Sunday, January 23, 2011

Being Here

These days have been like all the others so far. Sleeping in late, so as to use up half the day. Coffee. Email. Facebook. Breakfast. Work out. Shower. Lunch. More Email, Facebook. Stream television shows I'm missing from home. Watch downloaded American news programs. Clean something. Dishes. Laundry. Maybe organize a messy shelf. Even more Email, Facebook. Dinner. Tea and biscuits. Watch a movie with my Husband. Bedtime. And I'll lie there in bed and wonder - what about today was worth waking up for? I've experienced this before, a sort of circumstantial depression. My first year in college I could barely get out of bed at all. Maybe I'm just prone to taking a bit longer to adjust, to adapt. Maybe I'll always be just a little bit sad wherever I go.

I thought I was doing really well. The first couple of months here I was loving it; the quiet, the expanse of green land, walks along the ocean's shore, keeping a house for my husband. The permanence is sinking in now and I'm starting to wonder what it is, besides being happily married (which I am), that I'm supposed to be doing here. I used to do a lot of things. I used to do theatre, sing in a choir, I played piano and was almost always too busy to ever have time to just sit around. In college, I would write every day, I was mad about it. I couldn't write enough. There wasn't enough time in the day to get all the words out that I was thinking, the sentences continually forming themselves in my head every waking hour. I was obsessed with reading, with seeing what other people wrote, the beauty of their creations. In Portland, I loved riding my bike around the city, everything looked different from two wheels. Riding home at night became like a spiritual experience; hardly any cars, the breeze whipping past me, the muscles in my legs burning from the speed at which I'd pedal, I'd race myself every night. It was exhausting. And also my favorite way to relax after work. I even became one of those cyclist that kept it up in the pouring rain, it filled me with pride to be one of the only ones still biking when the roads were wet and slick. I honestly believe I'll get hit by a car if I try to bike here, even during the brightest and driest hour of the day..., where is there a theatre? A choir? We don't even have a real grocery store. There's no room for a piano in our tiny apartment, no money to buy one either. I'm still reading all the time, more than I probably ever have in my life. A few books a week sometimes. But the more useless I feel, the less I want to write. If I write, then I'll have to admit to everyone what I'm thinking everyday. There's not a lot to do, so I don't want to do anything. I feel trapped in my own home, yet some days I have no desire to leave it. If there was an emergency, I wouldn't even be able to get behind the wheel of our car and drive myself anywhere. I don't know how to. I can only go as far as my own two feet will take me and that's usually to the beach. And I'll stand there, quietly, tasting the salty air, letting the dampness soak through my layers of skin, trying to look as hard as possible beyond the line of the horizon and maybe, just maybe, I might catch a glimpse of home.

As much as I miss my family, I moved far away from them years ago. I already know what it's like to have major distance between myself and my blood, my clan. I remember the first few months of being in Portland, I thought for sure I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I kept trying to figure out what it was I was doing there that was truly worth being so far away from the people that raised me, that molded me and guided me. I spent most of those first 30 days (that happened to be the wettest on record, ever in Portland) trying to hide my sadness from my friends, attempting to stop myself from crying during the seven minutes it took to walk to work, my eyes only looking three blocks of sidewalk ahead of me, my head down low under my umbrella. I remember the first time I ever went somewhere alone, how frightened I was to take the bus, how ashamed I felt that I was even the slightest bit scared to do something so easy. Most days, I'd want so badly to call home, to hear my mother's voice or the sound of my father laughing in the background. But I couldn't call home. I couldn't hear their voices because my own voice might break and then they'd know that maybe I was regretting moving so far away, they'd realize I was sad and lonely and the truth would come rushing out and I wouldn't be able to hold back all my doubts and fears from verbalizing. I barely wanted to admit to myself the extent of my sadness. There was no way I wanted my parents to know how out of place I felt in this new, scary town. It was so different from home, and I was still the same.

Slowly and surely, without even realizing it, these feelings faded, they evaporated and dried up like the rain. My first Portland summer arrived and with it came the most beautiful and perfect sunny days I'd ever experienced. The temperature was always just right, the sky was always incredibly blue, the rain disappeared for months. The city was alive, happy, cured from its own winter blues. So was I, and I was beginning to realize what made those rainy winter months worth it, why people survived them to make it to the summer. It truly was perfect. It was what you always hoped summer would be; and everyone that found themselves troubled throughout the rest of the year, forgot those worries and were just purely happy from May to October. You could feel the positivity in the neighborhood streets, in the coffee shops and restaurants. We'd all wear as little clothes as possible so we could soak up the sun on every inch of skin, store the warmth and light for when the dreary days returned.

I got over my fears and realized there was a place for me in Portland. I fell in love with the city, the vibrance of its culture, the weirdness of all the different types of people, the thousands of different restaurants and bars, the parks on every corner, the trees lining the residential blocks, and how if you paid close enough attention, you could catch the most stunning views of the city at the top of hills where the roads dipped away and the foliage opened up and then there it was - the entire expanse of downtown, or the West Hills, or Mt. Hood. And I'd think, how lucky am I, how lucky am I to live here! And how in the world did I ever feel like I still belonged in Flint, Michigan, one of the more depressing places in America? Here, the whole city was alive. Yes, it rained all winter, but it was pure green all winter. The coffee was delicious, the beer locally brewed. I could get vegetarian food everywhere I went, buy organic in every grocery store. I didn't need to own a car as it was just as convenient and a hundred times cheaper to bike anywhere in the entire city. Almost all of my closest friends from home had moved too and we started our own clan, representing the many Michigan transplants that somehow ended up in this progressive, "left coast" town. We were surrounded by mountains and rivers, forests and waterfalls, a mere hour drive to the Pacific and its breathtaking rocky coastline. Portland is pure and innocent in its attempt to be perfect. And it's not perfect but it's unabashed at trying. It screams, there are still good people here! And you'd be a fool to live there and not try to be good yourself, to be happy with who you are and to let everyone else be themselves too. In Portland, we lived and let live.

