About a month ago I was at my favorite Phoenix boutique looking for a thank you/goodbye present for my editor, when a bumper sticker next to the register caught my eye.
“Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix,” it said.
I almost grabbed it to go with the gifts I was buying. But I didn’t — I was there because I’d just rather abruptly quit my job to move to Portland. I’m not a total asshole, and it seemed a little like pouring salt in a fresh wound.
Plus if you want to know the truth, that sticker made me sad.
Here’s a secret I’ve kept for years: I loved Phoenix. I had a fantastic job, I had fantastic friends, I knew every good place to eat and drink and hike.
But I loved it in the same way I loved my gambling addicted, emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend.:Because it was comfortable, because it was easier than going out and finding some place new to belong.
This probably sounds overly sentimental, and, there was a lot I hated: my incestuous circle of frenemies, my own toxic behavior, the smothering racism, the god damn dry heat, the feeling that I was chasing myself in circles. I could go on, but I’ll spare you.
Do you want to know how I realized I really, really needed to get out of town?
One night in March I went to a bar and within 10 minutes of being there I was standing literally in a circle of every guy I’d dated for the past two years. It was seriously alarming. Phoenix might be the 5th largest city in the country, but it’s still a small town. No matter where I went I felt I was constantly confronted with some scrap of my past, with my failures, with my deferred dreams.
It’s fair to say, I was going crazy. My breaking point had been reached and then crossed. Even my best friends told me, “You have to get out of here.”
For years I talked about leaving, and I’m certain no one believed I was ever going to.
To be fair, my escape plans were pretty insane: English teacher in Costa Rica! Peace-Corps volunteer in Paraguay! (That one almost came to fruition, actually. I chickened out and quit before I even started.) Fulbright Fellow in Bangladesh… yes, I really applied for that. I can’t blame anyone for rolling their eyes.
Earlier this year, I took a long car ride with my ex-boss, who I will probably always call, “my editor” even if she never touches another sentence of mine again. I told her: “My entire life is a series of things I almost did.”
Which was true. Until now.
Until one day I got tired of talking about leaving, and I packed my Honda Civic with as much crap as it would hold, threw my little brother in the passenger seat and headed 1300 miles north west.
It took us two days: 14 hours the first, 7 the next. If you ever find yourself in Buttonwillow, California, I highly recommend stopping for Indian food at this place just off I-5. I forgot it’s name, but you’ll see the signs. (They love signs at this place. Inside gratuitous signs bossed me around at every turn: “Order only once!” “You must pay for whatever you order!” “To go boxes are for leftovers only!”)
We got to Portland early in the evening on a Sunday. My new house is surrounded by rose bushes. It has a cherry tree and a compost pile that I’m still getting used to. It has seven roommates and two cats. Over homemade Japanese curry my “new life” began.
I have no idea what that means yet. Like I’ve said before, I can’t tell if moving here saved my life or ruined it. I do know that I sleep better here. I worry less. The urge to crawl out of my own skin is gone and, along with it, the urge to sabotage myself. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Last year I arrogantly told my most-recent ex … whatever (one of the boys I found myself trapped next to at that bar in March actually) as I dropped him off at his house one morning: “Every decision I make is the right one.”
I think I was being sarcastic, but I hope it’s true.