If you’ve been following my story, you know that I left my hometown in Fremont, California to start over in Vancouver, Washington. I was 19 and looking forward to the adventure.
The links below will take you back to the beginning of my story so you can easily catch up. Just now joining me? Welcome!
I was always an independent young person but moving far from home definitely put that to the test. It challenged me to learn a new city, a new state, and since I would be living on the border of Washington and Oregon, I had an opportunity to spend time in beautiful Portland. I grew up in a suburb and frequently visited San Francisco and Berkeley, mostly to cut school and go on day trips. I had never lived in a city, though. My dad always cursed the crowding in Fremont and longed to escape to the country. Eventually, he did.
The city always intrigued me. I loved the diversity. The food. The people. I just like the vibe when people are moving, and with a purpose.
Portland and Vancouver are divided by the Columbia River. The bridges, skyline, deep green trees and views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens were a selling point! This felt like such a refreshing place to start my life over and jumpstart my career. I moved there to be an Office Manager but I knew there had to be more to my future. To tell you the truth, I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up but for the first time in my life I feel like I am on the right path to figuring it out.
It was the summer of 1994 and I drove my light blue 1985 Mitsubishi Mighty Max truck over 600 miles to Vancouver. It had a camper shell on it so I was able to fit all my personal things and sentimental items. I still owned some furniture and household necessities from my apartment that I could not afford to lose but I also couldn’t afford to haul it. I rented a tiny storage and left everything in California that I could not fit in my truck. Fortunately the room I was staying in was furnished so I didn’t need my big household items.
This was long before Google maps or cell phones and we definitely didn’t have GPS. It was just me and Rand McNally. I did have a sandwich bag full of change in case I needed to make an emergency call on a payphone. There was also an abundance of call boxes along the highway back then in case you had issues while traveling. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one of those, Come to think of it, Everyone has a cell phone today so I would imagine those boxes are obsolete for the most part.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I stayed alert eating Cheetos, sunflower seeds and drinking Pepsi along the way. I only had FM Radio in my truck so I channel surfed for the entire trip. It’s a good thing I can sing along to almost any station. It was a long drive and I had a lot of time to think.
The further I drove through the Cascade Mountains, the more free I felt. The air smelled different. The sky seemed clearer. I got in trouble when I stopped for gas the first time in Oregon because I tried to pump my own gas. How was I to know they pumped for you? That it’s illegal to pump your own? That was my first lesson in living somewhere new. New state, new rules. Adapting was essential.
The drive took just under 13 hours. I drove straight through, only stopping for gas and restroom breaks. I grew up in an area where traffic was congested and speed limits were high. The further north I drove, the less traffic I saw. I also noticed lower speed limits. Lower speed limits that people adhered to. That was difficult. When the road is wide open, my instinct is to accelerate. When you are used to driving 70 on the freeway because your speed limits are 60-65, it’s a challenge to learn to drive 55. It feels like you are not moving at all and everyone else around you is holding you up. Still today, I live in a place with an unusually low speed limit and it’s a constant fight between locals and tourists. It truly is a difference of lifestyle. People aren’t driving too fast or too slow just to be rude. They are used to driving in a different environment.
Talk about a moment of self-awareness. I moved from an area where people drove fast and aggressive (or they just sat in traffic) to a place where people drove slowly and patiently. Why was that so bad? Because I found it inconvenient. I commonly waited until the last minute to run out the door to get to anywhere. That meant I had to get in the car and rush around to get where I needed to go because, well… I waited until the last minute to leave the house in the first place.
This new way of life meant I couldn’t drive like an ass. Poor me. I learned to adapt and when the speed limit said 55, I kept it to 62ish. I could maintain 62 without appearing to look like a complete maniac. By the way, if you are a person who is used to driving fast and you think everyone around you needs to speed up, it’s not everyone around you that’s the issue. It’s you. Just like the issue was me. If everyone around you is moving at a pace and you are trying to run around them, slow down, friend, slow down. The problem is you. I am the problem too sometimes so I’m not judging. Just pointing out the sometimes, not so obvious. What are you truly annoyed with that’s making you treat a complete stranger badly on the road? It’s probably not them at all.
