essays by shé

4 Months in a Jetta

Nine years ago, at the recommendation of a doctor, I evacuated my home in Olympia, Washington. It was terrifyingly difficult to breathe, and she suspected long-term black mold toxicity. I could not keep any paper, fabric, wood — my life’s work, basically.

Wearing a hazmat suit and mask, I sorted through my belongings, setting cast-offs on the curb: books, instruments, costumes, art and supplies, music and stereo, movies and players, furniture, clothes, plants. I filled several recycle bins with journals, stories, poems, essays, scripts, songs, profiles, novels. My kayak went to the neighbor boy who made his mother call the EMTs the week before (he knew I was in dire straits before I did). I mailed my mother’s wedding dress, made by my grandmother and archivally stored for decades, to my niece.

What little was left — my computer and printer, a fire safe with documents and hard drives, jewelry, a few of my grandmother’s tea cups, Johnny’s Puppy, myself — fit in the Jetta. After I was gone, two hired men hauled to the dump whatever the neighbors didn’t take from the giant Free Store in the front yard.

Still very weak, I hit the road, looking for a clean place near the ocean to recover. Due to my body’s toxicity (all systems were affected: lungs, heart, organs, glands, nerves), my senses were extremely heightened. Lights were brighter, noises were louder, and fragrances were overwhelming. I could not tolerate the industrial cleansers most motels, hotels, and airbnbs used. Campgrounds were better, but crowded.

Searching for a quiet, safe abode was exhausting. I needed rest. I needed to salinate and exercise the poisons out. And so I slept in my car. I used public bathrooms and showers, and became almost psychic in my ability to find outlets to boil water for tea, oatmeal, soup, eggs. I was determined not to die. I kept my job by working in libraries and coffee houses.

Cold forced me south, finally finding comfort in Los(t) Angeles County, where I grew up. I crept into residential neighborhoods at night to sleep, then drove away before dawn. I skated the bike path for hours, and jumped in the ocean every day. I worked. I continued posting episodes of my serial novel, Letters to Lulu. After four months in the Jetta, I came across the Seaside Motel in Redondo Beach. Kitchens, said the sign, so I pulled in. The owner showed me a room on the top floor: clean, with an oven, bathtub, fridge, and big flat horizontal bed; best of all, no hellacious cleanser smell. The first four months in the Jetta were over.

Shé, Seaside Motel, Redondo Beach CA, 2014
Shé unbowed, Seaside Motel, Redondo Beach CA, 2014




2 responses to “4 Months in a Jetta”

  1. Kevin Avatar

    Hey–just read this–really excellent piece.

    1. Shé Avatar

      Thanks so much.

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