Roots

Today, I found out that two people I have met since I moved to Portland are leaving; two unrelated people, from different corners of my life. One is leaving to retire at the coast, one is leaving to build a career in another city. Both are dear to me, each expressing a “native Portland” personality I have come to admire, a perspective I want to adopt and embody.

These departures come at an interesting moment in my life. I’ve been here three years, and have found a place where I feel–for the first time in my life–like I belong. I’m ready–also for the first time in my life–to put down roots; find a home in a neighborhood, actively participate in the community, create lasting connections. To this point, I’ve been floating along in the stream, waiting to see where it takes me, but now I’m ready to plant my feet. To that end, Tim and I will soon be starting the process of looking for a new home, a place to stay and build a sense of community, to invest in our neighbors and make our surroundings a better place. A home, an anchor, a bulwark against the vicissitudes of life.

This long-term outlook is new for me. I knew I wasn’t staying in Chicagoland. I know I’m staying here. Just the thought of losing Oregon leaves me bereft.

Our planning has taken some tangible steps; on September 1, our POD full of stuff will arrive outside my apartment, ready for me to crack it open (we’ve lost the key, so I will most likely have to get a bolt cutter to cut the lock) and take a look at my old life. It’s all there, stacked against the walls in carefully packed and neatly piled boxes. I have my trusty note cards, the key to the contents of each box, and I’ve been flipping through them to see what I’ll need to pull out soonest, what I can put into long-term storage until we find a house.

Just reading the cards has me tiptoeing through memories, foggy and incomplete, of places we lived, items we accumulated, reminders of people who touched our lives and moved on, people we walked away from moving out here. There are some boxes I won’t open for a while; old pictures will wait for a quiet winter month, when I have the emotional bandwidth to absorb all those memories. My winter clothes may have no purpose here, as it doesn’t get cold enough to wear long johns but once every couple of years.

But that pod represents all of the detritus of my life in one 10 X 20 spot, and having it in Portland will be the penultimate step to severing ties with Illinois. My piano is the last piece left in Chicago, and that will necessarily wait until we’re rooted. But the pod carries the breadth of my memories, and those of my children, and the whole of my marriage and our life as parents. It’s all there, in a box, traveling across the country on a semi-truck, coming to the place where I have become the person I want to be. What will my memories tell me about who I used to be?

And what of those memories will I want to keep?

My friends are moving on to the next stage of their lives. I will miss them here in Portland, where they had become guiding stars in the kindly Portland constellation that welcomed me to their number. I met one of them a month after landing here, and started working with him almost immediately. It will be so strange to have him gone. I expected him to be around here forever.

So in the next few weeks, Portland will become *my* place; all of me will be here. Having my “stuff” may erase that last sliver of feeling like I’m on extended vacation, like I’m just visiting and will “go home” soon. It’s a faint sensation, just a glimmer of thought, engendered in part by the wonder and awe I still feel when I wake up and smell the pine forest, or drive to Sauvie’s Island, or spend a few hours on the coast and sleep in my own bed on the same day. This feels like a vacation spot in many ways, except that in recent months, my career has taken a foothold here as well. My “visitor” feeling has gone, and I’m finally ready to settle down.

The next few months will be an unraveling of the boxing-up of my life that I did back in 2013, a reversal of the collapsing process. I’m looking forward to this step with longing.

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