It’s also true that I still have a bad habit of waiting until the last minute to leave my house when I have places to be. The difference is, today I am aware that it’s only me who held myself up. It doesn’t mean I’m not stressed and frazzled but I do know deep down that it’s not the guy’s fault in front of me, even if he was picking his nose and missed the light. The truth of it is, he was only out to pick his nose. He wasn’t out to make me late. Maybe I should learn to leave 10 minutes early. Maybe age 42 is the magic year? LOL
I arrived at my new residence early evening and was greeted by my friend, who was also my new boss. She was in her late 30’s and her husband was about 13 years older (not sure of his exact age). She was a free spirit and had the most contagious laugh. He was handsome for an older man (keep in mind, I was 19) and he also had a great laugh. They both smoked very heavily so every laugh turned into an asthma attack… for all of us.
This is where I admit my own dirty habits. I grew up in a household full of smokers and I started smoking when I was 16. Like food, smoking was an uncontrolled vice. Smoking a cigarette kept my hands busy so I didn’t eat as much and looking back, I think it eased my nervous energy. It was the act of smoking and the habits I had built around it that made it so enjoyable for me. I was a heavy smoker before I moved to Washington but my habit turned disgusting after I got there. I smoked two packs a day, easily. The couple I lived with smoked, and her mom who also lived there smoked as well. So, all 4 of us sat at the kitchen table for hours and smoked and drank coffee while having long chats, especially on the weekends.
I wish I could take that back. I really do. I don’t regret a moment of coffee or conversation but I feel terrible that I sat there and puffed away with their 2 kids in the house. At the time, I didn’t have that self awareness. I grew up in the same house as my parents and my grandmother who all smoked in the house and in the car. In my new family, they all smoked inside too. This was “normal” to me, remember? This is what I was taught was ok so I did it without second thought. Today, I am not judging them for smoking inside. I am only holding myself accountable for not choosing to smoke outside instead. I never realized how it must have made the kids clothes and backpacks smell at school. Then, I realized, I must have smelled like smoke at school too.
They smoked in the house and in the car. I did too. It was more normal back then. There was still a smoking and a non-smoking section in restaurants. I didn’t even understand the long term consequences to the innocent lungs breathing in my nasty smoke. For that, I am sorry. I still love both of them to this day and I hope they know that since I know better, I do better. They are both parents now and I would never, ever smoke a cigarette, much less with their children in the room. I quit when I was 26. Best thing I ever did for myself despite the way it contributed to my obesity.
Back to my arrival in Vancouver. It was early evening and the whole family was home. The couple who were my friends, her mother who was in her 70’s and her 2 children. One boy, 11 and getting ready to start 6th grade. Her daughter was 8 and going into 4th grade. They lived in a large 2 story house which had a bonus room upstairs. Thanks to them, re-locating was easy because they let me stay with them for free while I saved to get a new apartment. I lived in that bonus room for a few months.
The night I arrived we all sat up late and talked. I remember feeling immediately comfortable and they welcomed me like family. The kids competed for attention, showing me gymnastics tricks, their favorite toys, telling me school stories and asking me questions about movies and music. I guess to them I was older but not an adult? I was only 19 so I was young enough to be cool. They became my new BFF’s.
I worked, of course. I had a regular 9-5 schedule. I carpooled with my friend often and ran office errands with her. I got paid a salary and had some flexibility with my work hours as long as my job was done and I put in my 40 hours. The flexibility was in part because I helped with their kids much of the time.
When I moved in it was summertime but the kids started school shortly after. The owners were sales people and there were times they went on sales calls out of town or at odd hours. Her mom took care of the kids for the most part when the parents were working but she was in her 70’s and I felt like helping with the kids was the least I could do, especially if it helped eliminate her errands. She was such a neat lady and I loved our chats. I will always remember her most for responding to anything that astonished her with, “Oh my land.” I can’t say for sure but I would guess her grandchildren still use that term today in memory of her, even if it’s just once a year. It was just so, ‘her.’
The kids went to school at a private school and the distance was about 25 minutes away. The first week or two of school, I rode with my friend and her kids on the way to school every day. The morning routine was the same for the most part but it was definitely different than mine as a kid. I remember the first ride to school, my eyes burned with tears but no one ever knew that.
