Last week New York City was frigid, like the week before last week was frigid. Like nearly every week of winter this year. The heaps of snow along the Manhattan sidewalks are solid gray ice, littered with garbage and dog business. Walking my children to school I say over and over in the same exasperated tone, "Don't touch the snow! It's full of poop!" They climb on it anyway. On Saturday it warmed to 50ºF and the snow began to melt. It was a lovely day—the pigeons were as elated as the parka-less people on the sidewalks. And the previously rock-hard ice crushed nicely when my children jumped on the piles. Dog poop, however, does not melt along with the snow.
The week before last I walked down mossy sidewalks in my hometown with my husband. Dark fir trees and melancholy crow caws, drizzle from newsprint gray skies, coffee shops with ample tables. Damp everywhere, no poop anywhere. It was a busy week. By the time we boarded the plane back to New York, we'd applied for Ike to attend three of the eight schools we toured, put an offer on a home, had numerous business meetings, and even found a French-immersion summer camp for the kids. We are, it seems, moving to Portland, Oregon.
Before we left for our trip to Oregon I was full of nostalgia for all I love here: the old beauty hewn out of schist and granite, the view of the Hudson from my windows, the Metropolitan Museum, the North Woods of Central Park, spreading deciduous trees lining slate sidewalks, sunlight through tall windows, the Museum of Natural History, the languages spoken everywhere, Grand Central, Wave Hill, the Hassidic families in our neighborhood, my four quince trees in the magical cloister.
But coming back, all I saw was garbage. The cold trudge to school past overflowing trash cans and heaps of garbage bags. Sewers clogged with litter. Rats eating garbage in the subway. Garbage trucks trapped behind double-parked cars, honking. The hustle to get anywhere, the tiresome planning and coordinating of each trip, the throngs of unsmiling people pushing past. Competition for everything. Competition for a handful of pole on the A train, my face inches away from the black (always black) back of someone's parka. I am exhausted by this anxious city, the impossibility of parking, the lines, the urgency. Once the decision was made to move, I lost all my energy for it the rush and crush of it.
I have been in New York a long time: fifteen years. I am hardly the young woman who left Portland years ago. In fact I'd say that since I left the West Coast I have been four different Ambers. Four different faces of the same person, four different sets of priorities, preoccupations, dreams. Some things have remained the same of course. Like my best friend. Our friendship has been one constant in my life during these years (except that now we talk about our plans for retirement). And my faith has remained too, although grown in new and interesting directions. But in suddenly moving back home I am faced with that earlier Amber, that Amber four Ambers ago. We have a lot in common, but we are not really the same person.
However, she comes in handy. She told me I'd want to move to Sellwood, preferably on the bluff overlooking Oaks Bottom. But the new Amber insisted on looking at real estate all over the place. No, no, no: after a few days we were restricted our searching to Sellwood. Not too many light-sucking fir trees there. And charming, flat, walkable blocks with coffee shops and old Craftsman style homes. A yarn store, a children's boutique. The dry cleaners where I worked during high school still on the same corner, still with the same name. Our new home is, reassuringly, in Sellwood.
And while the move date is still a few months away, I am ready to be off. It's not as glamorous as some of the plans we've kicked around over the years. Most recently we'd been researching Geneva— French and English speaking, a beautiful family setting and good prospects for Charles. But for one reason or another we never really followed any of our plans through. Ultimately family took us back to Portland—Grandma, Papo, Grandpa, two aunties, three uncles, some cousins. Charles also has two cousins there, with their own families. And Hawaii is much closer, as is the rest of Charles' family. I am at peace with the decision. And can't wait to have a window over the sink and a working dishwasher!