Marrow Island - Alexis M. Smith Page 0,1

first night after the quake, clinging to each other under a Mylar sheet in the gymnasium. I listened to her sleep; I felt her moving through her dreams.

Carey sat in a chair by the door, waiting for the sheriff, though he shouldn’t have—he should have been back on Marrow at his post, taking the state troopers through the woods, writing official reports. Soon enough everyone would be looking for all of us, with questions. But they would find what they were looking for at the Colony without our help. And by the time they asked me to tell my part, they would have a story of their own and they wouldn’t veer from it, no matter the details I offered.

My notes were probably already in the sea or burnt to ashes. I tried to reconstruct the days in my mind, building a timeline, sorting details, drawing up the images of pictures I had taken, of things I had seen. I cataloged the different scents in the layered stench I gave off: conifer needles, stump rot, burnt lichen, fungi spores—all washed with the yeasty brine of bodies. Mostly my body. But other bodies, too.

In the weeks after, back in the city, I woke alone in my third-floor apartment every morning. Outside, buses lumbered down Fremont Street, shopkeepers turned over their Open signs, people drank their coffee, checked their phones, walked their dogs. The city repeated its relentless, noisy cycle just like it had every day before and after that week I spent on Marrow. I listened, I watched. After the May Day Quake, over twenty years before, Seattle had rebuilt itself, from concrete rubble heap back to silver city, lessons learned, so we tell ourselves. Otherwise, what was the point of it all? What unlikely comfort we find in the refrain build, destroy, repeat. There are always survivors left to pick up the pieces. There’s always someone to tell the tale.

I had my own refrain: I told the story of those days on Marrow hundreds of times in the first few months—to the state police and the FBI, the grand jury, to my fellow journalists, to the editors who wanted me to write a book, even—because of Sister J.—the archbishop of the Seattle Diocese. I answered their questions honestly, and all the details were true, but the telling began to feel like a betrayal. I told them the story and they typed it up and it became tabloid-television lurid. Marrow Colony as cult. Marrow Colony as failed utopia.

Build, destroy, repeat. From my hospital bed, from my apartment, from the courtroom, I saw Marrow Island and Sister’s Colony pillaged, and all the people there who were scraping out a little space for themselves—their only hope to live gratefully, daily, in the service of the planet—they were evicted, displaced, incarcerated.

Now I am five hundred miles away in the dry, pine-scattered forests of eastern Oregon, but every time I dream, I find myself back on the islands. In some dreams, I relive the events as they happened. In others, I realize I’m dreaming, and I try to undo the past, to make different choices. Either way I wake up feeling lost. How did I get here? How did this happen? I might be the only one left who knows.

The newspapers have moved on to other catastrophes. The Colony’s history will fade into the archives; the colonists will become ghosts. No one will remember the names of those who performed a miracle on Marrow Island. I have never said so to anyone—not even Carey—but I forgive them. I forgive them for trying to kill me.




OCTOBER 8, 2014

THE SUN HAD just set. I turned down the lane to the cottage, arrows of light shooting from clouds on the horizon. The air was warm, with a chill settling at the edges. Tall trees darkened the driveway. I could see the shape of the house but few details. My phone lit the way through the front door and kitchen to the fuse box. I switched the breakers, heard the fridge rattle and an encouraging tick from the water heater, turned on a few lights. Faded notes in my mother’s hand were taped to everything—on light switches and cupboard doors and appliances—explaining how and what to do to revive the place. I read each one, not ready to rely on my memories. Mom had been renting the cottage out to friends and acquaintances for years. But this was my first time back since I was twelve.