Earlier this week I was feeling lethargic due to a disruption of my circadian rhythm. I couldn’t have been more appreciative to feel so lousy, to have that unfamiliar sensation called jet lag after going so long without traveling, having spent 3 ½ days out in Portland, Oregon helping B get settled in his new place. I will spare you, and him, the photos of every step of the way: here he is on his new sofa! Here he is sitting on his new bed! Here he is at his table! What a bonus that the kitchen is big enough to hold a table and chairs! How unusual for a studio apartment!
Lots of exclamation points, which is how I felt much of the time. Excited! Elated! Yet bearing witness to this new chapter of his life, I also had a sense of wistfulness, of long ago memories of starting out somewhere new. There were times where I felt this swelling of emotion inside of me, aware that these moments were rare and precious in a way I can’t convey in words or pictures. Whether B lives there for one year or ten, it still will be the first city where he had his own apartment. How lucky that I was there to soak it all in.
But not alone. There were a few other protagonists, helpers who populate this chapter because yes, it takes a village to move to a new city. There’s BFF S and Cousin S who helped set the stage for this move, there’s brother- and sister-in-law T & C who came down from Seattle with their fun dog Bogie and were a huge help in getting set up, going to Target and Goodwill and the Furniture Liquidator, bringing the table and chairs and essential to Portland, a bike that had belonged to T. Most important, they reminded him he had close family just a few hours away. I’m flooded with gratitude for all these people did to help him land where he has, to help start the process of settling in.
What does it mean to get settled in? It’s short term, like here: putting together the bed frame (a pang of pride: has he inherited his father’s handiness rather than my lack thereof?) Getting furniture and housewares and the essentials that even the smallest apartment needs. But there’s also settling into a new location, making the unfamiliar home.
Here is my delicious breakfast – I don’t often photograph my food but the hashbrown stuffed with veggies and cheese topped with eggs was so good, and the landmark Fuller’s Coffee Shop felt like it could become a mainstay. The friendly waitress greeted the other customers by name, asking if they wanted the usual; it seemed like a place where one could easily become a regular. Opened in 1946, It felt right out of that Edward Hopper Nighthawks painting from 1942…except that there were plexiglass shields at the counter and everyone not eating had masks on, but still, there was something that felt timeless about it.
Will it be his Joe Jr’s? That was the coffee shop two blocks from my studio in New York, the place that I still have the soup menu memorized (starting with Monday: pea, navy, lentil, beef barley, clam chowder, pea again on Saturday and ending with vegetable on Sunday), where I could go and feel less lonely, or at least that the loneliness was shared with so many others sitting at the counter with their coffee or soup, because loneliness goes with city life but isolation doesn’t have to. It doesn’t take connections or fancy degrees or great social skills to be a regular. Just showing up can be enough.
And I was delighted to show up for B, if only for a few days. The short visit was just a taste, a toe dip in the big Willamette River, a scent that was somehow different from the East Coast, we both felt. I’m already eager for my next trip whenever that will be, to see B more settled in, with work and new people and a neighborhood that is familiar. He will know the excellent bus system, if he chooses to use it; he will know which streets are best for biking; he will know about bridges and food trucks and where to get the best coffee. He will have his local stores to shop in and parks to walk through. The newness will subside as things become routine. Hopefully he will keep that sense of wonder that arises in a new environment. “I keep discovering new pockets”, he texts, and I remember that feeling so fully: the way a city is a dear friend you want to get to know as well as you can. The way you feel like you have all the time in the world but also a sense of urgency because it feels so comforting when things are familiar, when you can walk out your door and know where to play basketball or get a sandwich, when you no longer have to look at maps to know how to travel from point a to b, you simply travel the distance.
And in the end, I travel a long distance home: from PDX to EWR, the two airports that will be our hubs, nearly 3,000 miles. It’s far but it will make for different ways of being together, less frequent yet more intimate, hours and days of close proximity followed by weeks and months apart. It’s how many people live. You immerse yourself in other places and other lives and then pick yourself up and leave, knowing you’ll be back again. To witness the chapter unfolding, one page and day at a time.