He wanted more. I was too high to imagine what more might actually look like; a million thoughts raced through my mind as I watched his eyes well up with tears. He promised he wouldn’t leave without me if I decided I wasn’t ready to leave. But I could see that he needed to get out of Connecticut, where I had spent my entire life. On the other hand, Cory had moved a bunch of times and had very little sentimental attachment to the place where he had spent the last decade. The other options seemed impossible: We could break up, or get into a cross-country relationship. Neither of us was ready to do that.
Everyone says: Never move for a man. It didn’t help that I had never lived outside of Connecticut, with the exception of one summer spent in the Bronx. Even that was just a quick train ride from home. When pondering the move, I couldn’t stop Googling about Portland; I knew that any additional information could make it easier for me to find an excuse not to go. In hindsight, I probably should’ve done even more research before uprooting my life.
But people in love do crazy things. I decided to go anyway. The move made for a good bargaining chip toward an engagement ring, I figured. We packed everything up and uprooted to Portland, Ore.
Everything you hear about Portland is true: The food is so fresh that my first time in a produce aisle literally left me in awe. And everyone who lives in Portland is obsessed with nature, so I’ve tried to embrace the trees and stuff.
It’s everything you don’t hear about Portland that makes me hate it here. A little more research may have shown me that Portland is the whitest large city in the country. According to 2016 census data, Portland, a city of about 640,000 people, is 76 percent white and just 6 percent black. I might have learned that, when Oregon entered the United States in 1859, it outlawed slavery but also required all African Americans to leave and became an “all-white” state — laws that were reversed only as recently as 1922. I might have learned that the city remains a bastion for white supremacists.
While living here, I’ve discovered that the “Keep Portland Weird” ethos is reserved for white people, as are many other aspects of the city. The facade of pseudo-liberalism here causes some people to deny just how racist this city can feel. I experience microaggressions on a daily basis here. Sometimes, as in the fatal stabbing on a light-rail train last month, the aggression is not so micro. And yes, this may seem like a minor complaint comparatively, but it also rains all the time.
Most important, though, I feel invisible here. While my husband, who is white, continues to build a home here, I don’t think I’ll ever feel at home in Portland.
I often wonder whether I have given Portland a fair chance. Connecticut is the only home I’ve ever known, and this place isn’t that. But when people ask me why I stay, I tell them it’s because of Cory. He understands that things have not been easy for me here. We continue to weigh our options on where to go next since he refuses to go back to Connecticut. And although I will forever be uncomfortable in Portland, I also understand that I could encounter racism anywhere, so moving may not be a magic pill.
Before moving, even while Cory and I had been together, there’s been another influence in our relationship. Cory and I met after starting an office romance while I was also attending college full-time. After diagnosing me with ADHD, a doctor recommended Adderall to help me focus, and balance work and school — saying it would be the best way to help make my life “easier.” I immediately fell in love with the drug. One pill made me feel invincible, so of course multiple pills made me feel like God. I continued to take the drug for several years after that, which inevitably turned into an addiction. Despite feeling limitless on Adderall, I knew it was starting to have a negative impact on those around me. Agreeing to move also meant leaving that high, and the doctor who was willfully overmedicating me, behind.
So in a way, moving here has saved me. In Connecticut, I was strung out on amphetamines, and not doing much with my life. I detoxed on the drive across the country and was clean by the time we got to Oregon. As I began to navigate the feelings of being an outsider in this new place, I started to look within. Being sober and alone allowed me the introspection I had never before had, which has led to self-discovery.
I understand what it is about this place that makes my husband so happy, so to some extent, I am able to disregard the isolating feelings that arise from living here. And while Connecticut will always be the place I love to call home, after living in Portland for three years, it has started to get a little easier.
I don’t know how long Cory will be in love with this city. To cope, I seek out other people of color and we connect over the feeling that we don’t belong here. As I continue to build a life with my husband, these other connections have helped me feel like less of an outsider. In the end, it doesn’t matter to me where we end up — as long as we get there together.