Finding Home (Part Three)

BeachIt was time to see if Oregon was my answer: to truly belonging somewhere and to finding “home.” I needed that place that knew me and accepted me. I wanted to fit neatly and perfectly in the curvature of a place like a jigsaw puzzle piece. I needed to know if Oregon was the home my soul had been longing for. I had not been to Oregon in five years; her beauty, comfort and peace could have all been an illusion. A faux answer for a life I was no longer enjoying in Tennessee or Colorado. I wasn’t sure if I was I on the run. Running away from the skulking shadows, or if I had issues with monotony and routine which wouldn’t allow me to be happy or content anywhere. I needed to know the truth.

I left for a quick five-day trip to Oregon. As the plane landed in Portland, I felt the freedom greet me as the plane wheels met the runway like a firm handshake. I wasn’t sure what my agenda was now that I actually landed in the place whose memory I tucked away like a delicate keepsake.

My mind kept wondering what I was really doing there. I had an apartment in Colorado with a balcony that overlooked Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, and I had just signed a new one-year lease with my boyfriend. I had a job, and I was teaching English at the local community college. My mind started to second-guess the feelings of my heart. It questioned my undeniable connection I had to Oregon. It tried to talk louder and tried to use its reasoning for me to accept its logic.

But as soon as I was driving on the roads of Oregon again seeing the Douglas Firs for miles, the eagles soaring overhead, and the elk gangs wandering in fields I knew all reasoning was lost. No amount of yelling my mind was doing could outdo what my heart knew. I was home. I was breathing deeper into my belly. My lungs filled with fresh air. I had my driver side window down letting the cool wind whip my ponytailed hair in circles.

I still didn’t know if I was going to go through with my plan. It felt like being in a trance. It was me who was driving, but when I looked at my hands on the steering wheel they felt like they belonged to someone else. This moment had built up in my mind for so long that it felt like a foggy dream. I had two sides to myself. One side was pushing and making all the arrangements for me to get to Oregon, and the other side was trying to hold back being timid and fearful. Was I going to take my dog, pack up what I could fit in my car, and leave everything else behind in Colorado? Was I going to leave my unsatisfying relationship and my boyfriend? Was I really in Oregon right now to decide on which city I wanted to live in and find an apartment to live in?

I had three cities in mind: Portland, Seaside and Astoria. Even though I had Portland as an option, I found myself driving to the coast as my internal compass directed me. The closest I had ever lived to the ocean was 8 hours, and the closest beach was the west coast of Florida. Portland was an amazing city, but it had expanded so much and was like a saturated sponge drowning in water. It was also 90 minutes from the ocean. Seaside was a town of 7,000 people, and Astoria was a town of 10,000 people. The small town feelings seemed like a reprieve for me emotionally and spiritually. I sensed my soul needed the healing energy of the water. It needed the quiet comfort of a small town. I still was nowhere near done processing the death of both my parents, and the last year I spent with my boyfriend unsettled me.

I ended up staying in a hotel in Seaside; it was beautiful to be so close to the ocean, but the town wasn’t fully resonating with me as a place to settle. I really struggled finding any apartments. I found myself driving to Astoria every day to enjoy breakfast, the Columbia River, and the freeing, artsy nature of the town. One morning, I sat at the Blue Scorcher Bakery at the long bar table on a stool staring out the large picture window as I journaled during breakfast. I knew I belonged there. Not only in that moment but in the future.

I started to realize what I was going to have to do. While I felt the tingle of excitement pinging in my stomach, I felt like I was going through the motions of looking for a place to live. Even though I knew this was right, my mind was dreading what it was going to take to get me to Oregon permanently. Old wounds and fears opened as I knew I had to shed what was no longer good for me, what was never good for me. Stepping into who I was and who I had discovered was scary. Announcing to the world, “Here I am!” for the first time ever. That time was quickly approaching, and it began with this choice.

I only had three days to apartment hunt because I arrived in Oregon later on my first day there, and I was leaving in the morning on my last day there. It seemed my apartment hunt was fruitless, demoralizing, and not very synchronous. My mind began to wonder if this was a sign that I needed to accept my life in Colorado, that this was the wrong path for me.

On the second day of hunting, I decided to look at Zillow, and there was a description of an apartment that seemed unique and fitting for me. When I called to inquire about seeing the house, I found out I was in luck. That was the one day they were showing the apartment to prospective tenants.

