Back Home.

Listening To: Drive by Halsey

Back Home. | AmberLCarter.com

Nothing changes.

Except what has to. 

When I first left Minneapolis for Portland back in September, I felt sure I would never move back. Minnesota was my home, but the Pacific Northwest was my dream. After a 20s and 30s of soul searching and family emergencies and romantic adventures and tragic deaths and career jumps and breathless ambition, everything had finally fallen into place, and I was off to the West Coast. And Portland was so, so dreamy…especially where I was lucky enough to live, in the Southwest Hills, right below Council Crest. It is a gorgeous, verdant, varied paradise, full of wooded trails and leafy parks and ridiculous houses and jaw-dropping views of snow-capped mountains everywhere you turn. “I think I would seriously cry if someone told me that I had to move back to Minneapolis right now,” I told my pal and housemate Dave, whilst on a long hike around my new neighborhood. He took me to my first Timbers match, and, so elated that this new and novel city could even make me into a sports fan, I declared Portland to be my Forever Home. And why wouldn’t it be? It was filled with universities and a vibrant literary scene and super cool date places and a great comedy community and was only an hour or two away from mountains, the glorious coast, and Seattle. I loved it there. When I flew back from a week-long vacation with my family to Portland, Maine, I didn’t even feel any type of longing to spend a few extra days in Minneapolis – I just wanted to get back to Portland, back to what was now home.

Then in January, I received the news that two of my dearest friends had officially separated, and were getting a divorce. And a wave of homesickness for MPLS like I had never experienced before washed over me, and stayed. We are a tight knit group: There is very little that happens in our lives that the rest of us don’t know about. But I didn’t know about this when it was happening, because I was gone (and who wants to spill the deets about your separation over text?). And again, a recurring theme of my 30s hit once again: Why the fuck was I in Portland when this stuff was happening? Was living in the Pacific Northwest really worth it if it meant I couldn’t be there for the people I cared about the most?

Back in November, my father was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. And I didn’t talk about it, because I didn’t want to. I told a very small number of friends: mainly the ones who had already been in my life the first time he had battled cancer a little more than a decade ago, and the ones I couldn’t not tell. And then I didn’t talk about it again (and actually still don’t want to talk about it now, to tell you the truth). Instead I just took a lot of naps, the kind where you pull that comforter over your head and sleep as long as you can so you don’t have to deal. Distance makes me feel helpless.

And so it was the same with this. I tapped a few MPLS friends and asked them if they would pass along my resume if they happened to hear of anything interesting. “I still love Portland, but I just want to keep my options open,” I told one of them. Things had actually started to pick up in Portland – I made the second round of callbacks for a reality TV show that would send me to Sweden for three months in the summer; I was making really great professional connections and had landed some choice writing gigs; I was even asked to be a paid extra on GRIMM, one of my favorite shows that films in Portland (not a totally huge feat – I simply got the inside track on where to throw my hat into the ring). But I also knew that, at the end of the day…maybe that stuff didn’t matter so much anymore. Being on the sunny side (okay, rainy and sometimes sunny) of the country was maybe no longer as important as being close to my friends and family.

Then, whilst sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Portland on a rainy afternoon in January, I got a text from my friend, asking if I would consider moving back to MPLS to help her out with her daughter and her house during this major life transition. To be fair, it was kind of the most perfect proposition ever: I’d get to support her while she went through a divorce; I’d get to spend every day with my niece-by-proxy, who is one of the two kids in the world who are the most important to me; living with her and her daughter also meant I would only be a block away from the rest of our friends, which has literally been a dream of mine for years; and of course, I would once again get to be close to my family.

I’m sure you can guess by now how this story ends.

Even though I knew deep down I couldn’t and wouldn’t say no, I had already told her about the show I was up for, and I couldn’t do both…and she made it abundantly clear that she would NOT let me give up being on a show like that if I got it. And in the way that you just know that you’ve gotten something, I knew I was going to get it…if I could find actual proof of Swedish heritage in our family. My grandmother had always said we were Swedish, which was why I had applied for the show for the first place…but after some extensive (and totally addicting, omg) digging on ancestry.com, there were literally NO Swedish roots to be found. Which was both kind of hilarious and a little heartbreaking (especially after I got an email from the production company asking me to please quickly send them the details of my Swedish heritage, which I knew was a not-so-subtle hint that I had made the list for the 3rd and final callback). But also, the sense of relief was telling: That was it, then. Back to MPLS I would go.