I didn't move to Portland to work in a Thai restaurant. I didn't move there to cycle from one bike lane to the next. I didn't move there to eat vegetarian. I didn't even more there to follow my friends. I moved to Portland because it would end up being the only place in the world that I'd somehow cross paths with my future husband. And he happened to be Irish and his life happened to be in Ireland and we decided that our lives would become one in his homeland, not mine. And so I moved. So I left the place I had grown to love, the place I knew I belonged and had come to feel an active part of, I left my friends and the culture, the restaurants and organic grocery stores, I gave away all my belongings that I had accumulated over the four years I spent there. I even gave away my beloved bike, the thing that probably defined my life in Portland over anything else, I gave it away to a coworker. She says she hasn't used it yet because of the weather. It fills me with great sadness to think of my prized Portland possession, leaning uselessly against a garage, rusting away in the rain, winter weeds growing around its flat wheels.

I'm going home to visit Portland and Michigan in three months. It's all I think about right now. I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever really feel at home here, or if my days in Ireland will be spent counting down the ones left until I return again.


The other day was the hardest one so far and for the first time, I allowed myself to express my sadness in front of my husband. I cried and cried and told him I didn't know what to do, I didn't have any direction in one way or another, and I desperately, achingly missed home. I didn't want to see our friends, I didn't want to go out in public, I didn't even want to take a walk along the prom. He held me and said, it was ok. He said what I needed to hear the most, that this was normal, that he wasn't surprised and actually expected me to go through this sort of period. But he also said that it was my job to pull myself out of this rut, that it wouldn't always be like this and I had to realize that myself. Before I knew it, he was helping me put my coat on and putting me in the car. "We're gonna drive down the coast, I'll take you somewhere new," he calmly suggested. I didn't refuse.

It was the late afternoon and the sun was bright and warm, high in the sky in front of us and shining powerfully through the windshield, nearly blinding us. I didn't want to admit it then, but I already felt a little better, a little cozier. I stared out the window as he drove us along the small, country roads passing by the water's edge. The Irish countryside is unlike any other; it's one massive green, rolling land, property lines are marked and separated by ancient stone walls made by one flat rock piled upon another and another and another. Even in the distance you can see where one piece of land meets another, from the sky it looks like the entire country is made up of thousands of puzzle pieces. We pass lush, emerald hills, each dotted by skeletal remains of old houses and churches, maybe just three or four stone walls still standing, a triangle outline of what used to be a roof. I think, someone used to live there. Centuries ago, that was a family's home. And now here it stands, a ghost of its former self, untouched by its modern neighbors, left alone to fall apart stone by ancient stone. In America, a building like that would be bulldozed to the ground. Here, it remains intact as a trophy of a former country, a reminder of a simpler time, a small but important part of history, never to be torn down but to just slowly fade into the countryside, to sink back into the earth it was built on. I want to feel a part of a place that doesn't tear down or build over its origins, to blend into the kind of people that treasure the walls that once held their ancestors and who look upon ruins with pride, as a constant reminder of who they all came from.

We stop at Spanish Point, a very small residential town that gets its name from the ships from the Spanish Armada that came to ground here and found themselves wrecked and drowning on the Irish shores in a failed attempt to attack England. There aren't any shops or pubs, just some houses and a huge hotel, and a long, white strand; a beach that, despite only being a handful of miles away from our beach in Lahinch, seems totally different and new and serene. The tide was coming in so whatever walk my husband was hoping we could have was out of the question. So we just stood there, as close to the incoming waves as possible, listening to the deafening sound that the ocean makes. He found a bench and sat me down next to him, gently putting his arm around me and pulling me close. He felt me shivering and asked, "What's cold?" I told him my left arm was so he held me tighter and quickly rubbed my arm up and down with his gloved hand. The sun was close to setting so we sat there waiting and not speaking, a whole expanse of Irish coastline to ourselves, just staring off towards the giant and perfectly round ball of orange resting just above the horizon. Its brightness was blinding so I had to look away every few minutes, when I'd blink I still saw its outline on the inside of my eyelids. Once it started to hide behind the clouds, it disappeared almost instantly, fading away from the perfect roundness to become just a half and then a sliver of sun. And then, all of a sudden, it was gone, and in its place was a soft, glowing halo of orange light that brightened the sky for a moment, before blending in with the purple and blue hues of dusk. It was a perfect sunset, on a perfect beach, with the calming noise of a powerful tide and the strong arm of my husband wrapped tightly around me. Still, without speaking, we stood up and walked back to the car to head home. Home, this is my home, I thought to myself. I am so lucky to live here. 

On the drive back, I found myself smiling, but still holding onto that sadness. I didn't just move across the country, I moved across the world. And I didn't move here with all of my closest friends from home, I moved with my new husband. I left all of my former life behind, and I am deeply mourning its loss, maybe wishing I had done more with my time, taken one more bike ride, met up with my friends a few more times instead of staying at home to watch tv. But isn't that what I'm doing now? Staying in with my sadness instead of socializing with new friends or breathing in the crisp and damp Irish air? It's only been three months, I can't possibly expect to feel settled yet. But I am the only one that can take that first road to recovery, to acceptance, to adaptation. Since I met my husband three years ago, I've known perfectly well I am meant to be here. I might always long for family and friends, for an old life and its pleasures. But I am here now, and now, I must be here.