I’m sitting in a corner at the Portland International Airport getting ready to fly back to Chicago, Illinois. I feel relieved, because this is my last trip of the summer; the last time I have to travel. Traveling to see people I know and love gives me So. Much. Anxiety. And in this way, I have made a huge mistake.
Somehow I fell in love with people who live very far away from each other.
Hannah and Derek, who I shared a home with (and many, many five-hour long family dinners with), live in New Orleans. So does the little girl (not so little now) I taught for four years and who I still talk to on the phone on holidays. So does Carrie, and her perfect baby, who shares a middle name with me, and whose birth I got to bear witness to. That just scratches the surface in that city. Live in New Orleans for most of a decade and try not to fall in love with 100 people. I believe it’s physically impossible.
And my best friends from college both live in California — one is in Los Angeles, near my grandparents; the other is in Nevada City, which is near Sacramento. Neither of those places are especially close to Berkeley where my uncles live. My uncles are fun 100 percent of the time, and cook things like roasted cauliflower enchiladas, and take you out for fancy ice cream they make in front of you. (“Make” as in, nitrogen is involved.)
And Luke’s family lives in Massachusetts and Maine. I accidentally fell in love with all of them, too. I really didn’t mean to, but they’re too funny and smart and full of wacky anecdotes about South American road trips to not fall in love with. Luke, thank God, lives in Chicago. In my apartment.
My friend Jesse — whose birthday is today, by the way — lives sometimes in New Orleans and sometimes in California and sometimes in Tallahassee, Florida. Once, after a convention we both attended, a girl in an olive-colored dress asked us how we knew each other. Jesse said, “We are twins born on other planets in other solar systems somewhere else in time.” That is a very accurate way to describe the way I love Jesse. If everyone gets a second mom, Jesse’s mom is my second mom. She lives in Tallahassee and has a garden with persimmon trees. The last time I visited, she took me to a secluded park where you can swim with manatees. I didn’t even try to not love her.
My best friend from high school is named Ben Stevens, and he is getting married in October. He and his fiancé Jen (BEN AND JEN!) live in Austin, Texas.
And then there’s Portland. Portland itself is a person I love. Look: I know it is currently very uncool to love Portland. People have been sneering about it ever since it was taken over by the hipster armies of baristas and succulent shop owners and gender-neutral people “following their bliss.” But you don’t understand. When you are born in a place, and grow up in a place, and ride buses to the market where you have your first kiss, and cross all of the seven bridges in rainstorms with your best friends, and eat Indian food for the first time in a place, it really doesn’t matter what the place has become. In the summer, when the weather is not muggy and not too hot during the day and downright cool at night, Portland is perfect. If you don’t think so, you’re lying.
Portland has the people I love the most, because we all grew up together in one house. My mom is getting a ping-pong table for her birthday this year. Twenty years ago, my dad took the old ping-pong table out of our garage and cut it into pieces and turned it into a tree house. Ten years ago, my parents hired gardeners to cut the tree house down.
There are never words to explain to the people I love how much I love them; there is never the time for it, either. And so I end up here, on the ground at the Portland International Airport, feeling wracked with guilt because I can’t help but feel like it’s never enough.
So you see the mistake I made. I left, and I fell in love over and over and over again, not thinking about the consequences. And here’s the really disturbing thing: I show no sign of stopping. There are only more people to love, and more places to go, and less time to go around.
The secret, of course, is this: It is a wonderful problem to have.