In another version of my life, I am the host of a podcast, seeking out and sharing important, human stories with the world and interviewing change makers and intellectuals. I am an investigative journalist, uncovering corruption and exposing injustices. In another version of my life, I am in the foreign service, speak 5 languages, and dance through expat circles in various countries across the world. I am an ESL teacher, working with high schoolers in rural Peru or a bustling city in Thailand. I am a manager at an international development organization, specializing in health and education. In another version of my life, I am a lawyer defending human rights. I am a director of a local refugee and immigrant center, helping newly arrived immigrants thrive. In another version of my life, I have an MS in public health and work on reproductive justice and community health initiatives. In another version of my life, I am single, unfettered, and backpacking the world on a dime.
When I think about all the life paths I could have chosen and did not choose, it somehow seems less surprising to me that I ended up in a job, city, and life situation that I would never have predicted for myself just two years ago, when I wrote this post in anticipation of returning to the States after four years in Ecuador.
I find myself working remotely in education technology with my Latin American History degree, about to transition to a strategic marketing role that I’m really excited about, in a beautiful apartment in a city that wasn’t even on my radar as a possible home until shortly before I moved here. I was never attracted to the rain, the grey, the industrial feel of this northern coastal environment. In those first months back stateside, all I wanted was to live closer to my friends and family. A return to the Bay Area was the dream: living and working in Oakland or San Mateo, a 20-minute drive from my best friends, sharing my favorite local spots with Gonza and basking in the perfection of the year-round excellent climate. Our first five months in the States, spent in Boston — another place I never envisioned living — felt like the prelude to our “real life” that would be happening in California. You see, I was going to complete a six-month assignment for my new job in Boston, and then transition to my company’s Bay Area offices. It was going to be a dream coming to fruition. The years of waiting and excitement for this version of my life were finally coming to an end. We had arrived.
Then the pandemic struck. Rushing home to California, in those days, frightened that we might somehow get trapped in Boston with the rising caseload there in March, we made our way to Patterson at lightning speed and spent two weeks in quarantine at my friend’s family garage apartment before moving in temporarily with my parents. Just until we get on our feet, I told Gonza. Just until we know my job is stable and we can move to the Bay.
After a couple months taking evening walks in the countryside of springtime Patterson, spending time with my best friend and her soon-to-be fiancee, we got a special opportunity. My CEO offered her Bay Area house to us while she spent a couple months on the East Coast over the summer. We gladly accepted, and enjoyed the most spectacular weeks soaking up the beauty of the Peninsula and surrounding areas. We wasted no opportunity to enjoy life, sharing breakfast and lunch at the backyard dining table, heading to play tennis in the local courts, jogging in the mornings before work, and planning weekend excursions. We biked the hills of San Mateo and sunbathed at Stinson beach. We spent nights sharing dinner and drinks with my best friend and her husband. We attended (and I officiated!) their backyard wedding. It felt like we were getting closer and closer to our real life. We started to imagine how delightful it would feel to have our own apartment in such an incredible place, and eagerly awaited the day that we felt stable enough to do so.
In the meantime, we visited my sister Laura a couple times in the summer, because she had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. I wanted to be present for my niece in a way I hadn’t been able to be around my nephew when he had been born, as I was living abroad. And then, after almost one year of living in Washington, Laura announced that she and her husband had definitively decided: they were staying put. They were planning to buy a house in the area and firmly lay down roots in the region. And what that meant was that my parents would soon be following. You’re too much of a wild card, they told me, when I said they should stay in California. We can’t wait on you to decide where you’ll end up.
On our second visit that summer, in September of 2020, we got to explore more of Washington. We took sunset bike rides along the Cedar River Trail, we hiked in Rainier National Park, and we got along really well with my sister and her husband despite living with them and their kids a solid three weeks. At the same time, the Bay Area had experienced some of the worst smoke crises during August and September. Apocalyptic photos of San Francisco were emerging on the news as the most disastrous fires we’ve seen in years exploded throughout the region and devastated the forests. As I looked at apartment prices in the Bay (and tried to find some in our budget that allowed a dog), I started to have doubts. If my entire family was truly committed to living in the Washington area, should we think about moving, too?
