Calgary Loft

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I’m on the 17th floor

It’s dark outside

I’m standing in a pair of black briefs

looking at the neon city against a dark sky

as the cars drive on bridges over the river

But mostly I catch my reflection in the glass

I can see through myself and into the city

and that awakens the poetry corners of my brain

I’m only renting this penthouse

but for many this would be the realization of a dream

Hardwood floors, marble counter tops

a grill on the balcony overlooking the river

It’s easy to picture red wine in goblets on coasters

laughter as the sun sets

lentil pasta in steel pans, fresh flowers in vases

and homegrown coffee in the morning

And the vision of all this haunts me in its way

because its all so fleeting, so temporary

Those preconceived ideas

about happiness, joy, success

Because some day, someone else would own this space

and make it theirs

and the landscape would change. 

I can see through myself and into the city

and then the light flicks off

and I can’t. 

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Seattle Conclusion: Homecoming

April, 2015

Outside of a few goodbye dinners with friends, and one last night spent with Zhu, leaving Seattle was relatively anticlimactic. I carried my clothes, pictures, and few supplies down the stairs and loaded them into my car. I went to bed early the night before, woke and had one last cup of coffee on the balcony overlooking Lake Washington (my how I would miss the view over the lake), showered, dressed, and left. I was on the road by 5:30 am, ready for a long day’s worth of driving ahead. I almost immediately realized I wouldn’t miss it. I had taken what I needed, and now I was ready to leave.

I tried to leave the city with the same sense of adventure and hope that I’d arrived in it with. As I got on the busy interstate toward Utah, I contemplated the new reality that awaited me back home. I had taken the biggest risk of my life in moving here, and ultimately I had only lasted six months. I didn’t feel like a failure. I wasn’t coming home to Utah with my head between my legs. Instead, I was returning changed. And I had a long day of driving to figure out what those changes meant for me, and what they were.

The storm within me was quieter now. I was safer in myself. I had left Utah with so much anger and sadness, emotions that came from an unsafe place. But now the feelings were quiet within me. Their expression was more normal. I could get mad, or sad, or scared; I could feel anxious or guilty; I could grieve, or hope, or strive, and the world felt possible and safe. I knew how to feel now, and how to process the feelings. They were gifts now. They didn’t overwhelm or incapacitate me as they once had.

Leaving Utah had allowed me to find myself. It taught me that happiness wasn’t right around the corner, it was already within me. Utah no longer felt like me being shackled in place, instead it was a place where I had friends, where I felt it home. It now represented ground that I could build from, instead of the shattered ruins it had felt like when I left.

My children were six months older now. I’d seen them every month, and spoken with them over video chat daily, but they were older. And so was I. My friends had changed too; some had moved away, some had ended relationships, others had new jobs or homes or boyfriends. And yet Utah would feel exactly the same, just without the sense of threat that it had before.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, my ex-wife, my children’s mother, had evolved as well. She was no longer attending the LDS Church, for her own reasons, and I think that I had proven to her that I was a consistent and involved father, even from farther away. She was kinder now, in a way, and perhaps she blamed me less for the end of our marriage. And maybe that was the most healing thing of all. Maybe I finally could let go of my shame there, and stop living with regrets; maybe I could march forward with my life in peace and with hope now.

Ultimately, my time in Seattle had been… simple. The lessons I learned there were things most people learned in their teenage years and in their twenties. I learned that finding love wasn’t so easy, that family was the most important thing, that loving yourself was crucial before loving others. I learned how to prioritize health and self-compassion. I learned that I didn’t want to live with a bunch of guys in a fraternity setting, and that I didn’t want to make more money if it meant selling my soul and my own mental health. I learned that debt, and struggle, and pain follow you, even if you move to a new horizon. I learned that no one gets to the destination without putting the hard work in first.

Back in Utah, I had secured an apartment downtown. A brand new beginning in a new part of town. I was taking over the lease from some old college students. When I arrived, I found they left just a few things behind: a container of protein powder, a pull-up bar, a box of Stevia packets, two folding chairs, and seven unused condoms. Within days, I would have the place stocked with furniture and bunkbeds for my children. I would need to find work quickly in order to survive. There was a gym in the basement to work out in, and my social work license was still active, so I could launch right back into life. My friends were there. In fact, Kurt, my best friend, was planning a welcome back party for me, even though he had just thrown a going away party for me six months before.

