Seattle: The first three weeks

The view from work. Rightside in Kirkland.

The view from work. Rightside in Kirkland.

Homesickness is nothing like I thought it would be. I thought it would strike on bad days, days when something went wrong at work or with the apartment. I thought it would feed on bad feelings and manifest when I most expected it.

But it’s not like that. In truth, I haven’t really had a bad day yet in Seattle. I’ve had days when the traffic is thicker than IMG_0019 IMG_0018I hoped and it takes longer to get home than I expected. I’ve had a few unexpected expenses come up along the way, and battle the usual nerves over starting a new job after the comfort and familiarity of spending nine years in the same office with the same people. I’ve had a few difficult moments finding parking–particularly downtown, which I was forced to visit on my third day in Seattle to obtain my Washington driver’s license. I think my worst moment thus far was the discovery that the toll bridge I’m supposed to take to work costs $3.80 each way, if you’ve signed up for the city’s Good To Go program. Otherwise it’s something like $5.40. I refuse to spend that much on a toll and now spend each morning and evening driving the long way around the lake.

But mostly Seattle has been a dream. Even the DMV is easier, quicker, friendlier. Sure there’s traffic, but nobody honks or flips each other off. These are the friendliest, most laid back drivers I’ve ever seen. Three weeks in I’ve Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 11.36.59 AMalready got an apartment, my Washington plates, my Washington driver’s license, my Washington insurance, my health insurance through my new work, and a few neighborhood hangouts besides.

I’ve discovered that we’re around the corner from Gorditos, which advertises itself as “Healthy Mexican Food” and has photos of newborn babies laying next to their enormous burritos plastered across the walls. I don’t think there’s any chance in hell the food is actually healthy, but it is the most delicious Mexican food I’ve had in at least a decade. And that’s something considering I moved from San Luis Obispo where Chipotle won “Best Burrito” in my newspaper’s annual readers’ poll.

We’re also just a block from a handful of bars and breweries and a really good Indian food restaurant, and within a

Peanut butter lava cake,

Peanut butter lava cake,

mile of three bookstores. We’re a 10-minute drive from our beloved butterbeer at Hot Cakes in Ballard. And while I was on my way to the DMV office in Ballard to exchange my California plates for Washington plates, I discovered a Pie Bar. Which is exactly what it sounds like, by the way.

And I’ve learned that Seattle is just as mad about dogs as I had hoped. We’ve seen dogs in restaurants, dogs in bars, dogs in the grocery store. The company that I work for, Rightside, has a policy allowing employees to bring their dogs to work (provided they are well groomed and well behaved). Consequently, I work just around the corner from a dog named Clover. Whenever I’m feeling restless, I wander over to her office IMG_0044and we play tug of war over a fuzzy purple ball she carries with her. It’s the best pick-me-up imaginable and contributes to my overall feeling that I’m working for a very humane company that supports its employees. In fact, when the company’s CEO discovered I was sleeping on the floor because I didn’t have any furniture he came into work the very next day with an enormous air mattress. And my very first day at work, a coworker delivered a Razor Scooter from the guy who hired me (who is, unfortunately, no longer working there).

Butterbeer.

Butterbeer.

This city is art mad too. On Friday night we went on an art walk through our neighborhood (Greenwood) and nearly every business was participating, whether that business happened to be a bar, a restaurant, a vegetarian hot dog stand (will wonders never cease?), a bookstore, a tattoo parlor, or a dance studio. There are murals and paintings on countless walls and there’s a house around the corner that has a mailbox advertising free poetry. The first time we walked by the box was empty but we opened it on Friday night and found dozens of little slips of paper. I pulled one out and discovered William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us.”

It sounds, I know, like I am living in a fantasyland that is likely to burst at the first moment of discomfort or unkindness. In a way, it makes me nervous that things seem to be going so well. I don’t trust when things are easy. In IMG_2420 IMG_2421fact, I keep joking to my boyfriend that my work is too good to be true, that it’s really a practical joke and I’m going to discover one day soon that companies that treat their employees that well are a dream, and one that I should not have believed for so long.

But I feel the lack of home, just not in the ways I anticipated. When I’m driving home from work, there’s a particular route that brings me past a burst of golden poppies on the sidewalk. I can’t not think of home when I see those golden poppies, can’t prevent myself from picturing the Big Sur coastline and that sudden, violent burst of orange. I remember being so disappointed that the golden poppy was our state flower as a child. I didn’t understand then how well it defined California. But I’ve come to understand and appreciate the flower, not just for representing California, but for its delicate beauty.

There are moments when I’m driving north around the lake, surrounded by green–trees and grass, everywhere–and I IMG_0039feel a sudden longing for pale hills untouched by rain. Which is a strange longing, considering that the drought was a large factor in why I left. But there it is just the same. It’s an intense feeling, a kind of panicked recognition that I am far from home and don’t know when I will return again. It strikes out of nowhere. One moment I am driving contentedly enough, and the next I am gasping with homesickness.

And it doesn’t last hours or days at a time as I once thought it would. The longing fades, leaving me surprised and confused. I wonder if it is something I will always feel, this uncomfortable impression that I am not where I ought to be. I told Colin that I feel as though I’ve been given an organ or limb, and my body is deciding at every moment whether it’s going to take. I still don’t know the answer, but I’m counting on innate human resilience, on the tendency to adapt and continue living whatever the circumstances, to see me through and ensure that the transplant does take.

It probably does not help that I’ve started watching The Killing since arriving in Seattle. For anyone unfamiliar with the show, it paints a dreary portrait of my newly adopted city. Not just with the constant depictions of rain and gray, IMG_0021 IMG_0028unfriendly skies, but in its depiction of a grim city with one hell of a seedy underbelly. That’s not the Seattle I’ve encountered. Perhaps it’s because it’s May, but I’ve seen more sunny days than rainy. And when it does rain it tends to do so briefly and then resume its business. I haven’t felt scared or threatened since arriving in Seattle. I have felt heartsick at the sight of a homeless encampment under a freeway overpass on my way to work. But I’ve never lived in a city that didn’t have more than it share of homelessness. And at least these encampments appear to be unmolested by the police, which is more than I can say for the encampments in San Luis Obispo.

I worry that I will be like Loial, the ogier in The Wheel of Time series. I will be away from my home for years, enjoying IMG_0030my adventures despite my constant shock at finding myself so far from home, when suddenly the longing will overtake me. For an ogier, the longing can mean death if he or she fails to return to their stedding. For me, it would probably mean dissatisfaction and regret.

But I don’t think that will be my fate. I believe that Seattle will take. Call it wishful thinking. Call it the satisfied glow of a Gorditos burrito or professional satisfaction or a puppy high from constant contact with dogs. But I think I’ve got a good shot here. And I think that the pride and confidence I’ve gained by doing something that so thoroughly shocked my system and removed me from my comfortable surroundings will stand me well in the future.

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