(Nostalgia is a bitch).
Snaking around the edges of the Washington Gorge as I neared Portland that first night, I couldn’t help but feel for a minute like the intervening time had been just a dream -- like I’d arrive at the door of my old apartment, lug my suitcase up the uneven steps, and find my ex-boyfriend cooking dinner in our old kitchen. I was retracing a familiar path, and, with a little imagination, it could lead me back to a familiar place.
There is a “but” coming -- although perhaps not the one you’re expecting. Despite my daydream, I was aware of the facts. I was not returning to my life in Portland, but merely visiting for a few days. So much seemed to have happened in my life in the last year, I had expected to arrive and feel a distinct misalignment, or something out of order. Instead, I was confronted with a shocking sense of familiarity.
That week, as I moved around the city running small errands and visiting olds friends, the November rain took up its soggy residency in the low-hanging clouds, an unrelenting grayness that would drape itself over the water and the streets until springtime. I resumed unfinished conversations as if we’d been cut off mid-sentence only recently, even attending a meeting of a writer’s group I used to frequent to see familiar faces and group discussion dynamics that seemed unchanged.
And of course, the least-altered reality was geography. There was my favorite coffee shop. There was my former workplace. There was Alberta Street, MLK Blvd, the Broadway bridge, my old commute.
When you leave a place to reinvent yourself -- or even when you just leave a place, quite simply -- the memories you take with you become marked with affection and care. I hadn’t been overcome with a longing for Portland, but I had missed it, and in these moments I called up happy memories that, over time, became larger than life. Now, here they were, in the flesh and in the rain. They weren’t as Hallmark as I thought; they had, at one point, just been my life.
If I wanted, I could slip back into this place, this routine. Just for a little while. Or maybe even for a long while. It was within reach, easily attainable.
On my way out of town, I had one last cup of tea with a friend on Mississippi Avenue and found myself mere blocks from my old apartment. I couldn’t resist taking a quick detour to pull my car to a stop on the familiar curb and look up at the nondescript building that held a fragment of my existence. It looked weathered, industrial, and nondescript, like a rundown grocery store. The window next to where the bed had been was propped open.
I got out of the car and took a photo. I walked to the rose park, which was filled with wet leaves. It was a regular Wednesday. And then I got in my car and drove away.