Cultural District, Portland, Oregon. Seven stories up.
I’m wide awake and can’t fall back to sleep. This hasn’t happened in a while, but tonight, I find myself restless, tossing, turning, unable to get comfortable. The source of my discomfort tonight, is physical pain rather than emotional. Hours on Zoom calls during the day, sitting at a desk in a chair tilting my head at angles that are anything but ergonomically correct is creating neck and shoulder pain that cannot be tamed with acetaminophen. I’m out of ibuprofen and it is too close to dawn for any pain meds left over from last year’s thyroid surgery. Those might well be outdated anyway.
I lie for a moment looking out the window of my bedroom, shifting my position to get comfortable. My mattress is the exact level of the bottom of the window that fills one entire wall of my small bedroom. It’s not the floor to ceiling wall of windows I enjoyed when overseas, but it is pretty close. The view is fantastic, no matter the hour, but at night, it’s a spectacular collage of color and light against the night sky. Tonight it is clear and cold. I can tell from this particular shade of darkness that there’s not a cloud in the sky and sunrise will be an event for which I will have front row seats. It’s entertainment that never gets old. It will be a beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest. I shift again, trying to get comfortable. It’s no use. I give up the fight against consciousness and give in wholly to the fact that, against my will, I am awake. I throw back the comforter, slide open the pocket door that seals my tiny bedroom off from the rest of the small 500 square foot space I call home, and head to the bathroom for some Tylenol. It won’t help…much.
I swallow two of the bright red gel capsules and walk about twenty more paces to the kitchen, flick the coffeemaker to “brew now”, never even switching on a light. My condo is small, but the windows are large, taking up one entire side of my living space. No matter where I am in this space, I have spectacular views of downtown. City lights serve as a built-in night light. It’s one reason I live here now. The condo is small on space, but large on cityscape. As I wait for the coffee to brew, I pick up my kitten, a gorgeous gray, cream and tan Torti-Lynx I found last October on Craigslist. She’s definitely a pandemic pet, and it’s a constant battle to keep her off the expansive granite counters in the kitchen, but I love her. I take a few more steps to stand at the door to my balcony and gaze out at the world. The view from seven stories up is perfect. High enough off the ground to see some incredible distances (through the buildings) and yet low enough to the ground to see everything that goes on. High enough off the ground to mute the noise of the traffic below, close enough to still have birds land on my balcony and bees flying in the windows if I leave them open during the summer, which I do. I face east, toward the waterfront, Mount Hood and the rising sun. I’d have a perfect view of all of these except for the skyscrapers that stand in the way. The very ones that provide light and interest as I allow my thoughts to drift from one unrelated idea to the next. When the sun comes up the lights will transform to glass mirrors reflecting all the colors of sunrise.
The coffee finishes brewing. I put the kitten down, return to the kitchen, and choose a mug from my vast collection. In the last five years, I reduced my living space from 1500 square feet to 500 hundred, but somehow, in all the downsizing, my mug collection made it. The kitchen in this place is surprisingly spacious. It is only slightly smaller than the kitchen I had when I lived in the three bedroom, three bath townhome in my past life. I downsized everything else, and kept the mugs. I have an entire two shelves of cabinet space dedicated to coffee drinking receptacles. It’s crazy what people collect, sometimes. A mug collection is not that unusual a collection to have, I suppose, but when faced with downsizing, especially as much as I had to in order to fit in this space, you wouldn’t think mugs would be the priority. While I downsized in terms of space, I surely upgraded in terms of quality. This is a well-designed small space. Not perfect, but damn near.
The mug I choose is a smooth dark mug; the word “Oregon” etched on one side, the Oregon license plate etched on the other…the letters ORE separated from GON by a single Doug Fir, Mount Hood in the background. This mug, found on a dusty and neglected tourist shelf in some big box discount store last Christmas when my oldest and I were out picking up some last minute items, speaks to me. It’s a totem in a way. All my life, I’ve tried to leave this state, tried to leave the Pacific Northwest, but I can never get away or stay away for long. Even when I had the chance to go literally anywhere in the world, I chose here. Four and a half years ago, my life was in free fall. I had the opportunity to decide where I was going to land and I.chose.here. I am part of this place. I’ve ceased fighting that. This place is part of me. This is home. When I saw the mug on the shelf, I loved the feel of it, how smooth and comfortable it is in my hands, and also how it represents my metamorphosis over the last half decade from fighting where and who I was, to accepting, embracing and loving me. After all, I am the one constant companion in my own life. I should be nice to that person. With the lights still off, I add creamer to the bottom of my mug, and pour my coffee. I head to the couch, and curl up and gaze out at the cityscape. My world is not what it used to be.
I reflect on the past decade. They say change, even positive change, can be a significant source of stress. In the last two decades of my life, beginning with my divorce from my first husband, while pregnant with my youngest child, I have endured the gamut of human experience and emotion. Change, dramatic, unexpected and traumatic change has been the capstone of my existence.
