Some things on the Ave have stayed the same, I guess; Orange King is still there and the rain comes down through the gray the way it always does as I trudge from the Burke Museum, where parking is still free on Sundays, where I used to clean the glass cases and sort mail for ornithologists almost ten years ago. The construction for the road-widening project is finally over and there’s wifi in the U Bookstore now, of course, and a cafe instead of the coffee cart in the lobby before they did the renovation, but that was true right before I left, too, just barely. The skanky little store where they used to sell glass pipes and Che Guevara t-shirts is an Urban Outfitters now but the Varsity is still there; the bellydance stores all seem to have become bubble tea shops but the place I got my first pair of glasses is still there, the Birkenstock store is still there, Shiga is still there. I still know my way around.
I walk down the street through the rain on a quiet Sunday and it could be any day, any year: it’s my first quarter of grad school and I spend my days in the basement classrooms of the School Of Social Work and stagger onto the bus in my frumpy grad school clothes with a messenger bag full of badly-copied reading packs. It’s 2003 and I walk from the hospital to the Henry Art Gallery for a forty-minute lunch hour. I go to the bookstore, I go to the movies, I go to the bus stop. I go to my first bellydance class and buy my first coin belt. I look in all the store windows and know all the homeless people by sight. I drink hot chocolate in every one of the coffeehouses with friend after friend after friend. I’m twenty-four and have just arrived; I’m thirty-one and getting ready to leave. I take the day off work to go protest in WTO; I take the day off work to go work the polls for the last election. Seven years, this same street, this same person, getting older, walking up and down.
But it’s all slipping away, somehow. The tectonic plates underneath this city, this cold wet place where I began to grow up, have shifted permanently and there is only a thin unstable crust for me to stand on, now. I’ll come back, I know, but I won’t ever live here again. I don’t belong here. It’s possible I never belonged here but have had to go away and come back to accept that: it’s unavoidable now. The familiar things that I can navigate, still, with my eyes closed, rise up from their foundations and point me elsewhere, away. They thank me for coming but let me know–politely, incessantly–that it’s getting late and it’s time to go now.
I walk back up the street, hunching my shoulders in the drizzle, past the shops and cafes I don’t recognize, past the misted-over evergreens and the rushing gutters. Seattle coalesces, Seattle drips down the tip of my nose, Seattle fossilizes me in layer upon layer of compressed memory and shows me the door.