Shortly after declaring my undying love for Portland, I have decided that I must leave it. No shit. Love ’em & leave ’em swankyD – that’s me. Really Portland, it’s not you, it’s me. I love you, baby, but I just can’t stay. I’ll hop on the bus, Gus and I’ll try not to be coy, Roy. I’ve made a new plan, Stan and it really has nothing to do with being free. Because, you know, (wait for it . . . ) freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Everywhere I turn it seems I’ve got something to lose. Something, also, to gain, of course. But the difficulty is always in the losing.
I know I am making the right decision to be closer to my family. I can feel it’s right in the very marrow of my being. I fought against it being right and lost. Where I live is the very last static thing in my life during 2010. So why not explode that, too? Why not change every last little thing about my life while I am wielding the wrecking ball? Why stop short? Painful or not, it’s right and it’s right and it’s right.
Part of me fears I’m just getting really good at walking away. The rest of me knows that I am also going back to – a city I have loved (yes, I called her a mistress, but sometimes you do leave your wife for her, sometimes you just have to, even if you find that you truly do love them both), back to a state that is home in so many ways, to my family and old friends, to a sense of responsibility that is beckoning to me – not in a nagging or pejorative way, but like a grandmother’s song while she stands at the stove – comforting and familiar.
I have cried a lot through this decision. I’ve rubbed my eyes raw and woken up with bee-stung eyelids that obscured my vision. On either side I win – but, sadly, on either side I lose. I have found myself weighing the losses – holding out both palms and trying to imagine the exact weight of each little thing and each big thing (friendships that will withstand but will be changed, whose details will shift, moved to that column of long distance). I have cried the wracking sobs of catching your breath and making sounds even when you try not to – the kind that when you see it in a movie you think might just be bad acting, but when you have just done it, you know it is real. I also feel a straightening in my spine that can only be coming from my body knowing that it’s heading home and drifting back to a place more safely situated to my anchors, my loves – my body’s very stature shifting to balance out the weight lost from what some days have felt like endless tears.
Since officially making the decision weeks ago, I feel as though I am slowly detaching from Portland. My move is months away at best and so the process is slow and uncertain – in limbo at least until I am no longer strapped to a mortgage and a job that I can’t just bail on, not in good conscience. In this oddly almost-weightless state, the things I love about Portland feel so bitingly bittersweet. I see the river as I cross it on the Ross Island and I try to remember how I feel about the bay – is it close, is it anywhere near the same feeling? I see the way the city stretches out and the green everywhere around me and try to imprint it in my brain. Try to remember the green spaces in San Francisco, try to remember Dolores Park or the bench near the small lake in Golden Gate park that was my favorite spot when lost inside my own head, the place on the wall at Twin Peaks that always made me feel more grounded. I try to conjure the things I love about San Francisco at the same time that I gaze at the most endearing parts of Portland, my attention constantly split, shifting back and forth between.
Portland to me has always seemed a little like San Francisco stretched out and pulled across a larger, flat piece of land – where the canvas would tear, where there would not be enough to cover the square footage, green filled in. Everything has more space. Everything has more green. Everything is a little shorter and easier to see around and over and through. And San Francisco, since living in Portland, began to seem to me like a distilled, condensed, fortified version of Portland – a watery Portland that was boiled and reduced and hardened – a dark caramel brittle city. All of the people working more quickly, more heatedly, picketing with bigger signs and bigger results. Like a dirtier, grayer, beautiful pressure cooker version of Portland – hot and fast and sexy.
In these last few weeks, what I see in Portland is an amplified, volume turned up to 11 rendition of all the ways it is unique and different and weird. SF is weird, that’s for sure. But not Portland weird. It’s as though we have more time and space to really ponder and think up our weirdness. We can ruminate and germinate and gestate our weirdness – give it some acreage to spread out and grow organic and wild. We can take the time to weld what looks like a million bicycle frames together and take the time to get on and off of that monstrous contraption and ride on streets flat enough and sparsely populated enough to make it a spectacle, but not as big a danger as it would be on Market or Lombard or Mission. Portland’s ponderous, hand-crafted weirdness makes me ache, makes me yearn for it even while I am staring it in the face.
I feel lately that I am in the middle of giving Portland the longest ever kiss goodbye – like my lips are locked and won’t let go. Not to breathe. Not to pull back and look into Portland’s eyes. Not to pause and recognize that it’s too early for this. Not to say to myself, not yet. There’s still plenty of time. I am trying to find a way to stop this feeling. I need to stop feeling this way, need to stop kissing like it’s the last time. Before my lips chap. Before I pass out. Before it hurts more and longer than it has to. I need to pat Portland on the back and let her go on about her business and make some plans with her. Hang out. Have dinner. Sing.
It’s like I’m breaking up in advance when I need to savor all the time we have together. It will hurt enough when the time comes, but that goodbye will at least be followed immediately with a new home, a new start, the going back to a salve for the walking away. So back up, Portland – because you know I can’t. Be the stronger one. Stop kissing me back. Put your hands on my shoulders and gently push me just far enough away to see your face, all of it. I’m still here. Help me remember that. The rest will come later. That kiss will be waiting – sad and sweet and tear-filled. And then we will see that we each can go on living – separate and distant and happy. But for now, let’s just hold hands.