I’m not sure I’m actually here.
I left Portland two years ago, and in two weeks I’m leaving again. And that right there should tell you that I am in some weird in-between place that is very hard to describe. I left, but I’m still here? All I know is, whatever it used to mean to be here, in Portland, it no longer means that. I no longer feel like I’m really here.
We could get slightly existential here and question what “here” really means, but we don’t have to go that far. One thing I have lost in these last two years — and there are others we’ll get to — is any real sense of feeling completely in one place. It’s like, as soon as I get there, I’m already gone again. Certainly, the idea of home is long gone, and that is part of the “weirdness” of being in Portland, a place where I lived for 25 years and where I banked all sorts of memories: friends, relationships, getting sober, work, hikes, Timbers games, the whole thing. That makes a place home.
But so does spending a lot of settled-in time in that place, with your stuff, and your people, doing your regular things in your regular ways. I haven’t had anything remotely like that since I drove away from my apartment on May 31, 2021, bound that night for Burns, Oregon, and then Idaho, then Wyoming, and then and then and then and then …. I keep a Facebook photo album of all the places I have slept since then, and it’s up to 146 entries. That’s a different bed every five nights. For two years. And one bed I was in for almost three months.
So any sense of home has long since been replaced by various levels of settled-ness, to wit: A few weeks in an Airbnb, cooking meals, in a place where I speak the language, is pretty settled; but four cities every week, hotels all the time, in places where I basically can’t talk to anybody, is on the road. So yeah, being in a place where I did, in fact, live for such a big stretch of my life, but then moved on from, and not feeling at home there anymore? That’s weird.
But it doesn’t even get to how weird it actually feels for me right now. Because part of really being in a place is feeling connected to it, even if that connection is as a visitor, a tourist, a vacationer. I am none of those things in Portland — or anywhere else. I work too much to be a tourist, and I travel too much to feel at home. Portland is a place where I used to really be, and I still come back to, but every time I come back I feel less connected to it. It’s like stretching a rubber band between two fingers, over and over, and you know one day it’s gonna snap. It happened with me and Memphis after after high school, me and Dallas in 1989 when I finished college, with Memphis again when I left for Portland in 1996, and it’s now slowly happening with me and Portland since I left for … wherever I’m going.
Now I feel like a ghost here. I’m in town for over three weeks, and there are people I used to feel so close to who, this time, I might not even see. And who knows when I’m even coming back, or how thin that connection will be by then. Most of the people I do see are still living the same lives as before, and as my life gets farther and farther from that life, and harder for me to explain or them to understand, my connection with them also gets thinner and thinner. Sometimes we honestly can’t think of what to talk about.
Some people aren’t even responding to my messages. I don’t blame them — I mean, I left — and anyway, I am apparently not that good at maintaining long-term friendships. Maybe I am too forward-focused to be fully here, anywhere, or in real relationships. All I know is, if you’re not around, not here, then you just naturally lose touch with the people who remain here.
So then I find myself looking around, at Portland, and wondering why I keep coming back. There are people I care about, and it’s a lovely city, and I still have business here. But if I’m just gonna feel as weird and lonely here as anywhere else, what’s the point? The rest of the world is still out there, waiting for me to get done with whatever the hell I’m doing in Portland.
Maybe I’m just writing that because it’s Saturday night, I’m alone in another Airbnb, I can’t really think of anybody to call, and the depression is creeping up on me. But the fact is, when I am in Portland now, I might feel “at home,” because it’s easy here. But I’m not home. And, increasingly, I don’t even feel the “I am here” connectedness that I used to feel here.
I’m here, kind of, but I’m already gone, too. What I need is a new home. I need to really be somewhere again.