I had visited Portland once in the summer of 2017 before I moved there a year later. it was two blissful weeks in sunny stretch of June and mused in my journal that it “didn’t feel real. this all feels like a dream.” and so I went home, got my college degree, packed my things and drove back to build a life here. I realized early on that Portland wouldn’t be a permanent place. I liked it but I wasn’t eager to establish deep roots in the PNW. initially, the plan was to stay through the summer since it’s insanely, unfathomably beautiful here as soon as the rain clears, but after a quick change of housing situation and a big “follow your intuition/look for the path of least resistance” sort of week, my boyfriend and I decided to move back to Virginia, to return home, just like dozens of other prodigal wanderers from our neighborhood in Norfolk.
I’d always wondered how our little neighborhood had such a magnetism to it, that so many would return after a great, big move and I’m humbled to finally understand why. Since being here, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of home. It’s a concept and feeling and philosophy that occupies so many of my waking thoughts, and I’ve tried to figure out why home is such a force to be reckoned with. Why no matter how meticulously I planned my move, how aggressively I forced myself to get out and do things that made Portland such an attractive city, no matter how comfortable my bed, how beautiful the coast, how tall the trees and how abundant the flowers, I felt like I was still floating through an extended, working vacation.
I’m a very weather empathic person and the eight months of rain wrung me dry in a way that a winter never has. Going so long without seeing the sun made me feel like a zombie and by April I was waking up furious that it was still cold and gray and drizzling. Of course, I knew that Portland was a city known for its constant rain, but I had no idea that it would zap my motivation so entirely. I heard time and time again that the summer makes it all worth it, and the taste of warmth and sun that I’ve gotten has made me wistful to maybe stick it out, but I can’t justify being miserable and uninspired for eight months a year just because (like almost everywhere) the summer here is beautiful.
When talking to a friend last spring about my plans to head west she agreed that Portland was beautiful and interesting and a fun city but it lacked diversity. it sat heavily with me because it was something I hadn’t noticed when I visited and hadn’t considered before deciding to move. I came from a city that was 47.1% white (and 43% black), where as Portland is 80.5% white. Politically, Norfolk ranks as “mostly even” where as Portland is staunchly liberal. I had thrown myself into a bubble of people who mostly looked like me, thought like me, were raised like me, and liked to do the same things I did. I rarely felt out of place here, which means I rarely felt challenged. When my dad came to visit in April, I was mortified when I found myself in a heated debate about gun control in a popular brunch spot and could feel the disdain from neighboring tables. As long as we have been going to lunch together, we have been having these sorts of conversations. I am absolutely liberal, but this was the first time that I was embarrassed to be having a well informed conversation with my dad just because he dissented from the overarching way of the city and being associated with someone who is absolutely conservative made me feel out of place. To be so surrounded by homogeny was so comfortable and so damn limiting.
The aesthetic shops with $40 bath salts and $80 vintage jeans and sales clerks discussing whether this post should be an instagram post or an instagram story, lining the same streets where dozens of people sat and begged for spare change also made me feel really weird. I will never forget the shame of being followed by a black man after leaving brunch and having him scream at us “this used to be my home. you keep moving here and I can’t afford my home anymore” and knowing we were actively stoking that justified anger. Gentrification is everywhere but that sort of contrast is something I never wanted to be comfortable with.
At the end of the day, the main reason I’m leaving is because I strayed too far. I expected the whiteness, I expected the rain but i didn’t expect for my heart to ache with so much homesickness. I am one thousand percent confident that I could have made a really full and beautiful life here and there are so many things I wish I had gotten to do (the world naked bike ride being one of them), but being three thousand miles from my family and friends was just too much. I hated being away from my mom on mothers day, my best friend on her birthday, my brother when he turned 21, and all of the small moments that I missed this year. I am finally in a place that I’m able to travel, but I was taking any time and money to go visit Virginia. When we flew back after a trip home for Christmas, I was so unsettled by the feeling of leaving home to go home. In Portland I had all of the physical accoutrements of home- a housekey, my bed, a job, my dog, letters in the mailbox. In Virginia I had bars full of people I knew and loved, I had my best friend of fifteen years, I had the comfort of my mom’s kitchen, I had my favorite thrift stores my feet firmly planted on the ground and a thousand more emotional indicators of being home.
leaving Portland feels like a breakup. I’ve had some of the best experiences since being here. It feels premature to leave less than a year after arriving, but I consider that more of a success than feeling like I’m spending exorbitant amounts of time and money on prolonging the inevitable. which is going back to where I feel the most like myself, the most focused and the most grounded. Talking through all of the emotions (joy, fear, anxiety, and doubt mostly) I realized that I’m so so so lucky to have such an overwhelming sense of self in Virginia, such a love for the place I came from and such a decisive personality to prioritize getting back there.