One year ago I woke at 5am, I loaded a futon, some sheets and towels, a few dishes and forks, my 11 year old cat and some clothes into my car. I said goodbye to Steve on the dirt road in our orchard — Arch had been at grandma’s for a few days already.
The sun was rising and I waved one final time at Steve, at the travel trailer we’d lived in for eleven months, and our orchard where so many mornings began with picking fruit for juice. I drove east on Dume Drive through the canyons and south on the 101 to the 405 where I headed north.
990 miles. I drove it in a single day. Fourteen hours.
Past Sacramento I called V.
“I’ve never driven this far north on the five,” I said.
“You’ve reached escape velocity,” she said.
Nearing the border, the license plates changed from California’s crisp white lines to the gray and green of Oregon. I promised myself that I’d hold onto my California plates as a long as possible.
Over the mountain pass and I drove too fast. Careening down the curves, I said to the cat, “if I don’t get the car under control, we’ll die.” I’ve been in enough car accidents to remain cold and calm in situations like this. It’s moths and inflatable things that scare me.
I got to Portland and my realtor had left the key to my house tucked inside the clothes line. I opened my front door and the house smelled like stale cat, stale flea bomb, cooped up air. The carpets and the wood paneling would be ripped off the next day.
I dragged the futon across that stinky carpet and into a bedroom with wood floors. I washed my face and my hands. I didn’t take off my shoes. I’m a girl who goes barefoot in houses. All houses. But these carpets were just too much.
I touched my stove, my cabinets. I went outside and looked at my breezeway. We bought a ranch house. The quintessential California house. People are so snotty about ranch houses, but for me it looks like a house. It looks like a family lives inside. Its clean lines and simple layout relax me.
Knowing that one day I’ll bash out whatever wall I fancy and reconfigure the house excites me. One story. Three bedrooms (one converted into a laundry room). I’ve never in my life lived anywhere with more than two bedrooms.
934 square feet. Portlanders tell me this is small. For a girl who’s grown up in condos only to live in apartments and a barn and a travel trailer, 934 square feet is huge.
Early on here I mentioned to someone that I was from California.
“You should be hanged for saying that,” was the response.
“You know, I lived there for 31 years and I never heard a Californian complain about all the Arizonans moving there. Or, better, the Oregonians.” And what I thought was, “You fucking wish you were from California. You wish you were from a state people wrote songs about, people made movies in, people wrote novels about. The seventh largest economy in the world. Go suck it you provincial prick.”
I still have that thought in Portland. But I’ve learned that Portland is a small city and word travels fast and I cannot call people provincial pricks without it getting back.
I’ve turned into a provincial prick. I forget that there’s life in other cities. That not every person thinks, “why can’t my city be more like Portland?”
I’ve made some amazing friends here. Friends I’m easy around. Friends I can just be with. Friends who make me laugh harder than I thought possible. I’ve made a few enemies too.
I’ve given up a friend to be here. There is a hole in my heart where my former best friend was. The one who made life easier for me. But there was a choice to be made and I chose the life I have right now. I don’t regret it. I regret that I had to make the choice at all.
Not a week goes by when I don’t cry in my car and swear to myself that I’ll head due south on the five and retrace those 990 miles. That I’ll walk up the stairs covered in morning glories and just simply be. Simply be quiet and alone and forgotten. No more blog, no more books, no more articles and coffee and beer and networking. I’ll read William James in the morning. Portland would be just a dream.
And it is not a dream. After I shed those tears, I wipe up my face, put on a smile and go on. I make more friends here. I shake hands, I square my shoulders and introduce myself. I am the writer.
I have goals for this next year in Portland.
I will be paid appropriately for my writing, my experience and my name. By appropriately I mean I will be paid commensurate with a lawyer or a doctor or a consultant or a business person who has a Master’s degree, two books published, countless articles, taught at one of the finest universities on the west coast.
We will begin to work on the house again. We’ll finish the floors and put in a fireplace. We’ll convert the laundry room back to a livable space.
We go back to traveling. Steve and I used to travel all the time. We’ll do that again. We’ll be in Spain in February 2009.
As today has approached, I’ve cried more and more in my car. Steve’s noticed that I’m quiet. Subdued, he says. And it’s because I feel like I might cry most moments. Because I’m homesick for Malibu and for San Diego and not San Diego.
And I feel so firmly planted in Portland, in my house, with my family. And as often as I think I might cry for California, I want to cry because I have some of the most wonderful friends anyone could ask for. Not all are Portland people. There are California people in the mix and East Coasters.
And Steve and I are doing very well.
I still cry in my car.
When I started this blog in Portland it was called SoCal at NoPo. I think about changing the name back. I find myself saying so often, “I’m from California” and also, “I’m from North Portland.” I love both places and miss them in equal measures when I’m not there.
And so. A year.
I am a recovering Californian still. And a converting Oregonian.
Truth is, you can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the girl.
To another year!