“But places held tight to the things that happened in them.” — Diana Gabaldon, An Echo in the Bone
“Il ne faut pas toujours tourner la page, il faut parfois la déchirer.” — Achille Chavée
I love Portland. Its quirky neighborhoods that feel like lively small towns. Composting. Its proximity to some of my closest friends. The bridges. The endless opportunities for beer and brunch. The trees that offer shady relief on even the most stifling summer days. And the rain. Yep, even the rain.
I left Portland.
I’m walking home from New Seasons at dusk, my old floral print tote bag swinging, grocery-laden, from my shoulder. I pop a wrinkly black olive into my mouth, intensely salty and pungent, so soft and tender it almost melts off the pit.
And suddenly I’m walking home from Castelfruits in Auch at the end of a long Tuesday. The same salty olive in my mouth. The same bag on my shoulder. The same horizontal golden light.
But I’m not the same.
Who is this version of Cara? The one who doesn’t feel impressive anymore. Who has a menial job. Who was raped. Who’s scrambling for control and agency. Who has casual sex with men she hardly knows. Who’s searching so desperately for something and not finding it.
My rape unhinged me. I felt like I wasn’t in control of me anymore. I felt like I wasn’t me anymore. I didn’t know how to deal with this new piece of my personal narrative because I didn’t want to deal with it. Instead I tried to hide it and hide from it. I felt inauthentic. And deep down, even though I know I’m not supposed to, I feel like part of it was my fault.
All these months I’ve been thinking and I’ve been journaling and I’ve been processing, but I haven’t really been blogging. I’ve told people it’s because I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. But I always have things to say. It’s more that I don’t know how to say them, sometimes because it’s too hard to say them.
Sometimes I keep quiet because I’m afraid of being pitied or judged instead of being heard.
I couldn’t stay in Portland. To borrow a metaphor from one of my best friends, the train I was on wasn’t heading where I wanted to go. So I got off at the next stop.
More than any other moment in my life, leaving Portland has felt like pushing a reset button. I didn’t have to leave: I wasn’t graduating from college, my visa wasn’t about to expire, I could have renewed my work contract and my lease. I could have stayed on the train. This time, the decision to leave wasn’t motivated by external circumstances, but by internal ones: I had to leave.
Leaving Portland has also felt like I’m running away from my demons, disappointments, and insecurities instead of facing them head-on. Leaving was a defense mechanism, but it’s also felt like weakness. Why is weakness so taboo?
Right now I am weak, or at least weakened. But resilient.
I’m back in Southern California. I’ve retreated to my childhood home, to the place where I was born and spent the majority of my life, where I first began to discover who I am. Most recently, this place has become synonymous with transition. It’s where I reassemble my possessions, refocus my goals, and spend time with my family before setting off on the next adventure.
It’s here that I’m trying to repossess my body. I stopped taking the birth control pills that messed with my hormones and my weight and the pH of my vagina. I stopped having casual sex because it fucked with my emotions. I started eating better—fewer processed sugars and carbs but as much cheese as ever. I started going on beach walks and taking yoga classes, focusing on the sensation of the ocean washing over my feet, of my breath filling my body. I started letting my body hair grow because I never have before, because society always told me I shouldn’t. And I’m trying to really feel my feelings instead of suppressing or compartmentalizing or overanalyzing them.
And I’m waiting with all my baggage on the side of the tracks for the next train to arrive. I’ve got a bit of a layover, but I’m looking toward self-(re)discovery, a year in France, and eventually graduate school. There are bound to be unforeseen twists, breakdowns, detours, and delays—maybe even a change in destination—but the important thing is that I’m starting to move forward again.