Thursday, March 5, 2015

20 months in Seattle & Why it is Home

Today marks 20 months since I moved to Seattle. After the first year, I stopped counting, stopped taking a moment to observe that it was the 5th and counting back to July of 2013, doing the math. But I’ve never stopped observing that I’m here. I still don’t take it for granted. I still have several moments each day where I marvel to myself, “I’m here. For real. This city. It’s mine.” It starts when I look out the living room window and see the sunrise, the mountains, the rain or the fog. It continues when I walk to the bus stop, observing the contrast in the colors between the water and the sky—blue, gray, sometimes with a hint of pink—watching the boats move across the Sound. Then I walk onto the campus where I work and am delighted by the smells—the flowers, the greenery, there is something no matter what the season. I watch the sky change out the window all day. Sometimes blue, sometimes gray, sometimes changing back and forth. Sometimes there are rainbows. In the winter, darkness begins to fall before I leave. In the summer, it’s still bright as noon at five pm. On my walk home, sometimes I see the Mountain. I always see the skyline from the Jose Rizal bridge. Sometimes it’s already dark, sometimes the sun is setting, sometimes the sky and the Sound are unbelievable shades of blue, sometimes shades of misty gray. Every time I think, “This is perfect.” Every time I take a photo. I have hundreds of photos from my living room window, from my bus stop, my walk home. I have hundreds  and hundreds more from our walks and hikes during the weekend, from the parks, the forests, the mountains, the beaches. On the surface, they many of them may seem the same—trees, beach, gray waves, blue sky, sunset, skyline—but look closely and each is different. Each is perfect. I can’t pick a favorite.

Afternoon from my bus stop
Sunset from my bus stop

Puget Sound from Lincoln Park

A gray but beautiful day at the beach

From eighth grade through most of high school, I had periods when I was so depressed that I saw the world in shades of gray sometimes. I told people this and I’m pretty sure they thought I was exaggerating, but it’s real. I have a bunch of gray memories. I also have a bunch of black holes where memories should have been but I was too sad, too angry, too broken, so my brain replaced moments and feelings with a scrawl of black ink. After high school and into my early twenties, those black holes were my own fault; they were blackouts. I worked through all of this. I worked hard. With therapists, with pen and paper, with painful and uncomfortable conversations with friends and family, with love from friends and family and the man who would become my husband. Things got hard again in 2010. Life is hard. It throws things at you. Sometimes all at once. There’s grief and illness, there’s money woes, there’s major disappointments in your career. It happens to everyone. It’s hard to handle for everyone. But when you are a person who saw in shades of gray, who cut open her arms and/or drank heavily to cope, who is full of self-blame and hatred, hard can start to feel really scary. Hard can start to feel like a trap or even a death sentence. By 2012, I was desperate and scared. I was seeing gray, feeling suffocated by my mistakes and self-perceived mistakes. I also knew people were whispering about me, things like “Debbie Downer,” and it hurt. I was mired in the gray and I didn’t want to be, but as anyone else who has been there knows, it’s not easy to escape. I went back to therapy, to the difficult conversations. I worked and I thought and I weighed out what I had to do. I knew I had to take a risk. I don’t like risks. But I had to. So I did. And here I am.

I am home.

Two years ago, I wrote about why Seattle. I called it my heart city and tried to explain what that meant. I’m not sure if I got it quite right. I seem to keep redrafting it in blog posts and essays and a chapter of my memoir and maybe that’s sort of what I’m doing here, but just with new terminology; now I am trying to explain why Seattle is home. I’m going back to Chicago for a visit in a couple of weeks. Some friends and family members refer to this as me “coming home.” I haven’t corrected them because I didn’t want to hurt feelings, but a little voice inside of me always pipes up, “No, Seattle is home.” Chicago is where I’m from. It’s where many of the people I love reside. But Seattle is home now and here is why:

This year has been hard so far. Last month in particular. Another one of those periods where things are thrown at you all at once. So much stress on so many fronts plus the flu. That’s why I haven’t blogged in a while, not here or even to my Seattle photos Tumblr. But in the middle of it all, I took an afternoon to myself. I went downtown and saw this:

(*Whispers* This, all of this, is mine.)

I also noticed the daffodils in full bloom in front of my building. In the middle of February.

The trees, too.

I had a mountain view from my window when I was sick. Sometimes I even see eagles there. I can get out for fresh air and sunshine without freezing to death in February. I can run year-round. I walk everywhere. I am surrounded by so much natural beauty that it isn’t hard to pull myself out of my thoughts and worries and say, “Hey, look around! This is yours. This is yours.

Seattle has helped me find and practice gratitude. It has helped me work on calm and inner peace. I’ve made friends here more easily than I have anywhere else or at any other time in my life. And that’s not just about the people (though they are awesome), that’s about me and what I’ve found within. I’m still shy. I still worry. I still get sad. But this city centers me. No, it allows me to center myself. When the stress and the bad and the sad descend, I look out the window, I breathe the air, I wait for the bus, I stare at the sky, the water, the flowers, and I center myself. I say, “I am here, I am grounded, and I brought myself to this place. I can keep going through anything.” It was the missing piece that I needed. It was the challenge I had to set for myself to find my own strength. Seattle has given me what the girl who saw in shades of gray thought she would never have: happiness and hopefulness. That’s why Seattle is home.