I drove toward my sons, toward my future, having no idea what’s next for me. I had projects in mind, research and writing projects, things that I wanted to do. I wanted to travel, and to get in the best shape of my life, and to achieve financial freedom for the first time. But I was beginning to believe those things were possible. I was free from the shackles of the things that had held me back before, and I was learning that only I could put restrictions on myself. I had just the right ground to build from.

I pulled into my new place and, over a few hours, unloaded my car into the new apartment. Tonight, I would sleep on the floor, with pillows and blankets. In the morning, I would go grocery shopping, and then pick up my sons, and they would come over and play with me while I unpacked. It was a new beginning. Another one.

The next morning, I knocked on the door of my old apartment, the one my ex-wife had moved into when I’d moved to Seattle. My sons were inside waiting for me. The door opened, and my five year old yelled out, “Daddy, you’re home!”

And as I gathered him in my arms, his brother toddling over right behind him, I said “I am home, my boys. I am home.”

Sweet, Sweet Seattle

Seattle

The second, I step off the plane, I feel at home. I’m not sure why that surprises me. I love this city. It represents a lot to me: diversity and temperance, culture and fulfillment. But the change is suddenly present, not dramatic just there and all-encompassing. Home.

As I walk through the airport, I wonder what it was. I have a home in Salt Lake City. It’s furnished, it contains my things, it has space and I spend a lot of time there. My friends come to visit. My children’s toys fill their room and we play together. But my home doesn’t feel like home, and this, this stretch of airport, does.

I take a moment to stop and sit and think and breathe. The air is different, the very atmosphere. It smells of ocean and green and freshness. A few minutes later, when I step outside, I can feel the breeze. I left Salt Lake this morning, already dry and heating up, my hands and lips uncomfortable. The air here makes me hungry.

I walk and the ground beneath my feet feels different. In time, I’m on the train and looking at the rolling green hills, the air filled with a light drizzle. People of every size and color sit around me, and I feel alive with wonder.

I watch the scenery flying by the window and I think of Utah, and all the effort I have put in there to make it feel like Seattle feels to me. I tried living downtown and walking the streets like I do here. I tried losing myself in coffee shops and writing about my experiences like I do here. I found some favorite places, divey pastry shops and indie movie theaters with sticky floors like I do here. But nothing sticks there for me.

Soon, I’m back on the sidewalks and I’m navigating an impossible hill as I tug my suitcase behind me, and I’m smiling. And it’s not just an inside smile, it’s one that I feel in my insides. I’m breathing deep and I’m smiling and my feet fall firmly with each step.

It isn’t as if my every memory in Seattle is a happy one. I struggled professionally here in a job that had impossible requirements. I missed my sons every day. I struggled to find friends. But that sense of wonder as I wandered the streets and the lakeshores and the rainforests never left me. I find it in small doses in other places, but it fills my being here.

My thoughts wander back to my sons again, their hugs and their antics, their daily routines. Being an active part of their lives is my highest priority, raising them to know they are loved, strongly and securely, by both of their parents, raising them into men who have full potential to lead happy and healthy lives. Providing for them with ample love and attention keeps me going every day. They fulfill me in a very different way. They make me happy.

As I walk, my eyes dart to familiar places. Conversations with friends in that book store, seeing a play in that theater, writing a poem in that coffee shop. This city is full of memories for me.

I stop again, breathing, and wonder how to find this sense of wonder in Utah, if that is even possible for me. And if not, how I can shape my career and financial future so that I can be there for them, and still keep this feeling for me.

I arrive at my destination, the place where I lived while I was here. I find my familiar park bench, looking out over Lake Washington. The water is choppy in the breeze. It’s 60 degrees and my skin feels cool and my heart feels warm and my hair is blowing back and I inhale until my lungs are full, and I whisper.

“Hey, Seattle. I’m home. Just for the weekend, but I’m home.”