After gunshots rang out too close for comfort outside our baby’s bedroom window and yet another hit and run befell our street, my husband and I decided enough was enough. We packed up our baby and our Shih Tzu and got the heck out of dodge from smog city and headed for the majesty of the Northwest.
We had a great plan. My husband worked remotely for a television show; he had done so for nearly seven years and they agreed he could take it with him. I’d get a job once we got there and since he’d just been paid a giant lump sum from the past season, we’d live off of that for the first few months. Then he’d get another big payment four months later so there was no rush–I would take my time and find something that really fit.
We had family in Portland waiting for us, which meant we’d have the chance to raise our son surrounded by love, family and fresh air. Everything would be better there.
No sooner had we signed the lease to our new home on the top of a hill surrounded by gallant pine trees and the occasional bald eagle soaring overhead than we got the phone call. My husband lost his job. They had replaced him with someone younger and cheaper.
Life as we knew it began to disintegrate. We’d blown through the first chunk of money quicker than anticipated with moving costs and furnishings for our new home and now the rest of the money we were counting on wasn’t coming at all. We were flooded with fear, anger and resentment. It felt as if our selfless choice to give our baby a better life had backfired and we were being punished. Neither of us had a job, we were far away from our friends and were on the precipice of being broke.
We had broken up with our city and like any breakup in the beginning, we felt righteous about our decision, empowered and even filled with glee. Soon after, an unsure feeling stirred within us, a panicky voice questioning everything. We couldn’t help but be filled with a warm sense of nostalgia for all that we’d left behind while omitting all the reasons we’d left in the first place.
Just like a jilted lover, we pined for what once was. Luckily for us, we couldn’t drunk text our ex. Our ex-mistress was too far away, too unattainable. To go back would cost too much in every possible way. The back-and-forth of “should we stay” or “should we go” felt gnawing and self-destructive, we knew we had to make peace with our choice, so we marched on.
Two unemployed people in a marriage are a recipe for a powder keg. Our marriage, still intact, yet strained had suffered deep wounds. Both of us struggled through dark bouts of depression and anger. Had it not been for the love of our son, some days I don’t know how we would have gotten out of bed.
Suddenly, we found ourselves on government assistance to pay our heating bills and when we took our son to get his 12-month check up we were asked what type of homeless we were. Our dignity was a thing of the past as we struggled to keep our heads above water. We applied to and were rejected by jobs we weren’t qualified for because all we have ever known is life in the entertainment industry.
My anxiety was causing my health to fail. After a disconcerting diagnosis, I was sent to a counselor to see how stress management would help ease my physical pain. The daily anxiety of what was going to happen to us was all-consuming and physically making me sick. Our downward trajectory affected everyone, including our parents and our friends. All of our loved ones felt helpless as they watched things progressively get worse.
A momentary victory like a deciding to drive for Lyft was thwarted when we realized our car was too old to qualify. A promising job interview that ended with no job because my husband was overqualified. A scald on my hand, constant physical pain, heart palpitations, another fight, one more rejection, another failure–the days passed us unrelentingly without a single reprieve from mishap or sorrow.
Our first few months are push-and-pull between instances of despair and disarray and moments of wonder and pure joy. We watched our son turn one, celebrated his first Halloween and put up our Christmas tree together. There were family trips to the Oregon Coast. A stark contrast to California’s sunny beaches, the ocean here feels as if it is possessed by a woman scorned; dark, hauntingly beautiful and angry. Our family huddled together in the cold watching her hypnotic waves and were filled with a long-awaited moment of peacefulness.
There was the night my husband and I ran outside in the freezing cold just to stare at the star-filled sky together. The sound of the train in the distance, the one that reminds me of my childhood home, that we now lovingly refer to as my train. There are howling winds, endless trees, a crackling fireplace, mountains on the horizon and finally…there’s snow.
If you stare up at the snow coming down on you long enough you can’t tell if you’re floating up toward it or about to be buried by it. I sat in the windowsill with my son in my lap and we stared up as it fell down in what seemed like a never-ending blanket of white. Giant flakes splattering against the window glass as we watched awestruck. The quiet frigid air, the chirp of a bird in the distance, the satisfying crunch beneath our feet and my toddler squeezing my hand as he takes his first step into the snow.
It is starting to warm up outside. We reach less for the extra yellow blanket on the couch. The sun beats down through our bright kitchen windows and there are ladybugs and sparrows everywhere we look.
I found a job. It’s different from anything I’ve done before and it’s forcing me to learn new things. I’m reading more–it’s how I’m coping with my anxiety. I wake up earlier, I have peaceful cups of coffee while my family sleeps and I work in the quiet.
My husband found a temporary job that allows him to spend lots of time with us. He’s saving to go back to school to learn something different. My son is not the 11-month-old baby we brought here five months ago, he is a full-blown toddler. He plays outside in the mud and is learning to talk. He knows so many things. He’s thriving.
Even our little dog has grown from a prissy city dog to a tough (ish) dog that plays with the big dogs at the doggy park. He’s shaggy and enjoying the fresh air and the warmth of our fireplace.
Yeats once said, “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” I think of this each day and remind myself that though it may be painful at times, at least we are growing. The journey has been rockier than we anticipated but we are moving forward—together—to build our new amazing life.