I can’t remember how she initiated the conversation. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that shortly after she introduced herself, she offered us snap peas. Small and plump and sealed in a zip-lock bag. Snap Pea Girl has a lopsided rust-coloured bob, dark eyes,freckles and a long white shirt. She reminded me of Melanie from Degrassi; out of high school, out of braces and at a punk show in Portland, OR. I give her a zine as a thank you and a calling card, and she hugs me goodbye.
It’s my first week in Portland. I don’t know anyone, so I spend my time at the Independent Publishing Resource Centre (IPRC), a drop-in center for creative types. At the IPRC, I borrow a laptop and head up the stairs to the loft. It’s a small, secluded area with couches and a view of the rest of the space. As I open up the laptop, I hear someone climbing up the stairs. Snap Pea Girl walks up the stairs and lifts up her large pink sunglasses. ‘No way!’ we cry at each other.
Her right hand is wrapped in white plaster. She sinks into the sofa chair opposite me, and begins to explain how she gained her newest accessory. She met a boy and they spent the weekend together, went to the river and she broke her finger on a rope swing. He took her to the hospital and stayed with her, where they sang along to songs on his iPod. They returned to the river the next day, waterproofing her bandaged limb with a plastic bag. She doesn’t mind it, she says, because she had a great weekend.
She places her see-through back pack – a free box find – on the small table and takes out a tub of hummus and two large carrots, unpeeled. She’s at the IPRC to work on a new literary journal but she’s muddled up the dates for the meeting, so we both have time to kill.
We continue swapping histories as we walk to the post office. It’s one of the hottest days of the summer – a real sweat-dripper. She’s posting a letter to rope-swing boy. She folds the contents into a ripped out New Yorker cover, and I help her sticky-tape it shut.
I have no idea where we’re heading as we walk up through the industrial strip, small slices of the waterfront – all glistening river and steel bridges – peeping through. We criss-cross the streets until we hit a bar on the corner.
‘At night this place is pretty bro-y, but it’s ok during the day,’ she says as she pushes open the door to the bar. It’s spacious and nearly empty, sunlight pouring in.
I order us drinks – two ginger whiskeys, and fish around in my bag for my passport.
The guy behind the bar leans in, ‘You’re 21, right?’
I’m ready to flash my sullen photo for proof, but he just smiles before wandering off to mix the drinks. We order sliders and hush puppies – ‘from my hometown’, she says. I chase the ice cubes around the glass with my straw as I tell her about my current crush and recent romantic encounters. She tells me about the dating scene in the North West – ‘you’re either casually seeing a lot of people, or you’re married’.
Her house is hosting an open mic in their backyard. She’s tired but will make us some food and I can have a shower if I like. We walk back to her place, stopping off at a small café. This is a wealthy neighourhood, she informs me, as we approach a large roundabout circled by rose bushes. The café is on the other side, unassumingly spliced between houses. We enter, and the hit of the air conditioning is instant relief. We hover by the water container, downing glasses.
We share a slice of carrot cake, passing the plate back and forth, snipping off pieces.
‘This book has been stolen so much,’ she says, thumbing through a chunky book on astrology. ‘When’s your birthday?’
She flicks to my birthday date and reads from the page, then hers and then her current love.
We sit on her bed and she talks about the books she’s been reading. Her storage space, a narrow room with a window, is full of plastic coloured spheres; a personal ball bit. I’m taken on a tour of the place, meet her housemates and drink beer from the fridge. It’s a co-op, she explains – five girls share the house, cook meals together, no locks on their doors. Outside people fill the backyard – someone has a microphone, but I can’t really hear what they’re saying. Her housemate sings. We retreat to the front porch, lazily directing visitors.
She’s Molly Ringwald from North Carolina. She looks like my friend Kate. She leans back in the porch couch and says; ‘it feels like we’ve known each other for more than a day’.
I don’t see her for another month or so. We run into each other at the Portland Zine Symposium, and she does a lap of the room before joining me at my table.
‘Have you eaten?’ And before I can answer, she’s taking out a plastic container from her massive backpack, and offering me half a salad sandwich. Her arm’s in a sling. More adventures, more stories about the boy. She’s leaving for Seattle soon to move up with him.
The last time I see her she’s visiting from Seattle. Her boyfriend is playing in one of the bands. I’m leaving in a week or so. We hug goodbye.
‘It’s just the beginning,’ she says, and I believe her.
Image credit: Cheryl