I arrived to my scheduled appointment time to be met by an old Victorian House built in 1900. The house was divided into a top and bottom. The top half was used for an Airbnb, and the bottom half would be the apartment. The apartment had two bedrooms and one bathroom. It had large picture windows throughout the house, and it overlooked the Columbia River. It had stained glass windows in the doorway of one bedroom, green carpet throughout the house, and gold wallpaper in the living room, and it fit me perfectly. I always wanted to live in a unique house that inspired creativity and wonder. I felt a sense of calm as I walked through each room, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

I didn’t have time to think anymore. It was time to act or neglect my true path. I wasn’t planning on moving until November, if I had the guts to move at all, and it was early October. Part of me just came on the trip to see if Oregon was the same to me as it was 5 years earlier. I half thought it would be a mirage, but it felt like home again.

I thought the process of attaining an apartment would take longer. So I put in my application and expressed my interest in the apartment. The next morning I had a response already. The landlords wanted me to move in, and they wanted the move in date to be 4 days later. They were ready to accept the first month’s rent as well as the security deposit.

And I did it. I still had this battle going on inside, but the momentum was too strong. I signed my lease, I mailed my rent and deposit check to them, and I had the option to move in 4 days.

I started to feel freedom. Through my entire life, I lived for other people. I started living for my parents as a child. Then it transitioned to living for the men I was in relationships with. Once my parents passed away, I didn’t feel like I had to answer to anyone, until I met my boyfriend. I let him dictate a lot of our relationship, and I tried to deny my own feelings out of habit. But as I lived in Colorado, as I continued with therapy and learned to connect with my true self, I started to live and answer to myself.

And now, I only had one option.

Fear. Sea. Surf. (Part II continued from 8/2/17).

girlssurf2It was July 8th, 2017. We walked down the long, gently sloping path. The trees were decorated with moss ornaments that hung like flowing hair. As the trail dipped through the shade of the trees, the path eventually spat us out into an open area on a short cliff that overlooked the beach. The blue of the sky met the blue of the ocean in an embrace. I watched the waves curl over like a baby’s hand griping his mom’s finger.

The ocean always soothed my senses like the briny air, the tumbling waves, the water reflecting the sun’s light but that day was a little different. I was taking my first surfing lesson and fear played through me like a needle stuck on a record.

I was with a group of all women and three women instructors. The day began with getting our surfboards for the weekend. These surfboards were like foam icebergs; they were huge, thick and unsinkable. My board was 9’2”, and it was 4 inches thick and 2 feet wide. It was just as much of a workout to carry the board to the beach as it was to surf. We also learned about the intricacies of the beach like rip currents, and the best conditions to surf in like wind direction, tide times, swell intervals, and wave heights.

The lesson then continued on the sand. The next challenge was getting into our 5mm wetsuit. The ocean on the Oregon Coast hangs out at about 58 degrees and wearing a full wetsuit is pretty much a requirement. Everyone always wore boots, but the gloves and hood were optional, which I did opt out of. The suits were skin tight, and it was like trying to put on and wear one big suction cup. Once we were suited up, we practiced sand surfing.

We worked on our form for paddling out to the waves; we balanced in the center of our boards scooping the sand back with cupped hands. We pushed into plank pose when imaginary waves were coming while we were paddling out. We churned our legs like a hand mixer practicing turning the board around in the water while sitting on it and waiting for the right wave. When we saw the imaginary wave we wanted, we slipped onto our stomachs and slid back on the board until our toes touched the edge of the board, and we started paddling hard to catch the wave. The final step was pushing up into an almost upward facing dog or a push-up with the knees down, then “popping up” to standing to surf the wave. I was considered a regular which means my left foot was out in front and my right foot was in back. It is called goofy if a surfer puts her right foot out in front and the left foot is behind. My body pointed towards the right side of the board. My shoulder was supposed to point in the direction I wanted to go and both feet were parallel on the board just a little more than hip distance apart. On the sand, this seemed logical and simple enough. Until it was time to apply the lessons in the water.

I remember walking towards the water as the panic began to ring louder, yet I just kept walking. The waves began to move higher up my legs slowly reaching towards my chest. The power of the ocean shoved me back as I continued to push forward.

