A year of change starts with a move to the West Coast.
It has been quite a while since I’ve written anything new on here. And a bit longer since I’ve attempted to write anything on a more personal level. But we are a long 11 months into 2020 and I am feeling ready to attempt a fresh start. Again.
At the start of 2020, I knew it was going to be a challenging, landmark year for me. I didn’t realize it was also going to be that, and more, for just about every other person in the world.
I moved out of NYC in August of 2019, quit my job of almost 5 years, and 6 months later, left a relationship. By February, I had nothing left to point me in any direction, but at least there was also nothing holding me in any one place.
I decided to start over in the Pacific Northwest. It was a region I have always felt drawn to. When I applied to colleges, I visited Portland and fell in love with the city. I ended up going far (far) in the other direction and attending school in Scotland, but it always stuck in the back of my head. When I graduated from college in 2013, I thought again about Oregon, and found myself looking at jobs on the west coast. I was too unsure of my ability to support myself, though, and moved – almost by mistake – to NYC with a friend, taking the first job that came along.
As 2019 ended, I was without a lease or a job and, for the third time, I thought of moving west. I was still scared, but more confident in my ability to take care of myself. More than that – I needed to prove to myself that I could start over alone: set up a home, find a new job, make new friends.
Late February, there were some articles about Covid, but it still appeared likely to blow over before long. I decided on the off-chance of it worsening, I should move while I had an opening, to avoid getting stuck in limbo in NJ. I can’t say I would have made the same decision if I had known what was coming.
I had visited Portland recently enough to know it was a top contender, but wanted to check out Seattle as a relocation option, too. So I packed up two suitcases (and yes, one was lined with books), and left for Newark airport.
Oh, and I forgot to mention another new start this year! I got a puppy. The sweetest, velvet black, lab mix named Boo. She was a few months old when I booked tickets, and I planned on bringing her with me. She would be my only companion on the other side of the country, and my not-so-secret plan for making friends (she’s damn cute now at 1 year old, but she was truly irresistible as a baby).
But that baby was growing much faster than anticipated, and by the time we got to the airport with her, she was too big to fit comfortably in the carry on crate. My mom took Boo back to Princeton, promising to fly out together as soon as I had picked a city and found an apartment. (Spoiler alert: Covid ruined those plans).
My dad came with me to Seattle, and we instantly fell into mission-mode. Walking upwards of 10 miles a day, we explored key neighborhoods street by street. We started most days with heavy diner breakfasts and strong coffee, strolled through Pike Place market, visited the Fremont Troll, and spent our evenings exhausted on our Airbnb couch, watching ‘The Newsroom’. Being near the water felt right, but the rest underwhelmed. Not that I dislike Seattle. I enjoy so many elements of the city, but it just didn’t add up for me. I felt like something was missing.
A day before my dad’s planned return flight, we got into our rental car and drove the 4 hours from Seattle to Portland. By the time we parked the car, I felt the way I wanted to feel. It was definitely hitting me that I was about to start a whole new life on my own, with no idea what it was going to look like – but under that, I felt tingly. Potential. Curiosity. Proud that this time I was making a choice actively and not falling into one or falling back on one.
I booked an Airbnb for one week and started making appointment to see apartments immediately. My dad and I used our final couple of hours together to drive around neighborhoods, looking at potential buildings and gauging how far each one was from the nearest grocery store, park, or coffeeshop.
That week felt like the start of something. I was on my own, and trying to put my bravest foot forward. I read while drinking cocktails in bars, enjoyed meals alone in restaurants, looked at job listings in coffeeshops – and I loved it all. I fell a bit in love with every quirky, colorful spot, each filled to the brim with personality.
Portland is the opposite of a sterile city. It’s bohemian charming chaos – like every place is it’s own little theatre set and everywhere you look you find art and plants and life. People smile at strangers on the streets. I wanted this to be my home.
After viewing 5 or 6 new apartment buildings with long lists of amenities, I visited a condo in the NW and I knew it my place instantly. The building is old, and it is not perfect. The floor creaks and the stove is wonky, and there’s a room devoid of a single outlet. But while the huge windows and small balcony might make the place drafty, they also let in light. There’s an old timey telephone in the entranceway that has no practical purpose but it makes me smile every time I walk into my home. My bedroom walls are blue and I have a small study and more space than I ever had in NYC.
What I did not realize that first week of March, was that this was the start of something, but it was also the end of something. That social life I was ready to throw myself into – even the simple joys of eating in a restaurant and seeing someones whole face while they smiled – were about to fade away.
I moved into my apartment the day Portland entered into lockdown for the first time, marching franticly back and forth from the grocery store for hours, hauling bags filled with all new-place essentials and “what are you supposed to get in an emergency?” panic buys.
After unpacking those two suitcases, I started buying everything else. While it was overwhelming, the distraction of picking out and building furniture was what kept me sane that first month.
The next few months were hard. More than hard. Really painful. It was a terrifying time for everyone, as it dawned on us all that normal life wasn’t coming back for a long, long time. Luckily, no one else was out socializing, so friends on the east coast and abroad were more likely than ever to want to spend their Friday nights on video calls, and my family was always just a call away. But I was scared for all of my friends in NYC, and had no way of knowing when I would see my family or my puppy again.
Eventually, though, it became manageable, and then okay, and then nice. My contract job became full time and kept me busy. I developed some new hobbies (more on that later), and reconnected with a high school friend living nearby. I fell into a routine and became used to relying entirely on my own company.
Summer came and Portland is paradise from May onwards. Blue skies and everything in bloom, and a heat that isn’t humid. I would finish work around 3pm and spend every spare minute outside, walking in the woods in Washington Park and exploring my new city on foot.
On weekends I would select a landmark, or simply pick a direction, and walk for hours just to get a coffee or check out a bridge. I wandered with a dreamy smile on my (masked) face, letting the charm of Portland homes with their porches and bright colors and lending libraries wash over me. I felt like myself again.
So, despite everything, I have no regrets. I love Oregon. I may not know Portland well yet, but it’s a city known for books and nature, dogs, art, and coffee. For roses and rain and whimsy. It’s just about everything I would put on my “ideal home” list.
I have no idea if I’ll stay here. I don’t want to be this far from my family forever, and I have a lot to figure out when it comes to a career path. But 2020 was going to be difficult no matter what and I think this was the best way for me to ride it out. I have also proven to myself that I can go somewhere new with no friends and no plans and, even in the worst of circumstances, build some kind of life. And knowing that makes me feel free.
Next up… a visit home to NJ and a second move West (this time, with Boo!)