My alarm went off to get dressed for the day. I could hear laughing in the hallway. The boy was just an easy kid. He woke up in a good mood and went to bed with a smile on his face. The little girl. She was a handful and every morning was a chore. She was tired. She didn’t have anything to wear. And, my personal favorite, “My hair hurts.” The laughing was mom trying to humor her way through the drama. My friend and her son were picking on the girl but not in a malicious way. They were taunting her with a breakfast sandwich. The point is, they were all laughing through the frustration. They are human and of course there were moments they weren’t laughing at all, but on this day, I needed to hear that and I’ll never forget how it made me feel. Normal? I still don’t know what that means but I think that’s the only way to describe the moment. It felt “normal.”
The 2 kids got themselves dressed in their new clothes, new backpacks and we were out the door. We stopped at McDonalds for breakfast sandwiches and I still think that’s the only reason baby girl got out of bed. She wanted McDonald’s. She definitely didn’t want to go to school. We exited the drive-thru and distributed the long awaited McMuffins. Mom asked the kids if they said their prayers. They all said a prayer together. She asked if they were ready for the day. They sang songs that I still don’t know but it meant something to them. The point is, they had an enjoyable morning before school as a family and I wasn’t used to that in my life. It was an awakening. It was emotional for me and normal for them.
This is proof that how you are raised shapes you. It defines “normal” to you. When you live in other homes and witness another family and their lifestyle, it opens your eyes and makes you realize that everyone has a different way of starting and ending the day. When you start the day by laughing with your kids and building them up for the day, they will have a better day. More importantly, since you taught them this is “normal,” they are more likely to pass on this routine to their children as a normal part of the day. Do you see the difference? My mornings as a child were awful. I admit, I was not easy to wake up and my dad used to lose it but seriously, getting yelled at and threatened every morning didn’t inspire me to get out of bed and give it my best for the day!
The moral of that story is that if you are a kid and you sleep at my house, I wake you up with silly and annoying songs if you refuse to get out of bed. Screaming is just ineffective.
The kid’s routine became part of my routine too. It was almost like I got to do elementary school all over again without the distraction. In the 6th graders class they gave every kid a project where they had to choose a state. He chose Ohio. The project had several parts that were a combination of written and artistic components. We had so much fun going crazy on that project and I learned more about the state of Ohio than I ever thought I needed to. The bird, the song, the industry. We made a clay map and a t-shirt. We made a huge hat, themed all things Ohio. He got an A. I felt like it was my A and I was so proud of him! The best part was that he came home proud of himself. We worked on that project every night for 2 weeks. This is before technology so we had to actually go to the library and use an encyclopedia to gather information.
He was always a good student, he was a hell of an athlete. He was one of those kids who was good at everything he tried. Red hair, blue eyes, freckles and exudes extreme confidence. So handsome and charismatic. He is still that way and a very successful man in his career and in love. He has a beautiful family and 4 kids, all just as cute as their parents. He is in his early 30’s now. I will forever remember his birthday is April 15th because she referred to him as her “tax day baby.”
He played baseball and was highly competitive and always had friends around. He loved basketball too. During baseball season we spent a lot of time at his games. I loved watching him play and it was social for me. I also need to give kudos to my friend right here for not getting involved in snack bar and score booth politics. Her attitude was, “Just let me know what you need and I’ll handle it.” She handled it and she didn’t get involved with the drama. Good on her! I mentioned in my previous post, To Parent or not to Parent what it was like to be a young child sitting in the stands at little league baseball games listening to parents bitch about each other and at each other. I was just glad my friend was too busy rooting for her kid and his team. That’s what it was about in the first place!
Going to his baseball games is when I met one of the greatest loves of my fat kid life… elephant ears. Have you ever had one? If you haven’t, you need to. I think it’s only a northwest thing because I haven’t found one since I left but I know how to make them and I do sometimes. It’s basically a dough, rolled out like a small pizza then deep fried. It’s topped with melted butter, cinnamon and sugar. Heavenly! They were common at sporting events, carnivals and festivals in that area.
