale of young love. We get a basement apartment where my partner has to lean over to walk because he is so tall. Our home smells of rust, mold, and old paper. The ceiling is only finished in a few spots, where we hear rats tip toeing all night. In the shower stall, I stare up at a black gaping hole waiting for one of the beasts to fall down on me. I have no idea what I will do. There are grubs all over the bathroom floor that writhe as if stuck in glue, and silverfish scatter like glitter under my footsteps across the living room. My partner is in love with an idea and I am in awe, despite the rest.
I go outside over and over again to look across the street at a cottonwood tree, a species that continues to pull my attention and fascinate me to no end because its bark is so honest about how much it hurts to grow and change. I name the tree across the street Joie de Vivre. I tell my partner, this love of my life, to look and see. But he hates the tree, all trees, he refuses to acknowledge any tree ever. It becomes like a little joke, except I am the only one laughing.
Of course, I leave him after some time, and there is applause in the omnipotent audience that only exists in my mind, but my old partner is in everyone I see, and the grubs still wiggle at my feet at every step. I can point to this memory and say, yes, I survived, but then what? It’s ten years later, and every morning when I wake up to go to the bathroom, my feet curve sideways like a nervous child or the way children hop and hobble when the floor is lava, except it really does hurt. My saving grace is that the cottonwood is ubiquitous and everywhere and still bringing me the joy.
Corinne Hughes lives in Portland, Oregon, studying poetry at the Attic Institute and managing public programs for a cultural center. She and her sister frequent Manzanita and Cannon Beach quarterly. Her poetry can be found in Cirque Journal, Black Sunflower Poetry Press, and others.