Eight years ago, I arrived in Portland. If I close my eyes and listen to Either/Or, I can see it all clearly: I stumbled down the jetway with a tiny Dylan slung on my left hip, my messenger bag strapped across my chest, and a car seat in my right hand. I wore what I called my “Angsty Single Mother Costume”: beat up Levi’s, a flannel shirt, and one of the few pairs of sneakers I kept after dumping most of my Chicago belongings at the Salvation Army near my mom’s house in Central PA. Dylan was gnawing on one of my pigtails as strangers cooed about her cuteness. My mouth tasted like Cheez-its. The day had consisted of three thousand miles, two airplanes, and half a dozen diaper changes. I had a headache and a baby and a couple thousand dollars in my checking account. All I could think was “should I reset my watch now, or wait until we’re all settled in M’s car?”
I told my family and friends east of the Mississippi that I was moving to the Pacific Northwest to forget everything that had transpired in the last year. This was met with gooey eyes and sympathetic shoulder patting. But really, I was hoping that the change of venue would help me remember what it was like to feel anything. Months and months of sleepless nights and soggy pillows had left me with a deep numbness. The arrival of Dylan had marked the end of the most intense period of mourning, if only because I was too busy sterilizing bottles and battling diaper rash. I approached most days with the stoic resignation of a soldier at war. “Buck up, soldier!” There was no time for crying. Every once in a while I would feel a tinge of something (occasionally lovely, more often, ugly) somewhere in the darkest core of myself, but these flickers were fleeting. I felt so dry; I was becoming a desiccated body. An aspiring mummy. A future bit of petrified wood. I saw myself becoming a sweatpant-wearing bookkeeper within a few years. I would never date another person again. I would collect cats and commemorative plates. Maybe eventually I would join a church, just to meet other lonely people.
Drastic measures were required. Maybe I could have signed myself up for grief counseling. Or maybe applied for nursing school (my all-time, uber-practical back up plan). Instead just I moved to the other side of the country, to a city where I knew almost no one.I’ve waxed poetic about the magical healing powers of Portland over and over again. I always assumed it was the fresh start. Or the evergreen trees and snowcapped mountains. Kind strangers and cute boys and a great public library. Coffee and easy bicycling and a low cost of living. The years I spent here returned me to the land of the living. I began to smile and laugh for real, not just out of obligation. I met the amazing individuals that I still count among my best friends. I shed my outer skin of grubby denim and plaid in favor of dresses and cute shoes. I could hear my long lost boyfriend telling me, “You would be blindingly beautiful if you started dressing more like a lady.” I fell in and out of love, kissed boys in foreign lawns, and took secret swims in private pools. I climbed trees and jumped off roofs. Summary: Portland life was totally fucking rad, even when I was worrying about money or riding my bike to work in the rainy pre-dawn darkness.
And then I moved to Philadelphia. I don’t regret this decision at all, for three major reasons (and a handful of tiny ones): I got to spend lots of quality time with my family (difficult when I’m living in the Pacific time zone), I made some great new friends, and I once-and-for-all realized that Portland was my real home. Maybe that’s the true secret to my magical Pacific Northwest recovery; being in the place one truly belongs is the best cure for anything. Maybe your Portland is Cleveland, Ohio. Taipei. Buenos Aires. Exactly where you grew up. It’s all about waking up every day (even if it’s five a.m. and you’re sleepy/grouchy) and saying to yourself, “I’m so happy to be here.” That’s some real magic.
So here I am, back in Portland. So much planning was involved. I switched careers. I raised a ton of money to move my bizarre assortment of possessions. I had to find homes for two of my cats. I slept on a couch for a month. Three thousand miles and lots of packing tape later, I live in the cutest apartment. I have the greatest friends. Sometimes I work too much or I have a headache or I miss my family. Most days my feet hurt and I’m anxious about dealing with a lot of residual Philadelphia intrigue. On the other hand, I get to sleep in the yard and drink beer at the river and listen to cassette tapes at the park. I ride my bike across the Burnside Bridge every weekday morning at 5:30. As I watch the rising sun light up the river and the West Hills, I say to myself, “I can’t believe I get to live here.” And I’m proud of myself for making this all happen.
The upcoming week marks the nine year anniversary of The Day Everything in Amanda’s Life Changed. I’ve been reflecting on this for the past few days and my final conclusion is “So much happens in nine years.” Earth-shattering, I know.