Hey island lovers! After a lengthy blogging hiatus, I’m back.
So much to catch you up on! Let’s get started, shall we?
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you likely know about my sometimes bittersweet love affair with the Pacific Northwest (hence the title of this post). I’ve written about it here. And here. And, of course, here.
The thing about love affairs – intense as they are – is they sometimes cloud your judgment and induce a temporary sense of euphoria. Euphoria that is built on a very shaky foundation, by the way. One that eventually crumbles to the ground. But until then, man is life sublime.
Eventually, though, these epic love affairs bring things into crystal clear focus. Usually after they end, but not always. And that clarity (at least in my case) forces you to confront some painful truths – about yourself, your life, and the things you once believed to be unshakeable truths.
And so it went with my Pacific Northwest love affair. For a long while, my sporadic visits induced a sense of pure bliss. I reconnected with old friends. Played in the mountains again. Soaked up every ounce of clean Cascade air I could inhale into my Sahara dust-soaked island lungs.
Then I went back to my island life, always with a tiny heaviness in my heart. The heaviness, of course, abated as soon as I stood on my favorite beach, salty air blowing across my skin, the sparking Caribbean lapping at my toes. The Pacific Northwest was a love affair I could compartmentalize. I could shelve my passion for it until the next visit rolled around.
Until I couldn’t anymore.
That happened a few months ago. I made my annual pilgrimage back to Seattle, had an amazing time (as usual), and got ready to fly back to the islands. But something happened the night before my flight.
As I gazed at my packed suitcase standing by the door, ready for its trek to the airport, I had an epiphany. One as clear as the one I had nearly a decade earlier when I was floating in the pool of my rental condo, wistfully wishing that wasn’t my last afternoon on the island. That island epiphany, by the way, was the one that prompted me to blow up my stateside life and move to the Caribbean full-time.
Except this time, the epiphany was telling me it was time to come home. And home didn’t involve palm trees, balmy breezes, or day drinking. Instead, home meant jeans, fleece, and collecting REI dividends again.
Now if there is one thing I’ve learned over the past 10 years of being an expat nomad, it is to follow your gut. I knew when it was time to leave the islands seven years ago. I knew when it was time to leave the UK, too, in favor of more Caribbean vibes. And now, sitting in the living room of my borrowed apartment in the Seattle suburbs, my gut was telling me the expiration date on my full-time Island Girl status had arrived.
Of course, blowing up one’s life is never easy. There are casualties along the way. Obstacles to overcome. Challenges to face. But having done it more times than I can count at this point, I know that all these obstacles can – and will be – overcome.
And so here I am. Back in the Pacific Northwest. New job, new home, new adventures. I’m soaking up everything I love about being here. And shedding a few tears over the things I left behind in the islands. Temporarily, anyway.
I will, of course, return to my favorite Caribbean rock now and again. That was my deal with the Universe when I put my hopes and dreams of coming back to Seattle out there. And it was the arrangement the Universe delivered. See how that works? Fucking magical, really.
In fact, I’m heading back to the islands in just a few weeks. After all, several very important pieces of my life are still there – island boy, two irresistible hounds, and the cutest baby on the planet (who this auntie misses like crazy). While it sucks not to see them all on the daily, it is the price of this current arrangement.
Which is to say that life is never “this or that” or “black and white” or “one choice or the other.” Rather, life is a complicated set of circumstances that we manage to the best of our abilities. You don’t necessarily have to give up one thing to embrace another. Your new reality might not look exactly as you imagined, but it will be enough. You just have to be willing to put in the effort, make the sacrifices, and prepare for the ride.
I knew it was time for me to change things up. My mental and physical health depended on it. Again. But unlike the last time when I took an all-or-nothing approach and shut the door on my stateside life in favor of becoming an Island Girl, this time I am trying something different. I’m rejecting the notion that in order to live in the Pacific Northwest, I have to give up the islands. I refuse to believe that is the case.
This time around, I’m trying to respect the nuances that are possible if you open your mind and heart to living outside the box. To living a life less ordinary. Less expected. But one that works for you, no matter how that looks.
I know there are some people who think this situation is unfathomable. Absurd. Ridiculous. They’ve told me as much. But you know what? This is not their life to live or even understand. This is my one shot at making things work in a way that nourishes my soul.
Is it easy? Fuck no. I’ve shed more than a few tears along the way. Some days my emotions are like a damn roller coaster, too. But it feels like the right thing to do at this moment in time.
Because at the end of it all, when there’s no place left to go and I’m pondering things on my death bed (as they say you do), I want zero regrets. If, at that fleeting moment as my life slips away, a voice asks me “What’s your greatest regret?” all I want to say is…
“Not a single damn thing. Along the way, I made the best decisions I could with the information I had at the time.”
And that, my friends, simply has to be enough.