Ten years ago, I was stuck and stymied. I was nearing that half century milestone in my life and I was miserable. Unhappy and struggling to make ends meet as a single mother of four children, I worked endless hours to keep up with all the needs and demands, taking on any extra job I could find. I had little support in my world. My job was stressful and so were my finances and my home life. I drank to get through it. At first the alcohol relieved the anxiety and helped me get through. I was unaware, at that time, how much I was depending upon it. Now, as I gaze out on the slumbering city, my life now is the impossible dream I fantasized about despairingly back then. Had you told me then, that I was going to be living this existence, I’d have thought you were crazy. Had you told me what I’d have to go through to get here…well, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here now.
As I watch the sunrise, I think of all the horrible decisions I’ve made. Of all the wrong turns, the missteps, the failures. In 2016, when I finally hit bottom, I was alone and without a job or a place to live. My stress was off the charts, as was my anxiety. The drinking kept pace. In spite of everything, I managed to land a fantastic position (off the charts stressful, but fantastic), I settled the divorce from the marriage that should never have been, and I settled in to my new city. I was desperately lonely, but alcohol helped me forget that. Things gradually began to improve for me. I finally realized that I’m the only person in my life I can rely on to be there for me, so I’d better start stepping up.
Everything is great until it isn’t, right? That’s how drinking was for me. It was great fun, until it wasn’t. Until every time I drank it was too much. Until even when I didn’t drink I felt like I had a hangover. Until I began forgetting things and my hair started falling out in clumps. It was no longer any fun and the anxiety was still there. As is typical, I was drinking more and more, but I was long past ever feeling a buzz. I would just go straight to feeling sick. It was no longer any fun. So, at the beginning of 2021, after joining a wine club the summer before, and having put away more bourbon in a night than should be imbibed in a week, and doing that every night all summer long, I decided I just didn’t feel very good, and I stopped drinking. On January 2, 2021, I finished the last drop of bourbon in the last bottle in my condo. Tomorrow will be seventy days since. It will also be, the one year anniversary of moving in to my little condo. I reflect on the hardships, but I also celebrate the triumphs. Completely redesigning a life is hard work. Getting sober is too. I have much to celebrate and to be grateful for. As I gaze out on the city, I welcome the overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude that inevitably results in such musings. I made it, I think to myself. I actually did it and it’s really, truly just as wonderful as I imagined. Not perfect. Life is still life and there are challenges and struggles, but it is still wonderful. This is a small space, but that is city life. It suits me.
The timer on my phone goes off. It is fifteen minutes before sunrise. My coffee mug is empty. I step out onto the balcony, breathe in the crisp morning air. The streetcar lumbers past below as I snap a photo of the pink and marmalade hues along the Eastern horizon, a ritual act I’ve participated in nearly every day since moving in a year ago. The buildings reflect each other and the colors in a fantastic display of mutual admiration. The cityscape is beautiful, but the skies are the real artwork here. It is going to be a brilliant day.
I haven’t always lived in the big city. In fact, I don’t live in a big city now, I live on the very edge of a little city. It is, as cities go, a very cool, trendy, hipster-y, micro-brew loving kind of city, but it is not overwhelmingly large. In fact, it is very easy to navigate, even for the non-local. But it is, very definitely a city. If the skyline doesn’t prove it, the traffic does.
“You’ll get tired of the traffic,” I was warned.
“Eighth most congested city in the nation,” I was informed.
“Ugh,” one friend sighed. “Traffic into the city is always bad and 217 is always horrible, even on weekends…especially on weekends.” Read the rest of this entry
Have you ever in your life thought of just quitting everything, packing things up (or getting rid of them), and starting life over somewhere else doing something else? A new place; a new life; a new history to look back on?
I have several friends, myself included, with college-age children. The kids are heading off to college. They are traveling; moving across the nation in some cases, to begin the next step in their lives. I sometimes, no, often, wonder what it would have been like to go back and do life differently. I sometimes also wonder if it is getting to be too late for me to do some of the things I’d really like to still do. Like live and work in the city. The real city, not just the smallish one I live in now, which is more like a bunch of overgrown towns pushing at each other than a real city. With a skyline. And a waterfront.
A friend of mine is making her dreams come true. She and her sister are combining households, saving money and in the next year or two, they will move to France, where my friend says she hopes to live until she dies. You can read about their journey at Lipstick And Baguettes. A dream like this is amazing to me, but to do it requires more than I can ask of my children right now.
I wonder if I will ever travel out of the country. If I do where will I go? Sometimes, though I am content with my existence, I feel as though nothing will ever change, no matter how much I might like it to or try to make it something different. On the the other hand it is wonderful where I am, and I think I could stay here forever. At the same time, I know I don’t really want to.
Of course, right now, nothing looks great. Everything is crummy because I don’t feel well. I’ve missed a perfectly grand, sunny weekend being sick with this cold. I had the The Hesitant Boyfriend go out and get me some NyQuil. I’m pretty glad he didn’t hesitate on that. Seems like it might be time to take another dose.