He was not just a team player. He was always a good friend and looked out for his buddies. I took him and a couple of his friends up to Mt. Hood to go snowboarding for the first time. It was his birthday and he wanted to go so we went. Me? Hell no! I didn’t snowboard. I enjoyed the view from the giant window in the lodge, hot chocolate in hand. It was relaxing until I watched him snowboard down the hill, flip upside down and plant head first into the snow. I could only see him from his belly button to his feet. If you read my former post, Childhood. What’s that?, you’ll know why that made me completely panic! I felt all the blood rushing, sweating hands, I couldn’t even make a sound. I just started running toward the lodge door to check on him. My heart was pounding. I was so afraid he broke his neck, his back, or was hurt in general. I freaked out! Then, the little jerk pops up and gives me the “thumbs up.” He thought it was HILARIOUS!!
That’s the moment I realized how much my dad’s accident still had an impact on me. I was 22 the day we went to the snow. I was 5 the day my dad broke his neck. The feeling of panic is exactly the same. Frozen with fear. It’s awful. I don’t do anything that involves jumping, diving or putting myself at excessive risk. I’m sure my history explains why.
The little girl was not so studious. She needed constant motivation and was such a drama queen. Today she is in her 30’s with 2 adorable kids and her daughter is not only a spitting image but she inherited the drama gene. I have spit out my coffee watching her daughter talk to her the way she talked to us. It’s awesome and she sees herself in every moment of sass.
My best memories with her revolve around her activities. She loved gymnastics and climbed around like a little monkey. I used to run her to practice after school and our conversations often revolved around her hatred for school. Who was I to lecture her? I hated school too. So, I let her vent and I used to make deals with her for test scores and grades. If she got good grades she got a prize. In classes she struggled, she got little prizes along the way for doing homework and passing tests with an A or B.
She is going to kill me if she reads this but the gift of all gifts was the Daisy Kingdom dress. There was another girl in the neighborhood who had a collection of these dresses and she really wanted one. I believe it was her math class that was the biggest struggle so we made a deal. The deal was that if she got a B or better in the class in the last part of the school year, I would take her to the Daisy Kingdom store in downtown Portland and let her pick out a dress. That kid made the grade and we went shopping. That dress cost me $85. $85 was a lot of money in the 90’s to pay for a kids dress and it was worth every penny. She wore it over her clothes, sometimes to bed and playing in the neighborhood. It was worth it. She learned something. She pushed herself to do something she hated and she was rewarded. Even better, she was proud of herself!
Her mom made everything fun. One year we threw her a birthday party and made a custom Jeopardy board that was relevant to their age and common likes. There were prizes and trading and silliness. It was a great party. As far as kids parties go, I’d say it qualifies as memorable. She had a fabulous day! I’m sure by the end of it all, “her hair hurt,” but it was a fabulous day before that. I love that sassy girl!
She was always cute as a button with dark brown hair, blue eyes and freckles. We saw each other in Las Vegas 2 years ago and she looks the same, just a woman now and a spitting image of her mom. She was in town last year with her fiancé. I adore both of them! My husband and I have had some of our best laughs during our times together. I was not available when they visited this past October (it was her birthday) and we were disappointed to miss them. My life was completely upside down at that time, beyond explanation, and I could not make the trip. I still feel awful about that.
I should also say that despite not being so studious, that “little girl” put herself through the school of hard knocks, had two children and has found her way. She even went to school to be an RN. She’s amazing!
No matter how many years go by, when I see or talk to either of them, our thing is, “I love you more than my kidney,” or, “my liver,” whichever organ we decide to use at that given moment. It’s just a silly thing we used to say and it’s stayed all these years.
My friends were fun people! He was fun but he was also really grouchy. He was a former Green Beret, Football Player and originally from the east coast. The one thing I remember most about him is how much we used to laugh at his terminology and he used to get so pissed. That would make us laugh even harder.
He called a brief case an “attache’ case.” He called the garbage disposal, “the exchanger.” My personal favorite was his jeans which he referred to as, “dungarees.” The kids laughed that he called his “tennis shoes” his “sneakers” or his “sneaks.” I don’t know why that stands out. It’s probably because he would get so pissed. It’s making me laugh just thinking about it!
