Our Portland Home
Standing back at the glass door of our Portland apartment, my fingers automatically type in my code on the chrome keypad. At the sound of the lock releasing, I swing the door open and a whiff of home floods me with memories: Of waddling in during my third trimester, my moving boxes piled high; welcoming my son home from the hospital, his three doting grandparents in tow; my brother standing at the stove, a dishcloth over his shoulder; the trials and tribulations of new parenthood with two solid years of sleepless nights; the warmth of countless guests and cups of tea; and daily life with our next-door neighbors, Rebecca and little Edison. I had returned, only to pack up and leave forever. The thought was absolutely heart-wrenching.
The kid in me had rejoiced over my deepest wish coming true, to be neighbors with my childhood best friend, Rebecca. Thirty years prior, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I had found myself in the middle of 1st grade, painfully slipping behind in literacy. I couldn’t move past the fact that everyone else looked at the curve of a C, the sharp point of an A and a long stem of a T, and formed a furry cat in their mind. It seemed like magic to me. My teacher saw my struggle and paired me with the quiet, dark haired, no-nonsense girl, in a pink jumper, named Rebecca.
Rebecca was studious and I was gregarious and somehow our teacher saw the compatibility in our differences. We weren’t an obvious pair—the fact that she would rather do homework than play was incomprehensible to me, and she couldn’t fathom why I’d want to spend my recess kiss-tagging with boys. It’s doubtful that we would have gravitated toward each other naturally, but before I knew it we were inseparable.
That first best friendship planted itself deep in my heart, an unconditional life-long bond. Even though life managed to physically tear us apart, those formative years we spent together, set a foundation for who we became, and carved out the way we’d always fit together—our strengths and weaknesses complementing each other, forever making us stronger together.
It was no surprise that she grew up to be a successful business woman and I grew up to be an artist. But thankfully both winding paths eventually led us to Portland, Oregon. And when I unexpectedly became pregnant in our 30s, with the overwhelming what-ifs making me feel like I was free-falling, Rebecca caught me. She was in the position to offer me stability and security—low rent in a wonderful neighborhood.
She owned twin condos in the inner NE quadrant, their modern aesthetic pressed up against each other, towering three stories and punctuated with a rooftop garden. With two main houses and two separate ground floor apartments, she had styled each space to perfection. The apartment on the north side was clean, quiet, dark and safe, the perfect place for me as a new solo parent living in a fog of exhaustion.
She had a son, Edison, the year before I got pregnant. And after her divorce she moved down into the apartment on the south side. We converted our garages into bonus living spaces, and in the mornings we would grab our tea, open our garage doors onto our conjoined astroturf lawn, and watch the boys play. As exaggerations of us, they didn’t instantly click, but the sweet moments shared felt even more precious. There is a contentment that comes from sitting beside someone who you’ve known since childhood, while you watch your children form their own friendship.
I thought we would have countless more mornings together. But without warning it ended. As we all mourned the loss of our pre-COVID schedules, I started the process of letting go of the Portland life that I had cultivated and adored for over 11 years. Not being able to really say goodbye to our friends was the hardest part. The salt in the wound was watching the 20-somethings across the street, giving zero shits, pitch their beer tent and throw a casual, unmasked, corn hole playing, day-drinking party. I longed to be that reckless. To embrace my friends and squeeze them close. But I loved them too much to take the risk. So I settled for awkward social distanced goodbyes—a poor substitute for the rich friendships that I was leaving behind.
Starting over in a new place, without those friendships and without that neighborhood, was a challenge that I didn’t feel ready for yet. I strapped Daniel’s blue helmet to his head and he shot off on his bright green scooter. The familiarity of our neighborhood was comforting, not a single sidewalk crack would come as a surprise. Turning right we passed by the neighbor’s house, their golden raspberry bushes were growing back in nicely. We cautiously looked both ways at the intersection, where we’d once helped a bicyclist to his feet after a hit-and-run knocked him down. Safely on the other side of the street, we passed the chickens with their gray bunny roommate and arrived at Daniel and Edison’s Montessori/Reggio Emilia influenced preschool. We stopped to smell their organic roses and with a final full inhale of the perfume, Daniel pushed on ahead, scootering under the canopy of leaves, and popping out into the sunlight beside the urban ZZZ Goat Farm. We made our way around the block to eat tart scarlet cherries from a neighbor’s tree and crouched down to pet the resident black cat.
