Since childhood, I have maintained a slight tendency towards secretiveness. For years, I have held my hopes and aspirations close, keeping them to myself, calling them “secret dreams”. They include the dimensions of my community, my professional goals, romantic ideations—the general schemas for how I would like to build up my future self. Upon quitting Portland and embarking on my long trajectory towards Aracaju, Brazil, I see with striking clarity the value and preciousness of gently prying apart this carapace, and allowing others to weigh in and inform my hopes.
In the past, my departures have been abrupt, as though one place would cease to exist and I was to throw myself headlong into the next with no backward glances. For the first time, I allowed myself a broader period of sadness as I contemplated leaving Portland. I am floored with gratitude, as my loved ones all taught me to assuage my sadnesses by extending transitions and softening them through long goodbyes.
On December 20th, 2015, my dear friend and mentor, Nicole, arrived at my partner’s apartment. She had a suitcase, a backpack, and a lunchbag containing a bottle of Flor de Caña rum. She entered the apartment to find us, a couple of sentimental, sleepy people, unwrapping Christmas presents, and finishing their breakfast, Xochi the pup in a ball in her bed, as usual. She gave us space as we hugged and said a tearful goodbye, waiting out front, for us to join her and for my partner to drive us to Portland’s Union Station to catch our Amtrak train bound for California.
Aboard the train, we enjoyed an ambience that felt frozen in time. The wine tasting in the dining car reminded me of the train scenes in James Bond and Alfred Hitchcock films— “From Russia With Love” and “North by Northwest” came to mind in particular. I looked out the window as Oregon slowly faded in the dying light of day. I sat curled in my seat, a glass of rum and ginger beer held in my hand, while Nicole chatted with me, sliced open an Olympia Provisions salume, and helped ease me into the mindset of a multi-day journey.
We deboarded the following day in Oakland, California, and were received by my college roommate and close, dear friend, Katherine. She was house sitting for a young, affluent couple in Noe Valley, and was as eloquent, loving, and graceful as she always has been. Nicole slept in the guest bedroom, while Kate and I cozied up together in the master bedroom. We talked late into the night, sharing our secrets, and finally slept, feeling absolved in one another’s familiarity and mutual appreciation.
The following morning saw us arisen, with Nicole and I bound for the train once more. The most beautiful part of our thirteen-hour ride was the stretch through the Elkhorn Slough in the Central California Valley, a length of train track that lay between two bodies of water on each side. We sat in the sunlight of the observation car’s ceiling-high windows, eavesdropping on Spanish-speaking fellow passengers, trying to guess their origins, while exclaiming at the geese, herons, and seagulls that streaked across the water and sky.
My mother greeted us at Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles, with her red horn-rimmed eyeglasses flashing, and her broad smile attesting to her exclamations of joy and excitement at our arrival. Nicole and I stayed in her two-bedroom house in the neighborhood of Highland Park. Christmas Eve came, and with it, my mother’s Oaxacan black molé sauce on a torta azteca, a slight variation on the traditional enchilada, complete with corn tortillas, grilled chicken, sliced onions, and sour cream. My father brought a barbecued salmon filet to complement a side dish of brown rice. My younger brother, and my mother’s friend and neighbor, Bertha, joined our party to eat, and afterwards participated in games of Bananagrams, Boggle, Loteria, and, finally, a round of Settlers of Catan, which we played in three teams of two.
Nicole stayed until the day after Christmas. She opened presents with us, joined my mother and I in a jaunt to Santa Monica beach, and met our family friends, the Melendrez, the following morning for a Boxing Day brunch at my father’s house. She eased my transition back to life with my family, with my friends from elementary school, in a land of desert plants and nearly-continuous sunshine. She traveled by train, gave up Christmas with her family, and gregariously made herself at home with us. As I hugged her goodbye, I was overcome with a feeling of finality, of saying goodbye, really saying goodbye, because she had brought Portland and my former life with her, and now it was time to embrace our impending, long-term separation. Yet her gesture to travel with me reminded me of life’s constant temporariness, and of the stability, certainty—a ferocious tenacity, even!—of our love for one another.