I wrote something for Purple Clover and pretty much figured it'd get rejected, because it doesn't really have a Purple Clover angle. It did get rejected, so now I am showing it to you. Yay, you get my rejects! Really, though, I like it, my editor liked it, and I hope you like it.
Bookends. My Four Years in Seattle.
I got there by train, because I couldn’t afford to fly, and because I was too scared to drive through the top of America in December. Yes, I chose December to move from my relatively small Michigan hometown to Seattle, Washington. December, the month when families get together and throw snow at each other and exchange gifts and bake with glee. December, when no city wants to introduce itself to you, except for maybe Aspen. All the other cities are flurrying around with their 1960s Christmas lights hanging from downtown light fixtures and gloom in their skies. Moving somewhere in December is like dropping in on someone at 9 a.m. on a Sunday.
But that’s what I did, and I did it by train. The train ride itself was dramatic, with a near-derailment in Pocatello, Idaho and a weird encounter with two girls who’d just left a huge Baha’i convention. You know, I’ve always found the Baha’i religion sort of welcoming and fascinating, because among other reasons I think we should end more words in ’i. But lemme tell you. Those yahoos I met on that train ride were not what you’d call representin’ the Baha’is. They were a couple of screwballs, is what they were. But that’s a story for a different day.
My point is, I wish I had a tape of all the thoughts running through my head as I made that journey. I can’t imagine the trepidation and anxiety and excitement and downright hope I must have had. Since I was 13, I wanted to live in a real city, with tall buildings and weird people and underground clubs and not one person who wondered why I wasn’t coming ice fishing. I planned and I dreamed and I wished and finally, at the age of 27, I saved up $900 and got on that train. High on cocaine.
See. I wasn’t at all high on cocaine. I just wanted to reference that Grateful Dead song. And you know what I was looking forward to? Being able to say something stupid like that and not have everyone around me say, “?”
Where I grew up, in the middle of Michigan, people were…reserved. They were polite enough, but there’s this Midwestern stoicism that I simply never had. I do believe the last word you’d ever use to describe me is “stoic,” unless you went for “athletic.” Or “practical.” Or maybe “down to earth.” But that’s three words. The point is, I never fit in. And I knew I needed to go somewhere kind of big, to meet others like me. I figured the odds would be greater if there were more people to choose from.
I picked Seattle because they read more books there per capita than any other place. And because I like rain. And coffee. And Kurt Cobain. I knew one person in Seattle, other than Kurt Cobain, who of course I did not really know but who I’m certain would have had a great time with me had our paths crossed.
I got off that train in Seattle in early December, and by March I had a really cute studio apartment, a job, a whole passel of friends and a boyfriend. It seems like everything came easier then, when you weren’t looking for a home with good resale value or friends who were on the same spiritual wavelength or whatever. You wanna get a beer after work? Me too! Oh, and look! A place for rent that’s stumbling distance from the record store I like! Sold!
To say that Seattle was a success was putting it mildly. I remember going to an independent film soon after I got there. There was a line to get in, but of course there was a coffee cart for everyone waiting, because god forbid anyone in Seattle go eight seconds without caffeine. It was the first time I heard anyone order coffee in that ridiculous way people do: “I’ll have a half-caf, lowfat latte with light foam.” I was both tickled and appalled. No one here was going to pressure me to ice fish.
I also remember taking the bus to my new job, and seeing cab after cab lined up in the streets. I felt so big city. I felt like I’d done what I’d set out to do. The first time it was sunny enough to see Mt. Rainier, I learned it was possible to fall in love with a city.
Four years later, I left Seattle to move to LA with my then-husband. On my last night there, I went to the train station to pick up a friend who’d come in from Portland to attend my going-away party. It occurred to me I’d only been in the train station on my very first and my very last nights of living in Seattle, like bookends.
I’d pulled into Seattle four years earlier with my nasal Michigan accent, a slightly closed mind and no idea of the kind of adventures I had in front of me. I left there four years later with my same damn accent, but also with a lifetime of memories of fun, laughs, heartbreak and friends I still have today.
The time I spent between those bookends is something I’d never give up. Not for all the half-cafs in Seattle.