My Best Friend’s House
There are some doors that lead you into places that you never want to leave. Those are usually the places that hold the people that you can’t believe you previously survived without. As I descended the steep stairs toward my 4th door, I was struck for the millionth time, just how lucky I was to have met Amy in 2014—when she had pink hair and I was a wide eyed newbie at the Portland Saturday Market. We’ve laughed about our first awkward conversation all those years ago, one seasoned jewelry designer to a beginner—but what could have formed into a rivalry, evolved into a lifelong friendship.
With the enthusiasm of giggling BFF girls, once we exchanged numbers we never stopped texting each other. I can count on one hand the amount of days in the last 7 years that we haven’t messaged back-and-forth. To have found that type of friendship, especially in our 30s, was surprising. Having the kind of friend who knows everything about you— your deepest secrets and what you ate for dinner—offers an entertaining narrative to the monotony of life, enriching the mundane and dampening stress. That type of dependable, unconditional, exceptional support elevates a friendship to “Best” status.
Stepping down off of the last step, Amy, her husband Mitch, and little Lucca greeted us at a three panel glass French door. Walking into their home felt familiar and comforting, and my sigh of relief at arriving might have been audible. Obviously we hadn’t been able to see each other much since the pandemic started and we had all been looking forward to spending some quality time together. We had timed it out so that we could celebrate Canadian Day and Fourth of July together, out on their deck like we’ve done every year since they bought the house.
The deck, from the perfect perch high on the west hill, had a direct view of Sellwood’s fireworks show along the Willamette River. Fourth of July parties started before they even moved in—when the house stood empty, covered with shag carpet, the air still murky from the previous owners. Snapshots of us over the years, red, white and blue, capturing the progression of our lives changing as our baby bumps and then kiddos joined the pictures.
I remember the year I was pregnant, sitting under a blanket, watching the fireworks and thinking back on the previous year when I had been the only single person at the party. Life can certainly change quickly and unexpectedly. I had wondered what the next year would look like with a baby in my arms, but there had been no way of really knowing how it would feel to hold Daniel, his precious little ears covered to the sounds of celebratory explosions. There is something about the powerfully loud display of colors that demands your attention and invites reflection; the darkness lit up in an expression of fleeting colors, the sparkle raining down to evoke a primal reaction of “Ooh” and “Aah”.
Summers in Portland have always been a glorious time; the intoxication of endless blooming flowers and blossoms. Having to pack up and move away during my favorite season seemed particularly cruel. I hired a couple masked movers to help me with the big stuff, and then I took several days to carry out everything else, fitting each odd shape next to another, like an intricate puzzle, until both moving/storage cubes were filled to the brim. I accepted help in the eleventh hour from some good friends and purged what couldn’t fit— forming an epic free pile on the corner that was descended on, and picked clean.
I watched my cubes as they were hoisted onto a semi truck bed, instantly fearing that my packing wasn’t good enough for their bumpy 3,000 mile journey east. It’s an unsettling feeling to see all of your possessions driving away, (hopefully) heading for storage somewhere in a random Vermont town, for an undetermined amount of time. But it certainly freed me up to travel lighter.
The worst part about moving this way was that I couldn’t take my beloved house plants with me. I didn’t really have an option because I knew that I couldn’t handle driving a big moving truck across the country by myself, with a toddler, surrounded by COVID19. Instead I took a single cutting to carry with me—a stalk from a dracaena that had been in all of my bedrooms, throughout my entire childhood and into my adult life, spanning three states. I had to give up my car, Howie, too. I had him washed and detailed before dropping him off at his wonderful new home. I finally checked off the last of my To Do List but there was more sadness than relief in doing so.
The emptiness of my apartment weighed me down, making it hard to breath. I felt heavy with mourning the loss of my Portland life, mixed with the wariness of the future, plus the anxiety of transition, amplified by a global pandemic. I collapsed into Amy’s house, emotionally and physically too exhausted for the next big challenge of finding a place to live. Thankfully Amy and Mitch were there to lean on, both extremely patient with me and this all consuming task. They got involved with the hunt, offered suggestions as I tried to form a plan from under the pressures of sadness, fear and excitement. We sifted through a seemingly endless supply of potential options, in towns I’d never even heard of. It was obvious that I needed to just narrow it down.