He had such a quirky personality and a short fuse but we had our share of great times and every time I put cayenne pepper in my food I think of him because he put it on everything. EVERYTHING. He passed away in Northern California a few years back. It had been several years since we had been in touch but I was sad to hear the news. I sent his wife a card and that re-united us after several years of being out of touch. I’ll talk about that later.
My original connection to this family was my immediate friendship with her. We became fast friends because I processed the paperwork she sent to my office in California. That, and our common love for Fleetwood Mac and The Doobie Brothers. She hired me but we were more than co-workers. We were friends and we were close like family. We talked for hours. We sat in restaurants and had bacon and eggs with coffee several days a week. We talked business and shared ideas. She was always fun. Everything was a big deal with her.
Holidays? I thought my mom made it fun. I’ve shared several Christmas’s with her and every one of them has included a game show, which she called, “What’s Behind Door #1” (or 2 or 3). One year, she had a family Christmas in a restaurant they owned and completely re-created the survivor game into a game show and everyone played. There were at least 40 of us. There were insane challenges for prizes and some of the stuff made you laugh until your guts hurt. You had to do embarrassing things, eat disgusting food and answer trivia questions. This was all on stage and there were props. Props and teams. Go big or go home! That’s how she rolls. One year, she gave me 3 decorative boxes for Christmas… full of money. She took $150 in $1 bills, crumpled up each one and stuffed them into these 3 boxes. Each box was lined with sheets of lottery tickets. She was always incredibly generous to me and I appreciate her more than she’ll ever know.
She and I have had our differences over the years and we’ve done business in a few circles that didn’t go so well but at the heart of it, she was a huge part of my life during a time when I was lost. She saw my potential and helped me get on my feet. She included me in her family and I got the opportunity to love her mother and her children and her nieces and nephews and their children. My life was surrounded by loving people that have stayed with me for over 20 years. That is what matters most in life.
I think this is where I started to break the cycle. The more I was around families full of people who laughed together, the more I wanted that for myself. During that time I gained close relationships with her nephew and his girlfriend who worked in the office with us. Separate of that. She had a nephew that was just a few years younger than me and we were fishing buddies when I was in my early 20’s. Her brothers are awesome people and I’ve shared a holiday or two with them as well. In fact, we went on a huge group cruise to the Caribbean together, which she unselfishly paid for as a “thank you” to me.
I got to know many of her nieces and have maintained relationships with them. I catered one of their weddings, in fact. I might have to write about that crazy day but I would need her permission to tell it right. All I can say is, the best man got drunk and peed in the silk tree in the church during rehearsal the night before the wedding. Good f’ing times! Perhaps that’s what inspired me to dive head first into wedding planning? Seriously, I can handle anything, especially on a stressful wedding day.
Her nephew and his girlfriend (they are married now) worked in the office. They were just dating at that time and raising their little boy. He was such a sweet baby and had some developmental issues at birth that affected his speech. I loved him and still remember some sign language we used to communicate with him. The office staff was on a baseball team which was not my thing but I did go to the games and while his parents played, I kept the baby. I was perfectly good with that. Our office played on a recreation league and we had some awesome opposing teams. This is not because they were great baseball players. It’s because they drank so much beer before the game that instead of playing, they would actually steal bases and run with them. It was like baseball follies! They were playing for fun and it was hysterical to watch!
We did a lot of camping together at Battleground Lake. I can remember flashlight tag. I can remember drinking a bottle of wine and passing out in front of the fire. I believe there is a picture of that out there somewhere. We had some amazing times!
Her nephew and I were drinking buddies and we thought we were pretty funny. Ok, we were. We were really funny! At a group gathering of family and co-workers, we shared a random once in a lifetime moment that will make all of us laugh to this day. The kids wanted to have a synchronized swimming contest so we participated. He and I were on the same team. Those poor kids had no chance. We had both been drinking. Neither of us hammered but we had a good buzz. We came up with a rather sophisticated routine during our 5 minutes of practice time but the routine included chugging Budweiser every time we came up for a breath. We put cans of Budweiser along the edges of the pool based on what we’d rehearsed in our practice. We performed our entire routine, drinking all the way. The silliness was out of control and we laughed hysterically, all of us! That was a good day.