So the night before my birthday, I sent an email to my mom telling her that the verdict was in: We were not, in fact, Swedish, and I had just booked a plane ticket back to Minneapolis. She sent me an email that made me feel even more solid about my decision – because when your mom lets you know that you’ve just made her super happy, that’s really all there is, right? – and suggested that I keep my plans a secret and surprise my older brother, sister-in-law, and niece when they came up to see my parents the first weekend of March.

Here’s what: The minute I decided that I was going back to MPLS, I didn’t fall out of love with Portland…but I realized that I wasn’t really going to miss it as much as I thought I might. The thing about Portland is that it’s so similar to Minneapolis that it makes you sort of feel like you’re living in a mirror city, but one that doesn’t have any of your friends or favorite places in it. A few weeks before this had all happened, I had gone to probably the most painfully hipster party I had ever been to in my life. It was a party to celebrate the official launch of an outdoor indie magazine, and it took place in this sort of hipster craftsman store where the hammers were $400 (but they have a polished handle!) and raw canvas bags will run you $200 (but they’re exactly the same as the ones you can get at Ace Hardware for $5?). There was Kombucha beer piled high in the large iced metal buckets, and Dave and I played a game where we tried to guess who was an executive hipster and who was just a homeless person. And standing in the midst of it, I slowly realized…if this party had taken place in Minneapolis? I probably would have loved it, because I either would have been highly amused by it or filled with admiration for what a cool indie scene Minneapolis has or I at least would be in full possession of the knowledge that we all knew how painfully hipster we were all being. But there, in that store in Portland, I was just annoyed. This is not my home, I suddenly realized. And I kind of don’t want it to be, anymore. 

But thanks to my pal and housemate Dave, I ended my adventure in Portland with a bang: He took me to a Timbers invitational match, and then we drank beers and hot tubbed it with really cool friend of his that I had also come to really dig. The next afternoon, Dave and his new puppy Mabel drove me to the airport and hugged me goodbye (Dave hugged me. Mabel just panted a bunch and then laid down in the back). I flew back to Minneapolis under the cover of darkness, eager and grateful to once again be surrounded by some of my best friends in the world.

I didn’t tell a lot of people that I was coming back – in fact, probably only a handful knew – because you know how you love some people and you hate to keep things from them but you also know that the more people know the more easily someone could slip and spill something on FB and ruin this big elaborate surprise that you’ve planned? It was like that. And also…like, do people care anymore when you make a big announcement that you’re returning to MPLS for the 15th time? I feel like they don’t.

The surprise went off without a hitch, and I got to spend a lovely weekend with (most of – missed you, Daniel!) my family. And not making a big deal about being back also gave me time and space to really spend time with the people that I really needed to spend time with, instead of trying to do the rounds of seeing and catching up with everyone I know. And I gotta be honest – I didn’t have such a great time last year when I moved back to MPLS from the northwoods. I put a lot of importance on rekindling both some friendships and the social life I had left behind when I moved up to Hayward, and some of that effort ended in frustration and a lot of annoyance. I didn’t want to do that this time around. I feel like one of the things that I learned whilst in Portland was how to hone in on what was really important, and to be okay with letting everything else drift off to the side.

And coming back with that perspective – that I was here to focus on spending as much time with the people I cared the most about – was exactly what made me feel so happy and excited to be back. It makes me very happy and means a lot to me that I get to be here for my friends and my family while stuff is happening.

I don’t even care that it’s snowed since I’ve been back. DO NOT EVEN CARE, MINNESOTA, GIVE IT TO ME, I DARE YOU TO, I WILL FUCKING NAMASTE ZEN THAT SHIT OUT UNTIL SPRING.

I don’t know how long I’m going to be here for. I could be here only until next winter, or I could decide that this is it and I’m not going anywhere ever again. Another cool thing that Portland taught me is that I actually don’t have to declare any one city my Forever Home, and that it can be totally fun and doable to just check out a new place for six months and then come on back to the hometown for six months and then do that all over again.

But truth? When I think of home, I can’t not think of Minnesota.

And I’m glad to be back in it.

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About Amber L.

Hi! I'm Amber. I've been telling stories with books and blogs since 2004. I also spent 10 years working as a behavior therapist, which I now put to proper use by publishing thought pieces and dissertations on '80s pop music and the defining TV shows of our current times ('The Bachelor', 'Vanderpump Rules', etc). I can also be credited with single-handedly ruining the city of Portland, OR just by moving here.

2 comments on “Back Home.

  1. Great post. I’m not sure if it’s a twin cities thing or if everyone is drawn back to their “home” but I can relate to this story. Life is short and unpredictable. Be around the ones that matter. That’s what it’s all about.

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