I watched the first episode of The Leftovers while I was on a bus.
It was my first bus ride since I was in grade school, maybe freshman or sophomore year of high school. Before my best friend’s mom started giving me rides in her Rav 4, before I got my driver’s license and shuttled back-and-forth in my bequeathed Ford Aerostar minivan.
I let my HBO GO app eat up my data usage, because I needed a distraction. Music was too much; every single song that shuffled onto my playlist jammed my heart like lead in the veins, metaphors swarming and stinging.
Never is a promise, and you can’t afford to lie.
Anywhere I would have followed you.
You make me think that maybe I won’t die alone.
And all I wanted was the simple things, a simple kind of life.
You feel like home, you feel like home.
The series opens on one of those Tragic Fateful Days that has become a fixture in American life. But instead of a gun or a bomb or a plane, there is no explanation for what happened on October 14th three years before the show’s present day. Two percent of the world’s population simply vanishes in a blink—babies, mistresses, Gary Busey. In the years since the disappearance, the “leftovers” struggle to cope with gaping, unexplainable loss. A nihilistic cult of mute smokers attracts a growing legion of members. A woman who lost her entire family keeps replacing the Cheerios and orange juice her children were drinking on the morning they departed. A charlatan peddles in healing hugs and prophecies.
As I watched the pilot, opening with a foreboding mosaic of October 14th evaporations, my own vanishing act plays like a dancer countering the show’s moves. Only two days before I was at my house in Tucson, dragging my suitcases out to the car for my week at the Tin House Writer’s Workshop. “Well cats,” I said to our two kitties, Max and Mehitabel, who watched me fuss all morning from the air conditioned luxury of the loveseat. “I’ll see you in a week. Be good.”
It was in the midst of leaving for the airport that my phone rang. After two weeks of waiting, wondering if I’d get my “dream job” back home in Portland, I was granted a yes. My round-trip flight for a workshop turned into a one-way move before I could do anything. I didn’t get a last taco, or a last night of drinking in downtown with our one set of friends, or a goodbye dinner with my husband.
I think of the house I left behind, lightly touched by a woman who thought she’d be back in a week, who would have time to throw away the leftover cherry pie half in the refrigerator. To finish the latest craft project, a parody shrine to a Game of Thrones character. To dust and pick the peppers out back.
Over the weeks since I’ve left, I’ve started the dream job. I’ve walked off the dream job. I’ve gone back to the place I was working when my husband was offered the Tucson job a very long year and a half ago. I’ve took a wrong turn toward my old house. I’ve taken an unexpected trip back to my first Portland dwelling. My car was smashed. These six weeks have been the longest of my life.
But there hasn’t been a Sunday I don’t come home and stream the residents of Mapleton. I find camaraderie in their confusion. I love weaving together their stories and secrets, the lives unraveling in tandem. The foreboding that pulses through the townsfolk is the same crackle of time in my own strange, finite space of “transition.” Good things don’t last forever, but neither does suffering. Something always has to give.
This Sunday, in the first season’s penultimate episode, we got our first extended look at life before The Departure. There is a veneer of happiness in the familiar characters as they go about their workdays, throw surprise birthday parties and compete in science fairs. Much like our life in Tucson was working on the surface. Underneath both worlds, discontent festered. Officer Garvey wants a greater purpose. Nora wants a life bigger than only Mother of Two. I missed my community, my family, my self. If the characters I’ve been watching were able to turn the tables, to see me churning through the motions in a job and place that made me chronically unfulfilled, they’d see the climax was coming, too.
Now we are falling action, my husband The Leftover in Tucson and me, The Departed in Portland. Next week, the characters get an ending to their novella. I only hope mine is in sight as well. After all, there is no hell like purgatory.
Image Credit: The New York Times