I love Portland. I left Portland.

“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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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19 comments

  1. This is such an inspiring post, Cara. You’re a huge inspiration according to Anne (though I’ve followed your blog for awhile.) I’m glad you are working through the awful trauma of rape, and I am so sorry that it happened to you. Keep using that voice.
    Bisous

    1. Dana, thanks so much for your comment. I think it’s so cool that you and Anne are becoming friends—I love how small the world is sometimes.

  2. Ashley · · Reply

    I’m so glad to see that your doing/trying new things to help you.
    Keep being you. je t’aime toujours

    1. Thanks, Ashley. Te quiero.

  3. Bryant · · Reply

    I wish you good luck on your next travels and adventures. Sad to hear you are leaving Portland.

    1. Thanks Bryant. I’m sure I’ll be back for visits!

  4. This resonates so much with me right now. Thank you for writing this, and for putting it out there for others to read and think about and gain wisdom from.

    1. Thanks for your comment and support, Ellie. It means a lot to me to get responses like yours and feel less alone.

  5. I think this is my favourite post of yours ever! You are such an amazing person and this is an incredibly brave and inspiring post. I agree with Ashley – just be yourself – because the Cara that I know is a funny, intelligent, beautiful and witty gal! Miss you so much and look forward to seeing you when you come back to Europe!!

  6. This is my favourite post of yours ever. It is so incredibly brave and inspiring. I agree with Ashley – keep being you – because the Cara I know is beautiful, funny, intelligent and an all around amazing gal! I cannot wait to see you again when you come back to Europe! Love you loads and miss you so much!! xx

    1. Thank you Sophie. I can’t wait to see you either (hopefully soon)!

  7. I love what you wrote about pushing a reset button and I think it’s an image that a lot of us post-college wanderers can relate to. It also sounds like LA is a really different place for you than it has been in the past, in a good way. All my love 🙂

    1. Thanks, Tricia. LA has been good (and different) so far.

  8. You’re nominated, Cara, for a blogging award! http://www.astoldbydana.com

  9. […] When the time came in the spring of 2014 to renew my contract at the French immersion school, I chose not to. This was partly because I didn’t see the job furthering my long-term goals, partly because of the aforementioned restlessness, and partly because, as much as I loved Portland, I needed to leave. […]

  10. […] journaling has helped. Support from family and friends has helped. Distancing myself first from Portland and now from the United States has helped. Therapy has helped. Reevaluating and refocusing my goals […]

  11. […] and that ache has faded. I miss Auch, but it was even more temporary than Walla Walla. And I miss Portland, too, but I never felt fully settled there; I never let it feel like […]

  12. I left Portland too, it was after becoming a widow at 30, I needed a fresh start and went to Dubai. I’m not sure where home is anymore and recently wrote about that feeling, so I relate while to your freshly pressed post on a different kind of homesickness as well. I used to write with more verve and vigor, instead of it being a chore. I go to my childhood home to re-shift my belongings, re-focus. Am asking myself what I really want, after the future I wanted died. Your posts are very personal and specific, but also incredibly relatable. And not just to me, but clearly to that vast, searching sea of humanity. Lovely and honest writing- thanks for sharing,

    1. Thank you for your support and encouragement and kind words. And thank you so much for sharing your experience. I wish you the best in your search for “home” and wholeness—in identifying and pursuing a new future.

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