I practiced sliding up on my board and paddling and pushing up on my board through the waves. Prior to this moment, I normally hung out in waist deep water. Now I was in a full 5 mm wetsuit, on a surfboard, paddling farther and farther from shore as the waves continually crashed into me and my board.

I have to admit my first day surfing I was not really brave. I had never participated in any water sports before. In fact, I had never participated in any snow sports either like snowboarding or skiing. This really was a brand new experience, and I had nothing to reference. To begin, we rode on the white water. After a green wave breaks it turns into white rolling water that pushes towards the shore. That is what we began learning on. There were three other women in my group and one instructor. Our instructor stood in the water and gave tips and advice. She took turns helping each of us pick waves and telling us when we should paddle.

I will admit as I sat on my board my fears tried to creep in like a wild cat stalking its prey. I was concerned about my lack of experience in the water.  I was nervous about being in the wide-open ocean; there were rip currents, not to mention the waves. I also kept waiting for a fin to break the surface at any moment. But I didn’t budge. I didn’t let my fears chase me from this experience.

The first wave I caught I didn’t even try to stand up. The wave felt like it was moving so fast; it took me by surprise. It was like being on a roller coaster that was rushing down the tracks, and all I had to cling to was my board. Even though I didn’t even attempt to stand up, the thrill was just as strong. I felt my lips turning into a smile. A laugh escaped from my mouth. My heart was fluttering. I may even have squealed as the board started to reach the shore. When my surfboard stopped, I couldn’t wait to get back out to the instructor and try again.

As I was waited for my second turn, I was sitting on my board facing the shore. The waves moved under me as I stared at the tree-covered, rocky cliffs, the chunks of driftwood, and the seagulls floating and riding on the wind. The beauty of the landscape was powerful, and it began to ease my fears. A calm settled over me; I had inhaled the peace of nature.

I am not sure what I thought about surfing prior to this day. I knew surfers were toned, skilled and seemingly fearless, but I had no idea how tough and tiring surfing really was. On my first day of surfing, and I don’t even know if I can call what I did surfing, I rode the surfboard in on my stomach and sometimes on all fours, and I never stood up. I made it one hour, and I rode in about 8 waves before my body felt drained.

My initial feeling was disappointment, but I was overwhelmingly proud as well. I never thought I would push my limits like that. I realized how much fear and anxiety tried to live my life for me at times. The more I caved in to the fear, the louder it got. I realized I didn’t want to hear the voice of fear anymore. I didn’t want to hold myself back.

As I was driving home, I began to cry. It was like a pop-up rain shower that took me by surprise. I cried because I felt free. I cried because I didn’t let fear win. I cried because I unlocked a hidden treasure within myself. I honestly felt like I could face anything. My tears were symbolic of an awakening.

The next morning was the second and final day of our lesson. I wasn’t sure what I would be capable of because I was sore; my hands were like 50 pound kettlebells weighing my arms down. However, today I was determined. As I drove to the beach, I vowed to turn my disappointment from the previous day into satisfaction. I told myself I was going to stand up or at least attempt to stand up on the surfboard.

That morning we changed instructors as well, so we could learn from someone different. My new instructor, Dani, and I had a great connection. The first question she asked me was, “What would you like to accomplish today?” Instantly I replied, “To stand up.” She smiled and nodded.

As we were waiting for a wave, Dani was pumping me up. She told me to repeat this mantra in my head, “I will stand up. I will stand up.” I had that in my mind as I caught my first wave, but I made it to my knees and rode the wave like I was a dog. When I paddled back out, Dani assured me it was okay. She encouraged me and told me to repeat my mantra again and just commit to standing up.

Dani and I picked out another wave together. She said, “That wave is yours!” as she pointed to a wave forming in the near distance. I quickly went from sitting on my board feet dangling in the water to slipping onto my stomach. I scooted back until my feet were at the edge of my board. Dani shouted, “Paddle!” I started digging my hands into the ocean pushing the cold water back as I repeated in my head, “I will stand up. I will stand up. I will stand up.” I felt the wave lift the back of my board up which was the sign it was time to stand up. I began to push up on the board with my arms, and I slowly popped up and brought my left foot forward on the board. I couldn’t believe it. My body finally followed suit on what my mind had been telling it to do. I only made it a few seconds standing up on the board before I “starfished” off. But for that fleeting moment, I was in sync and in perfect harmony with Mother Nature. It opened my eyes to a new level of being alive.