For someone who basically has a camera glue to her face, there is a surprising lack of pictures framed in my apartment. No laughing candids of dinner parties, no backlit flowers on a windowsill—just one single, wide-angle shot of a bend in the road in Big Sur. It was taken off the side of Pacific Coast Highway and somewhere, just outside the frame, is my Honda Civic stuffed to the gills with comforters and flowy Free People tops that I had just packed-up from my beachside attic bedroom. The photo is a basic landscape, really—mostly made up of turquoise water and yellow scrub brush. I framed it to remind me that life is surprising and that sometimes, when we are very lucky, the future is better than we know to hope for. I look at it and I know that on the other end of that road is an old craftsman house and a new best friend, a local dive bar and a mountain home-town. It was all waiting, right on the other side; I just had to get there.
Big Sur was midway between the city I was leaving and the city where I would end up. Behind me was San Diego, a true dream of a place, and all the glittering blue hours on beach-house rooftops. But after graduation, there was less of that left and my last remaining link was the coffee shop.
For the last semester of college, I worked in a little red café along the harbor in Point Loma. The neighborhood wasn’t far, but it was completely cut off from the beaches where we all lived as students. I would open the shop at six AM, and as the sun rose so did the sailors who slept on their boats in the harbor. They would walk up the marina into my coffee shop—or, at least it felt like mine. The actual owner lived in Hawaii and managed us through a nanny cam. Her live-stream had no sound so I’d switch out the Putumayo World Music she’d instructed us to play and put-on Motown while I baked that morning’s muffins.
When June came around it wasn’t a surprise, everyone knew I was leaving. But, during my last week of work one of the regulars offered me a place to stay so I could start a second phase of my life in San Diego. “Well…” he said “you could live on our boat?” and I knew it wasn’t an empty offer. But, I was packed and my heart was pulling towards Portland, and a few days later I was on the roadside snapping that photo of Big Sur.
I’ve often found that fate gives me a ripcord—a final “are you sure?” just before I change course. I’ve yet to take it, but it seems so profoundly unfair that life can only be lived in one direction. Sure, we can diverge and try it again; choose a path we once rejected. But, that isn’t really starting over. It’s more of “the long way”—an extended journey to a similar path—which may or may not have the same destination.
Given the chance, I’d choose Portland again. I’d choose Portland a million times over. This place was so necessary for me and for nearly every good thing that I now have in my life.
But lately I’ve felt flickers of that final chance, in salty skin and tired sailor eyes and a picture of a boy that I met in Central Park standing on the stern of a sailboat like a Kennedy. I’ve been looking out the window from the hostess stand here in Portland. I see the boats bob in the harbor and I wonder.