The main objective was finding a location that had all-season easy access to my family north of the border. That eliminated some of the smaller towns off the beaten path, or anything too far south. I did some more research, and it seemed that in general Vermont comprises safe towns, with above average schools and more trees than people. I wondered how small town life would be, and hoped that it would be exactly like moving onto the set of Northern Exposure or Gilmore Girls.
Since I hadn’t had the opportunity to form a personal opinion—having only driven through Vermont on occasion—I decided to rely on the insights of friends. I knew two people in the whole state: Alan, a neighbor from my childhood home in New Mexico, and Ally, a neighbor from my time in SE Portland. I picked both of their brains and Montpelier (pronounced Peel-yer) sounded like it might be a good fit. As the state capital it had the accessibility and amenities I needed, with a friendly small town feel at less than 8,000 people. As a fan of Gilmore Girls, Amy supported my decision, and the narrowed search for housing was underway… though now we continually came up empty handed.
Despite having finally decided on Montpelier, the move itself continued to feel unreal, and the goodbyes just impossible. Outside, the boys rode scooters around the deck or splashed in the kiddy pool, stopping to lick dripping popsicles and yell “I LOVE YOU” into each others’ ears. Sitting on the ground, with one boy in each arm, Mitch rocked onto his back as giggles, squeals and 6 legs flew up into the air. Rocking back into an upright position, the boys cheered for more. And more. And more. Daniel soaked up the male energy and my heart swelled for him and this precious time together.
Life during a pandemic is more complicated and more simple all at once. Our reaction is to try to force the expanse and pace of normal life upon it by continually making plans. But all that planning is futile, and everything will inevitably need to be canceled. My heart breaks for the important gatherings that were missed—my grandmother’s 90th Birthday Party (may she R.I.P.), two close family weddings and my Bonus Dad’s funeral. Amy and I booked a house in BC for a lady & baby get away. I made plans with some Australian friends and bought plane tickets to the south west and others to the north east; plane tickets down to Florida and up to Quebec. Canceled, canceled, canceled, canceled, canceled. It chips and tarnishes the psyche to be that heavily disappointed that many times.
After I reluctantly canceled our flight to New Mexico, the date of our Vermont arrival was determined for us by affordable ticket prices. And as the days flew toward that date, I became increasingly self absorbed, fixated on apartment hunting in a town I’d never visited, feeling the disappointment of leaving a city that I love without being able to say a proper goodbye.
Before I knew it, it was July 15th, 2020 at 4:30 in the morning, and Amy was dropped us off at the PDX Airport. Unrivaled as the Best Airport in the US, it has served me well as the portal to 12 years of travel adventures; the first to welcome me home each time. I acknowledged the end of an era, with a knot in my gut and a lump in my throat.
The final goodbye with Amy was lost in a juggle of luggage, masks and signs telling us to keep on moving. Our goodbyes had already happened the night before, as she made me a beautiful gift that I have worn on my wrist every second since. I had cried then, and cry again now, with the same heartache as that night. Our friendship withstands time and distance, but it represents a whole cherished chapter that I hated to see end.
Breathing through the lump in my throat, I gathered all of my luggage together: Pulling two huge rolling suitcases, tethered together, behind me with my right hand; a snack pack riding on top of them filled with sustenance for the uncertain journey ahead; a massive black duffle bag containing a carseat thrown over my right shoulder; while I steered the blue canopy stroller with my left hand; my flowered Marry Poppins duffle bag hanging off the back of it, containing everything but the coat hanger; and Daniel lounging in the stroller, his blue dinosaur backpack on his lap. Both of us masked up and slathered in hand sanitizer. There was no turning back now. Feeling brave and a little crazy, we took the leap, and splashed into the unknown.