I guess the common denominator in all of this is the laughing. We did so much laughing all the time and I needed that in my life more than anything.
After a few months of living there, I rented my own apartment. I shared the expense of a large moving truck with the nephew and his girlfriend because they were also moving from California. Her and I met up in California, loaded a 24’ moving truck full of her storage and mine, then towed my Mitsubishi truck and drove it back to Vancouver. Her and I, 661 miles, in a huge truck, towing a truck, over the Cascade Mountains. The trip that usually took me 13 hours in my little truck took more than 20 and it was the trip from hell. We kissed the grass when we hit Vancouver. That’s a 5,000 word story all in itself. That move was awful, scary, and probably not the smartest thing either of us have ever done. But hey, we were young, right? Now I can drive any vehicle and in all conditions and I’m not afraid of anything or anyone on the road.
I unloaded the moving truck to my very 1st one bedroom apartment in Vancouver, Washington. It was in Hazel Dell on Notchlog Drive, right off of Highway 99. It was a nice apartment complex at that time. I remember feeling so proud of myself. I had a roommate in my prior apartment, four actually, and only one didn’t turn out to be a nightmare.
(Come to think of it, I had 3 male roommates and 1 female in my first apartment and it was only the female that didn’t cause me problems. Hmmm.)
I didn’t need a roommate in this apartment because I could afford it all by myself. I decorated it exactly how I wanted. It was cute and cozy. It was mine.
I was on my feet and had a little money saved. I even upgraded my transportation and got a new car. My little truck was falling apart so I took it to a used car lot and traded it in for a red 1992 Chevy Cavalier. It was the first car I ever financed. I’m pretty sure I paid about 22% interest and 3 times what the car was worth. I had no idea what I was doing. I went to the car lot and they asked what payment I could afford then showed me cars they could get me into with that payment range. I was gullible and they saw me coming. Oh well, I had a reliable car with an affordable payment. It was insured and registered. I had a job and my own apartment.
Once I was settled, I had visitors. My cousin came to stay a few weeks during her summer break from school. She was 15 and had stayed with me the summer prior too. She struggled at home and my house was a getaway. I think her parents needed the break now that I think about it. She is a perpetual brat.
I had a couple of friends visit for a weekend and we took a road trip to Seattle. We saw the Space Needle and the fish market. I hadn’t traveled that far north before. I still don’t think Seattle is my favorite city but we had a great time that day.
It’s a mystery to me why, but, I moved out before my 6 month lease was up. I know now that I didn’t put enough thought into my decision. After they left, I went back to Fremont to visit my friends. Big mistake. I mean, the visit wasn’t a big mistake because we had a blast. The mistake was not being able to separate the emotional ties once I went back to visit. All the sudden, it was like I forgot the progress I had made and I wanted to go home. I must have been crazy because not only did I consider going home, my plan was to stay at my mom’s house. Then, I moved forward with the bad decision and actually did it. I moved into my mom’s house. It was going to be temporary. But, still. I did it. What was I thinking?
By this time she lived in a bigger house in San Leandro, still right off of East 14th. It was surrounded by a junkyard, an Impala auto body shop, and an automotive repair. The hookers were plentiful and the sirens were my lullaby. I chose this? Wow. Actually, no, she chose this as the best place to raise my sister. I knew my stay would be temporary but hers wasn’t. She lived there full time, all the time.
Another life lesson; once you leave home, it’s not the same “home” when you decide to come back. Life has moved on since you left.
I’m not saying it turned out so badly. I’m still here, right? I’m just saying, I was in Vancouver a little over a year. I was doing well for myself and I decided I needed to go back to my comfort zone, which in reality, was never really comfortable in the first place. I gave up my apartment, broke my lease early and made dumb decisions that affected my credit. Partly out of ignorance, partly out of stupidity, and mostly because I just made a bad decision, again. Why did I return to my “normal” when I new there was a better “normal” out there? Who knows? It did give me more time with my grandmother so I am grateful for that.
I find comfort knowing for every bad decision I’ve made, it’s led me to a better place eventually. Sometimes bad decisions morph into miracles. Attitude is everything.