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Once Upon a Time in the Pacific Northwest

Skinny little babies on Holden Street, 2013

We moved west for the mountains. Me, because I wanted to marvel at them. Him, because he wanted to hike them. In 2013, my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I packed up our 2006 Chrysler Minivan (a gift from his dad) and drove 2,000 miles to Seattle. We didn’t have jobs, but we had secured an apartment and that was good enough for us. I look back at that time now, five and a half years later, and I realize that oftentimes I don’t know how hard or risky something is until I’ve gotten on the other side of it. We were basically dirt poor when we moved into our 650 square foot apartment in West Seattle. When I got a job at a nearby restaurant, I could have cried with relief.

We have about 24 hours left in Seattle. After five and a half years, three apartments, eight (!) jobs between us, countless weekend trips exploring the Northwest, and too many beloved friends to name, we are headed back to Chicago. We always knew we would move back. Not because we love bitterly cold winters, lake effect snow, and flat landscapes, but because we always knew we’d want to be closer to family again. Parents age, babies are born, and we like our families too much to live far away from them forever.

For me, knowing there was always a looming expiration date lit a fire in my subconscious and compelled me to drink this place up, explore every part of it, and embrace the culture. (Which is how I ended up with a UW sweatshirt and an affinity for composting.) Back home, I was told when to show up and I let my friends dictate plans. In Seattle, I coordinated happy hours, planned weekend trips, and hosted multiple dinner parties. Somewhere along the line, Seattle started to feel like home, the friends like family.

To feel the embrace of another home and to curl up in the comfort of this place has been the most welcome surprise of my adult life.

And therein lies the rub. It never occurred to me that by the time we finally moved, it would feel like I was leaving a part of me behind, like I was leaving home. I texted my friend Shannon in Australia, who I met years ago in Chicago when she was living there. She gladly commiserated with me- “It’s so hard leaving home to go home.”

I suppose it’s a good problem to have, though. One that only the luckiest of us get, right? Two extraordinary cities filled with fantastic people? Pinch me.

In the 1992 film, Far and Away, the two main characters start their lives and end the movie by claiming land in Oklahoma. It stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and Tom nearly dies at the end, but then he somehow recovers and both he and Nicole stab their stake into the plot of land just before her evil ex-boyfriend tries to steal it away from them. It’s very dramatic and it was my favorite movie in third grade. While Bran and I are hardly two sexy Irish immigrants working their way up to the American dream, we did claim this place as ours, which is why I’ve kept thinking of that cinematic ending all week. It was the first big decision WE ever made and I can’t think of a more empowering way to start our life together.

And so, that’s why I still tell anyone who will listen to go. Get out. Learn a new place, even if it’s not forever. I never aspired to master parallel parking a minivan on an incline, but hey, now I know how! Learn a new public transit system, get used to strange roads, new watering holes, and if you’re really lucky, epic views.

A few weeks ago, Brandon and I took our last ferry ride. (Did you know that Washington State has the largest ferry system in the country and the second largest in the world?) As we were headed back toward our side of the Sound, we stood out on the deck, quietly taking in the Cascades and Mount Rainier. The captain announced that the captain of a passing ferry was on his last ride after 35 years of service. He told us he was going to blow the fog horn three times and encouraged us all to wave at the passing ship to say, “Bon voyage”. As soon as the horn blew, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I walked away from nearby people to cry and wave at the passing ship alone. The views, the horn, the metaphor of a passing ship and an era ending…can you blame me?

Growing up in the Midwest, the idea of mountains, Orca whales, islands, and seaplanes seemed otherworldly. I can’t believe I ever got to live here.

The Evergreen State, The Emerald City- effervescent, enchanted, and for a spell, ours. 

One Response to Once Upon a Time in the Pacific Northwest

  1. mshenberger71@gmail.com'
    Maureen Reid November 4, 2018 at 12:53 am #

    Kate, this is beautiful to read after I moved to Seattle from Texas years ago, and have ended up married an living in Chicago. Welcome back to this home!

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