And now we’ve reached the part of this narrative I don’t want to write. I deleted 3,000 emails rather than write.
The truth is, no matter where you go, you go with you.
We reached Portland on the Friday before the 4th of July, during one of the hottest, driest summers anyone could remember. Our beautiful, lush land of dreams and hopes looked a little… dry. Dusty. Worn. Still, the trees were big and wild. Our son exclaimed “I thought we were going to a city, not the forrest!” We crossed over the Willamette to our little neighborhood on the east bank of the river. Construction on Sellwood Bridge clogged the main route into town. Streets were torn up and sidewalks blocked. Orang detour signs dotted the landscape.
Our Airbnb host was waiting for us with a hammock set up under the willow tree and a promise that our part of the house stayed cool, even in the heat of summer. My anxiety inched higher as we passed the time I’d said we’d arrive. It was the last pit stop, wasn’t it? I shouldn’t have stopped for a drink of water. We were being rude, making her wait. What if she left? How would we get a key? Where would we go?
You go with you.
We arrived at last (maybe 15 minutes late), found the right gate, parked in the right spot, met our host and all piled out into the most stunning backyard I’ve ever seen. The willow tree towered over the crisp green lawn, branches sweeping low and swaying in the breeze. A stream, with two fountains spouting from the center, babbled in the background. The bright red hammock beckoned. The kids sprinted into the open space, relishing the clean air, bright roses and hydrangea, and our host’s big, bouncing Golden Retriever.
Our host led us on a tour of the grounds, explaining it had once been a salmon hatchery and that she was working with the city to turn on the water wheel, which could power the entire house. This would be our backyard for the next three weeks! Yet even amid all that beauty and peace, my mind ran. I wanted to see the house. I wanted to unpack. I want to feel settled and like I knew why we were there.
You go with you.
We got in, we set up beds, we ate from the provisions our host generously left, we bathed the kiddos in the giant jetted tub and sent them off to bed. Joe ran out for one of our Portland bucket list items – a meal at Burgerville. It did beat my expectations. Everything was going as planned.
Saturday morning, we hit the ground running. We fit as much Portland into that weekend as we could. We met up with Joe’s friend/business partner (Duncan) and his wife (Star) for coffee (at a coffee shop/bamboo flooring showroom), then crossed the river for the farmer’s market at the North Park Blocks (where our kids started a party a fountain with half a dozen kids they’d never met), then back across the river to grab food and prep for a barbeque. Joe’s cousins and their friend, along with Duncan and Star, joined us for dinner and a drive to find a spot with a view of the fireworks. We squeezed into parking spots with strangers helping us navigate. Our once-fearless son decided the fireworks terrified him. He refused to go near the sparklers and lamented the 4th of July as the worst day ever. We were tired. We overwhelmed. A good night of sleep and church in the morning would put wrongs to right. It had to.
You go with you.
Sunday morning, we discovered the church we'd planned to visit was closed for the holiday. No worries. We’d find a doughnut shop and have a nice family breakfast. We walked up and down the main retail district in Sellwood, checking every restaurant and café for any sight of our favorite morning treat. No dice. Not a single doughnut to be found within the limits of our neighborhood. No worries. We’d check off another Portland bucket list item – Voodoo Doughnuts. We piled into the car and headed across the river to find the line wrapped around the block. No worries. We’d hit up Voodoo Two, back on our side of the river. Another twenty minutes of driving and we had doughnuts in hand. Subpar doughnuts, but doughnuts. Since we were out, we might as well hit up Target. The Target another 20 minutes away because that Target had the scooter we’d promised our son he could buy with birthday money. The kids ran up and down the store squealing like banshees - and other people thought they were cute! We were certainly not in LA any more.
Back home at last, we wanted to end our weekend with a family adventure. We donned bathing suits and water shoes for a creek walk through the park across from our rental. The cool water felt soothing on a hot afternoon. The bottom was rocky, but easy to navigate. Our son decided he was afraid of crawfish pinching him, but we talked him through it. And then Joe mentioned the fish.
I have a deep, irrational fear of fish. A phobia. I know it’s dumb. That’s a how phobias work – an irrational or very powerful fear and dislike. The word “fish” implanted visions of minnows burrowing into my legs and dying in there. It makes no sense, but there it is. The idea of a fish even brushing against me set my nerves on edge. No worries. I’d just stay out of the water as much as I could. That worked great until it didn’t and in my scramble to stay above water, I took out my knee, my shoulder and almost dragged our 2.5yo daughter under with me. By then, it was time to go home. There were tears and struggles and somehow we made it back bruised and beaten and far too tired.
I took me with me. I took my fear and my expectations and I found myself staring back at me, no more adventurous because I’d struck out from home.
The next week or so is a blur. Joe and Duncan set up business meetings and opportunities to try out the new film equipment they were trying to rent out. That was part of our purpose for the trip. The kids and I joined when we could and found our own activities when we couldn’t. We checked off more Portland bingo squares: white people with dreadlocks, giant thigh tattoos, finger toe shoes, an aluminum wrapped house, and a neighbor named Hok (pronounced Hawk) who enjoys bicycling in the buff. But the kids were crabby. I was crabby. Joe was stressed. Our picture perfect vacation was turning into snapping at each other, tears, anger and frustration. Things too long unspoken came out. Our son’s 5-year-old rage (go testosterone!) led to slamming doors, swinging punches and screaming matches. I resorted to eating my feelings – every last of them, mostly flavored like Tillamook ice cream and peanut butter.
Why had we come? To tear each other apart and revert into our worst selves?
We came with us. And we have a lot of growing to do.