It would certainly be easier to make the leap at that moment, when we were “homeless”, than it would be in two or three years when we were ready to think about buying a home and inevitably would have to leave the Bay anyhow due to outrageous housing prices. Before Gonza could make any strong ties to the Bay, before we established new relationships and rekindled my existing friendships, before we identified “our” spots, before we made a home there, maybe we should give Seattle a try. After all, rent was cheaper, basically all apartments were dog-friendly, we could live in the city (a definite plus for my city-grown husband), and be a 35-minute drive from my family. My job had stabilized, and the company was already remote friendly. I was starting to fall in love with the nature access in Washington just from our visits. We didn’t have much to lose. We could leave if we don’t like it after one year, I told Gonza as we decided one Tuesday night that we could look at apartments in Seattle the following Saturday. But let’s think about it, this is a chance to live near family…
That Saturday, we saw eight different apartments in four different neighborhoods of the city. We quickly agreed that we both liked Capitol Hill better than any of the other areas, and we also agreed on which apartments we liked best. We slept on it a couple nights, and then decided to take the plunge. We signed a lease for the first apartment we had seen, within the week. Less than a month later, we were back on the road, this time with all our belongings, and headed to Seattle to make a new life there.
And here we are, a mere six months after our move and almost exactly two years after I wrote all about how sad I was my family was thinking of permanently moving to Washington, living in Seattle. We aren’t merely surviving — we are thriving. We have big windows with natural light in our bedroom, and a washer/dryer in our bathroom, a luxury we’ve never had before. The building is so pet friendly that the staff has treats for all the dogs that live here. I have a lovely home office set up with a sit/stand desk in the corner of our bedroom. Gonza has a nice job across the street at a private school, where he is exploring the idea of becoming a certified teacher here.
We go out in our neighborhood. We have “our spots”: a delicious Thai restaurant, Elysian Brewery, La Josie’s, and Redhook Brew Lab. We have a local Trader Joe’s a 10-minute walk up the street. We have the stability that has been lacking in our lives for so many years. We have biked to the piers for sunset, and sipped beers on outdoor patios down the street. We see my sister and her family weekly or every other week, and are getting to be a real part of our nephew and niece’s lives. And as it’s probably pretty obvious from this blog, I’m head over heels for the nature here. With the exception of a pretty brutal February, not a week or two passes by without one or two hikes. I drive 40 minutes east and I’m in some of the most beautiful mountains I could have asked for. I drive 2 hours and I’m near Mt. Rainier. I drive 3 hours and I’m on the coast, in Olympic National Park, or other places like the Enchantments and North Cascades that I haven’t even explored yet but am planning to this summer.
Of course, there is loss. The loss of our chance to live near most of my closest, dearest friends, who are Californians and staying put. The loss of my ability to regularly share my favorite Californian places with Gonza: the places I grew up visiting, like Yosemite, Sequoia, and Lassen. Brazil Cafe and Zackary’s Deep Dish Pizza in Berkeley, a couple of beers on Jupiter’s patio, and taco Tuesday at Cafe Durant in the summer. Treasured hiking spots in the Berkeley hills in the late afternoon, the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, the feeling of sunshine on a perfect, clear February afternoon. Burritos at Ernie’s Taqueria in Patterson and apricot season at my aunt’s orchard. The coastal redwoods just a quick drive away, the rugged cliffs along the California shoreline, a long weekend in Lake Tahoe swimming in the lake or skiing the slopes of Heavenly or sweating our way to the top of Mt. Tallac…
But the beautiful thing about life is that you just can’t know where you will go. Of all the millions of paths you could take, you will end up on just one. And in that one life, there will be the loss of all the other possibilities, all the what-ifs and adventures you could have had on a different path, alongside all the beauty and joy in the one you have chosen.
We are making a home for ourselves, figuratively, and even thinking about what it would take to buy our first home together — here. In this version of my life, where we live is so beautiful that we feel like we get a mini vacation every weekend when we go out exploring. In this version of my life, we are imagining our future children growing up with their cousins and grandparents a quick drive away. In this version of my life, I’m imagining taking them to all the rivers, aline lakes, mountain tops, and mystical forests just a short drive away. And it seems like the loss — of all the other lives that we had pictured for ourselves, of the millions of possibilities both envisioned and not yet imagined — might be worth it.
*I’d like to write a special shout-out to Cheryl Strayed. This Dear Sugar column, in part, served as an inspiration for this post.