This may not be easy for you to hear, but I need to come clean about something. I was never planning to stay. No matter how lovely the autumn leaves you offered to me on the streets of Browne’s Addition, or how comforting the rushing waters of your dirty, unmistakable river in spring, you couldn’t have changed my mind. I’m Irish, and stubborn, and if we’re being honest, my heart the last two years has been somewhere else.
You know how when you’re young, you can say things like, I want to be a princess when I grow up, or an astronaut or a millionaire or an ice cream truck driver, and later, you sometimes still wish you could be those things but you are too old and proud to admit it? That’s how I felt, all the time I lived with you. I couldn’t tell you I was aching for the Midwest, even as I settled into your open arms in spring, even when I love-hated your dreary, freezing winters. The Midwest, too, has dreary, freezing winters. The Midwest held no promise of a job or a place to live or any sort of financial security. I couldn’t tell you why I loved the trains there more than your trains or why I’d rather look at cornfields than your distant mountains. Love is rarely logical, but what kind of excuse would that have been?
I spent two years with you. Two years is not inconsequential, but it took me four to love the Midwest, and when that love came, it overwhelmed me. It burrowed in deep. When people here ask about you, I will say things like, “There’s a certain charm” and “The city really grows on you” and “It’s different from any place I’ve lived” and it’s all true. Part of what makes you stand out is the other people I associate with my time there, but it was also, largely, your presence. Place affects me deeply as a person, and always has, and I wasn’t just existing loosely the last two years, but living, with you at my back and in the air around me, even when I didn’t realize it. Even when I thought I hated it there. Even the places we hate will change us.
Perhaps it will give you pleasure to know that I do miss you. Recently, flipping through photographs I took of you, I began to feel—can I call it homesick? I’m not sure how to define a home. More than just a place you live, it requires a sense of belonging, which can take a while to cultivate. And who knows how it comes? I remember once, coasting down High Drive and looking to the left and seeing a bright orange sun setting behind the darkened mountains and thinking, I live here. That’s a kind of belonging.
There were times I could almost believe I’d stay with you, out among the evergreens and the quiet streets and the old painted signs on the sides of brick buildings downtown. I was as honest as I could be with you, but sometimes I didn’t realize I was lying. I loved you as well as I could, but something within me never quite stilled.
Lately, I think of you often. I’m happy here with my new city, but sometimes I get lost or lonely and I wonder if I should have stayed with you, a place where I knew my way around and ran into friends at the grocery store. But then I remember how you, too, were tough at first, putting your fists up when I tried to introduce myself. It was a long time before I could figure out how to live with you. You never presented your gifts to me, but left them quietly at my doorstep for me to discover—Manito Park and the lookout on Cliff Drive and that coffee shop in West Central and your parks and—my god—your bridges. Under that tough shell runs a quiet thrill.
There are things I remember fondly about you that when explained to other people—the ones who don’t know you—seem meaningless, which is how I know you were really important. Like how I learned the timing of the traffic lights on Spokane Falls Blvd and knew I wouldn’t have to hit the brakes all the way home from class. And how, walking to our favorite bar, I’d cut through the alleyway every time because I liked the dark and the fire escapes that scaled the brick walls. And the piles of snow on the street outside the ice store, even in July. It’s true that already I’ve forgotten some of your features but don’t misunderstand me—I did come to consider you a home.
Spokane, I feel as though I haven’t explained myself to you at all. I want to tell you, It wasn’t your fault. Even if you’d given me thunderstorms, I couldn’t have stayed. I was always looking over my shoulder, back to another place where I’d been imaging my life all this time. Lately I’ve been listening to Stevie Nicks’s “Wild Heart” on repeat, and though I’d love to quote the lines “Don’t blame it on me, blame it on my wild heart” to you, it wouldn’t be true. My heart’s not wild; my heart’s been looking for a home.
With love & gratitude,