Wet leaves plaster the sidewalks like tiles. The wind is a gentle breeze; until it isn’t and it whips through the shallow steel canyon that is the Pearl District, Portland’s trendy uptown area. This is Stumptown. This is the short, stubby low rises, the ‘tower’ that is 9 stories tall. The Broadway bridge looms before me, it’s Golden Gate-esque red-orange dulled in the overcast light of the mid-morning. This is Bridgetown. This is miles of spans of steel and concrete and asphalt across the Willamette River, connecting East and West and it isn’t lost on me that I’m now back in the West, the North West to be exact. Coffee sits next to me, full and flavorful and no, not as strong as kopi o kosong, but it’s delicious and I’m devouring it. This coffee, it is half the price of the long black I’d always start with at Baker & Cook and better, and that’s how I know where I am. A mile down the street from me kneels a copper lady, her hand outstretched as if to lift us all up; and though her name is now a joke, this is how the world knows where we are, after all.
The trees are losing their leaves. Rows of trimmed thorn bushes line many a street in the onset of autumn. This is the City of Roses, the city I’ve called home for eight years now. And it doesn’t feel right. Not in the sense that it feels wrong, mind you, but that it feels incomplete, that the transplant isn’t quite finished, awaiting the final piece to lock in the sense of home.
And yet my spirit soars at the sight of wet leaves, the sound of the trains, the kiss of the wind, the graceful rise and fall of the draw bridges. My soul is renewed in the healing light of friends as we reconnect. Home is the journey we make, after all, and this journey is far, far, from complete. Yes, we’ve landed. Yes, we’ve driven the ten-plus hours to all points north west. Yes, we dared a little to live downtown, to embrace a final month of condo living, to walk the streets in the rain and wind and maybe finally, live like we belong here.
Carpe condo, I always say.
I am home, I tell myself. I walked down to Powell’s, lost myself and found fiction in the massive stacks of the block of books. I ate HotLips Pizza and drank Bridgeport Brew, played shuffleboard upriver in Sellwood. Drank Belgian beer in the Pearl and made the room laugh doing what I seemingly do best; play to the crowd. I bought tickets to see the Blazers. I made plans to volunteer for some of the LGBT organizations I’d worked with before. We saw family, some of which was a surprise — Bev’s cousin from back east happened to be in town. I am home, I say. I log into the Singapore Writers’ Group chat and read messages of conversations that occurred while I was sleeping, bringing me into the same day as “the future”. I bite back the sigh and never mind the longing. It’s all part of the expat process.
What also becomes part of the process is finding a new process. Finding a new routine, building it from scratch. Finding a new writer’s group, finding a new creative space to sit and write these words that only some times seem the right words to me. Finding a job, which I dread and also am exited about. Redefine Josh a little. The last time I gave an interview, I was beat down and frustrated. Now, I get to cherry pick stories from half a world away to regale potential employers with. The things I’ve seen, I can say, with a good natured laugh as if I am some sort of adventurer. Some world traveller. Oh, this position requires 50% travel? No problem, I say. I just moved back from Asia. Ain’t no thing. I’ve always wanted to see Texas.
Redefine Josh like I’ve always wanted; a bit more free. A bit more careless. A bit more confident. Much less afraid.
The coffee shop I’ve found is right across the street. No kilometer-long walk to and fro. Nothing up the hill in the Singaporean humidity. Nothing down to Holland Village, since I’m here, I might as well jump on the MRT, see the city. In Portland, the streetcar passes outside our condo, going to the Lloyd Center and all points south, but is there much of a need for me to follow? I know what lies down those streets, down MLK and Grand. There’s an amazing sandwich shop down that way. And yes, Sizzle Pie is also on the B loop but why take the streetcar? It’s an eight block walk and it’s fifty-five degrees out and drizzling.
I woke up for the first time in our new apartment with the sense of confusion one gets when waking up somewhere unfamiliar. I had dreamt about a hot night out in Clarke Quay with B and Emma, screaming out the one-two-three-fours and drinking drastically over-priced Coronas; so it was not unexpected to be a little confused at the unfamiliar sights and sounds. The weird chirping horn of the streetcar, the sound of cars over the Broadway Bridge. This is the new new normal.
I get up as Bev heads out to work. I walk the First Class Pooch as I did nearly every morning on Holland Hill, but this time, I don’t put on shorts and flip flops, but jeans and sneakers. The only wet weather jacket I currently possess. Like the park on Holland Hill, many others replicate my routine, but instead of the gaggle of helpers speaking Taglog in a circle, owners walk their own dogs. There’s a bit more openness, a bit more willingness to let the dogs play, but there’s also nowhere for them to run off leash, being in the middle of downtown. The parks in Portland are amazing. Well cared for grass in Jamison Square, with a stair-like fountain that kids play in during the two minutes of summer here. Tanner Springs, two blocks away, is a natural springs and preserved wetlands in a city block. Artful paths wind around off-limits rushes. Frogs and birds live peaceful until the First Class Pooch sees them and then its duck and hide until the vicious predator has passed by. In the water, a frog lay vertically, face out of the water, legs dangling. I thought it dead until it saw me, took a deep breath, and plunged under water into the muddy rocks below, invisible. The wind whipped up a little and the rain intensified, so I began to walk back to the condo.
This is not the new normal, or the old normal, or the new new normal – not yet. We are living in temporary housing. Our house lies empty some ten miles to the south and west. Weeds and overgrown planted flowers choke the walkways. Life, our life, hasn’t quite yet to begun again, as we scheme on how best to reconstruct our living space, as surely as we reconstruct our daily lives. The true weirdness of repatriation hasn’t yet sunk in; this all too unfamiliar to begin with.
They say “Keep Portland Weird.” It is, through no effort of its own. Everything is weird right now. I stop and ask myself; How did I get so lucky?