I’ve been silent on this topic a long time now, and I’m sorry for that, because here I am, about to move again, and I’ve been avoiding thinking about it. For months now I’ve been anticipating the move, but I haven’t really been able to write about it or talk about it, other than to say how ready I am. Now the big departure is four days away, and it’s this oddly gray, October-like day in Seattle, and my readiness has bottomed out into a hollow, mournful feeling. I’m still ready to go, but I’m also finally letting myself feel all the ways in which I was never fully here. That healthier, happier, more rooted self feels like it’s just a cross-country relocation away, in a future city, but today — maybe for the first time — I’m looking at the self I’ve been in Seattle, and I don’t like her.

All those hikes whose names were repeated to me endlessly, a litany of low-hanging fruits less than an hour from the city — Rattlesnake, Mailbox, Mount Si — that I never hiked. The cilantro I let go to flower and the snap peas that are starting to yellow at the edges for want of water. The zero city council meetings attended, the utter lack of protests or demonstrations. The paint drips I never cleaned off the molding.

And deeper, the failings I’m afraid to look at and admit to because they feel like symptoms of a personal rot no move will eradicate: all the people I didn’t try all that hard to get to know, all of the friends who I only let in so close, the fear that they wouldn’t have wanted to know me if I’d tried. I realized this weekend that I tend to flock to the one person at the party least likely to give me the love and attention I need. Why? Maybe so I can feel justified when they reject or ignore me: “It’s not my fault, it’s them.” All those people I want to get to know, who I find myself attracted to, intrigued by, who actually seem interested in me? I don’t want to get close enough to learn they aren’t.

But this story, the story I’m telling you now, it’s not the one I’ve told myself for the eleven months I’ve lived in Seattle, the nearly two years I’ve lived in Washington. I told myself it was the weather that made me sluggish and unsocial, the lack of lively public space that prevented me from meeting people, the notorious Seattle freeze that kept those friendships I did make skating around at surface level. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate this city. Yesterday I rode the light rail two stops from Steve’s neighborhood to mine and looked out on all the new construction, the new townhouses and the new office buildings and the new school, all in the same shades of pastel vinyl, the streets completely devoid of people at 7 pm on a beautiful Sunday night, and I thought good riddance. This city feels sterile, built on the premise that the best life is a frictionless one.

No I am certain I am ready to leave Seattle. I’m writing because when I got home last night and climbed the stairs up to the attic and saw the boxes piled around my room, the walls quiveringly bare, I saw a certain vision of myself and the city for the first time. When friends ask how I’m feeling about the move — and it seems at least one person has asked every day for a month — I’ve been saying I’m fine, I’m excited, I’m looking forward. But I’m tossing in my sleep, I’m grinding my teeth, I’m bursting into tears unexpectedly and without reason. I’ve been telling myself it’s just the stress of the move, but it’s also this: when all is said and done, my belongings packed, my life here stripped down to the bones, all that’s left are the walls. My walls, the walls I constructed more or less from arrival. The walls I kept up between myself and this city, between myself and the people I met here, the walls past which I didn’t allow myself to get any closer, the walls that kept me from ever visiting that museum, from being vulnerable with that person I really wanted to get to know. All the places I wanted to feel human and healthy and grounded, like I belonged here, and instead held myself back, thwarted my own attempts at routine and relationship. That’s what I see now, so achingly clear: the walls.

Some caveat feels called for here. Yes, I did meet people who will stay in my life for decades. I wasn’t a hermit. Friends came into my life here who have touched me deeply, and I trust they feel the same. But I’ve come to reckon with the fact that I am or can be a fairly closed person, and this environment — a cloudy city without a vibrant public life, where sudden, prolonged, unwarranted, unprovoked interactions with strangers are rare — has fed my introverted side. The revelation of my life in New York was the possibility that I could be one with the body politic, that I could be a member of a public that is loud, forceful, possessed with a purpose higher than self. The lesson of these west coast years has been self care, self love. I’m craving a return to the former while retaining the calm and reflection of the latter, but I’m also aware: just changing cities won’t fell those walls.


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