I’ve lost old boyfriends to testosterone and dishonesty and incompatibility; we’re still too young to prioritize what feels right from what feels easy from hours of homework. We’re still too infatuated with our own changing to notice much of the world around us, so we study things like sociology or anthropology or women studies, and call ourselves ‘masters of people’, ‘intellects’, ‘understand-ers of society’. We study so much our hands become calloused from the weight of our learning, our brains swollen with facts and hangover cures and wanting for the cutie sitting two rows ahead. We take new lovers every month, sometimes taking weeks for self love, other times buying a box of condoms and calling it ‘good enough’.
I’ve taken new things to call lovers this summer: weightlifting during the work-rush, paddle-boarding on sky-calm mornings, kale smoothies with hemp protein, romance novels on the bus-ride downtown, the girl at the gym teaching me about my own body & how much it can carry. I’ve taken interest in the new divorcee in the first fitting room, she cries when I tell her she looks great in a bikini. I have become soft for the anarchist queer at the poetry slams for the great swears he raps and calls poetry. I have become friends with the weekday baristas across from my work: they too have just moved to this strange city and taken by the kindness of the people.
My whole face exploding with a smile constantly, this new happiness fitting tight, so right: like something always there under a mask of ‘not yet knowing myself’. I’m just twenty-one still learning to respect my bodies ‘no’s’, still learning to trust my instincts: that tad-faster heartbeat, that subtle finger twitch. I’m still learning which dates to say yes to, and how to formulate rejection without using my mom as an excuse. I’m still learning about balance: about how to love a song without playing it a thousand times in a row, I say this less as a metaphor and more to explain that I am so extreme in my loving. My eyes get so wide with wanting: all the emotion, written all over my face, in the soft crinkles of my eyes. There’s an honesty in my face I can’t unlearn: have been taught here by strangers, to value the language of my skin.
For the first time since starting college, I love myself. I walk into a room taking up the space that’s mine: my shoulders rounded and strong from hours at the gym, my spine taut and tall from confidence and a little pestering from my house-mate. I’m five foot three standing giraffe-height proud of myself for coming to Portland this Summer. I came out here with my partner, who became my best friend, who left a week ago to go back home to Massachusetts. But even when we were both here, we made our own ways. I joined a co-ed soccer team, fell in love with my retail job & the brilliant, driven ladies I work with, went on two hikes far outside my comfort zone and high in altitude, ran to work each morning & took the bus home each night, attended weekly poetry slams & learned the names of the artists I wanted to befriend, made coffee date plans, and cooked dinner for one. I went paddle-boarding with my uncle, had my first legal drink, ate a whole pint of ice-cream for breakfast, and spent too much money on workout gear and vegan smoothies. I became a semblance of an adult.
I never overcame my fear of biking on the rode, there are still certain parts of town I hold my pepper-spray when I walk down & I’m still on anxiety meds. I still feel small sometimes at a gym dominated by men, and I haven’t swept the house as much as is fair. But I’m only twenty-one. And the past three months I have learned so much about myself, and the world around me. I came to Portland with a boyfriend and am leaving alone, but there is so much city, so much kindness, so much sky & constellation to come back to. I came to Portland hoping to lay a foundation for myself to return to post-graduation. Having booked my flight ticket back mid-August, I know I am leaving more than a foundation behind me, I am leaving a life.
It is with this kind of leaving that comes a sadness, a sadness for not only the new lovers & hobbies & habits I’ve taken, and now have to leave. But a sadness for the self I got to be here: the truest, most bright-smile self I’ve ever been. There is great comfort in the knowledge that I can soon return, but to leave at all is a hardness I’m still learning to be okay with.
A year ago if somebody had told me that I would have moved to Portland for the Summer, I wouldn’t have believed them. Who, me? I would have asked, impossible. Leaving the east coast was entirely out of my comfort zone: I was leaving behind high school friends who still congregate in the high school parking lot during the Summer nights, a mother whose bed I still shared at least twice weekly, the Starbucks fifteen minutes up the road with the comfortable wooden benches, my car & its promise of escape, and the only time zone I’ve ever known.
But here I am, three months into a Summer-long adventure, having done it. I did it. I moved to a strange city: found a job, secured an internship, and found an independence and confidence I didn’t know I could muster. I am so proud of myself, a pride I feel in every crinkle of my eyes when I smile, in every extra inch in each step I take.
There is greatness is stepping of a comfort zone: a boundary put in place by fear or mortality or age. It’s not that Portland is a city everyone should move to immediately, it’s that pushing myself to try something so new and different taught me a side of myself and a possibility for my life I didn’t know existed.
There is so much world out there, and it’s calling your name.