A block away sat N. Williams Street, with its eclectic assortment of delicious foods, cute shops, workout studios and a natural foods grocer boasting in large letters, “The Friendliest Store In Town”. I appreciated everything that my neighborhood had to offer, but over the years I had felt guilty for that, as I’d witnessed the continual gentrification of a historically Black neighborhood. My favorite restaurants had filled in the empty buildings that had long since been jazz clubs. Old craftsman homes had been sold and mowed down—big modern buildings now stood in their place offering delicious vegan options. My head spun in the dichotomy, knowing that for one to exist the other couldn’t and my gain had been someone’s loss. That evening, after Daniel was asleep, I could hear the chanting of the Black Lives Matter protests as they marched down N. Williams, the beat of their feet, the volume of their collective voice, shaking the history loose from the newly paved street. Since I couldn’t join them, I wrote. (Read it here).
Either by conscious choice or by circumstance, things have started to change. I don’t think the points would have hit as poignantly had we all not been stopped in our tracks by COVID-19. There is a general uneasiness that comes with living in a pandemic, a rawness. Even mundane, every day chores, can bring about anxiety. The constant stream of updates and mandates, shift and evolve as we doggie paddle further into these uncharted waters of the global pandemic, trying to keep our heads up. Sometimes it feels like if just one more thing gets piled on, we’re going under.
For me, one of those added stresses had been about Daniel’s dental work. What had started out as a tiny chip in his tooth, had dragged on into a frustrating, bureaucratic, narrow minded, economical class disparity, western ideological, single-mom shaming, blatant disregard for the fragile development of a baby’s brain, ordeal. And despite all of my conscientious efforts it had brought us to the point of needing oral surgery. Willingly heading into a hospital during a pandemic was not my first choice, but I was very much looking forward to having the whole thing behind us.
Our appointment was finally scheduled for the same hospital that Daniel was born in, pending a negative COVID test. I had been warned that the test would be extremely uncomfortable, as the cotton swab would have to be inserted far enough up the nasal passage that ancient Egyptian embalmers would be impressed. Lucky for us, this torture was conveniently set up in a drive-thru tent in SW Portland. I hadn’t remembered that Daniel’s Bio Dad lived a block away until we innocently drove right past. The already present knots in my stomach did a flip, and I made a mental note to give him a call about the move. Then I allowed myself 20 full seconds of a pity party that I had to face this steaming pile of challenges alone.
A couple days later we rose before the sun to make our way the few blocks to the hospital. We waited our turn in a 6’ bubble for the COVID screening of questions and temperatures and, once we were checked in, we skipped the waiting area, and were led straight into a private room. Our shoes squeaked down the quiet brightly lit halls, and I wondered if it was timing or virus that had emptied them.
Daniel was being brave and sweet, instantly winning over the medical staff. I was strong and friendly too, until they wheeled him away and I was alone. Then I cried, feeling the helplessness that comes when there is nothing to do but wait. Thankfully the oral surgery went smoothly and my brave little boy was returned to me with two less teeth, two caps, two crowns and a sticky face from a grape popsicle in post op. I pulled him close, snuggling into his sweetness, the smell reminding me that my labor there had been fueled by endless sips of grape juice.
Once we returned home, Daniel’s recovery was almost instantaneous. The Tooth Fairy paid up and his smile was still just as contagious. With that finally behind us, I got to work on making a list: a game plan for sorting, packing, purging and tying up loose ends before our 3,000 mile move. I didn’t want to make Daniel feel unsettled by living in a sea of boxes and chaos, so we hatched a plan to move in with friends while I packed. First stop was to the home of Anissa and her daughter Cece.