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 Those might well be outdated anyway.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 was supposed to hear from the car dealership on Friday about when I could expect my new car to be delivered. I heard nothing, so I figured I’d have to get up and be ready. I knew the local rental agency opened at 9:00 a.m., and I certainly hoped I wouldn’t be spending another day waiting around. Waiting around, especially the kind of waiting around that preempts everything and anything else one might want to do, is not the kind of thing I do well.
During the holidays this year, I attended a couple of interesting theme parties. One was the Ugly Christmas Sweater party. This is, of course, where everyone wears an ugly Christmas sweater and the sweater voted ugliest wins. I wasn’t going to go, but then, my oldest daughter, who can find any reason to celebrate, wouldn’t let me off the hook. We happened to be in Goodwill one day and I noticed the ugly Christmas sweaters. She pointed to the perfect one. The typical Christmas appliqués, with ribbons and jingle bells placed randomly all over the thing. The buttons were jingle bells and there was even a hole in it were the sweater had worn. Well, once I bought it, I had to attend the party. I was sure my sweater would win. Read the rest of this entry
I am moving. It’s a sudden thing, and I am not prone to this kind of suddenness. I’ve been in the same residence for ten years, after all.
This move is the right thing at the right time for me right now.
There’s just so much in my life that currently falls into the area of “the unknown.” I don’t need the instability of wondering if, when, and where I am moving. And I need to move.
I need to get out of this place because psychologically it is draining me. There are just too many painful memories here. Memories of a love gone wrong, of insecurities preyed upon, of lives, hearts and psyches abused and damaged. There is also the glaring truth that no matter how long I live here and work to improve this place those memories and reminders contained its walls and corners will never disappear. I will forever see the improved thing and think of what came before.
It is time to move on.
Just like with the marriage, I thought for a long time I could fix it. I finally realized I cannot; I moved on and haven’t looked back.
Once that decision is made, it is amazing how things can fall rapidly into place.
Six months ago I was playing with the idea, the possibility, the wisdom of leaving. Five months ago and each month since, I’ve made decisions that put into play a series of events that moved me closer to being able to leave. The last, item, to find new digs.
Not so easy to do, when your credit is shot.
Amazing how miracles still occur.
This time last week, I had no idea I was moving. Had you asked me, I would have said, “Yes, I’ll probably be moving within the next six months.” I had no idea I would be residing in my new location in two weeks. I’m a big believer these days that when you know something is right, you know it. I believe that about jobs, relationships and homes. This home appeared and all the necessary details fell into place. I’m ecstatic. While it is going to be sad to leave (sort of), it is far more exciting to go. But going brings its own stresses and having less than fourteen days to pack up and move a family of six is filled with more than the usually day-to-day moving stress. It doesn’t help that this is happening right at back-to-school season either. It also doesn’t help that it occurred during the process of mediation with the second ex…the one I hold responsible for the damages to my current abode. Oh well.
So, I’ve been up writing to do lists, making plans, and…once I got the floor plan of the new place emailed to me…placing furniture.
There is the stress of going through the accumulation of a decade of misery and getting rid of it all. Sometimes I do wish I could just torch the place. It would be so much easier. Purging is good, and necessary, and we are doing it. I thought it would be tough for my kids, but they’ve gotten on board and are doing a great job. Of course, the carrot of New Stuff in a New Place is helping motivate them. There is the stress of packing and organizing packed boxes so that moving day isn’t complete chaos and the unpacking a disaster. There is the anxiety of trying to figure out how a new location will impact our lives and our routines. There is the excitement of looking forward to living in surroundings that are palatial compared to what we currently reside in. There is the anticipation of, for the first time in a decade, being able to put dishwasher detergent on our shopping list. Yes, folks, I have gone the last ten years without a mechanical (as opposed to human) dishwasher. This is exciting.
I’m struck with how this idea of place impacts our lives so much. For me, location is everything. I know there are people who can be comfortable in any setting. These are the people who can walk right into a new place and start meeting people right away. I’m not one of those people. When I enter a new environment, I have to give myself time to become acquainted with the environment, before I can comfortably engage with others around me. I have to take time to take in the details of the place I’m in. I don’t need a lot of time, but I prefer to have a few minutes to get my bearings.
Changing residences, even if the change is only a short distance like mine, can radically impact a persons’ lifestyle. This move, for my family, will alter things for us in a big way. For one, it is going to increase my commute time, for the next couple of years, at least. That, however, is the only trick part about this move and even with the increased commute time, my total travel time about 30 minutes. I can live with this. I can especially live with the savings in my pocketbook every month due to paying less in housing costs and utilities. I can live with the way this move will positively impact my lifestyle and increase the amount of time I have available to do the things I want to do like, travel, cycle, and write. Face it, with no yard to deal with, I’m going to have a lot more time. I’ve also totally eliminated the weekly arguments with my son about whether or not the lawn really needs to be mowed or not, which means I’m also reducing my stress load.
There are other ways that this move will impact our lives. A new environment contains new requirements for maintenance and upkeep. For example, this new place has hardwood floors on one level and carpet upstairs. The floors downstairs will need to be swept. Someone is going to have to have that job every day. Dishes will no longer be stacked on the counter glaring at us until someone decides to put them away, but they might remain in the dishwasher forever if I don’t assign that chore to someone. Since we’ll now have an indoor laundry area, there’s absolutely no way we can just dump the stuff out in the garage and “get to it when we get to it.” I am going to have to make sure the kids understand the new expectations for handling laundry and keeping our nice new place (built in 2005 instead of 1978) clean and tidy. The list goes on and on. The place we live in often dictates how we operate in our daily lives. I am only just beginning to realize how I’ve limped along for the last decade simply because the location we lived in was so unhappy and outdated.
So…the stress and details keep me up.
I’m anxious about making it all happen as smoothly as possible especially where our school year transportation routines are concerned.
I’m very excited about how positive this is for all of us. It’s going to be a crazy ride, but it will be worth it. Hopefully, once the move is over, I will be so exhausted, I’ll actually collapse into a deep and contented sleep…maybe for the first time in over a decade.