I’ve always felt living in the city has its perks. As a young girl of 12, my mother and I had just moved to the center of Portland, the biggest city in Oregon. I loved being able to walk 10 minutes in any direction and find a corner store, city park, or a restaurant. I always felt a sense of security in that. If it snowed or the world started to end, I could always walk to the Safeway store up the street, or to Ed’s market down the street and buy essentials. Or to Javier’s taco shop—the only restaurant in my corner of the city that was open 24/7. Living in the country is not as convenient. Living a mile down a dirt road on the outskirts of a small town has its own set of issues. A car is necessary and even the convenience of having one cannot save you from a Central Oregon winter. In the city, we would get one inch of snow and it was like the whole city would shut down. Whoohoo, I don’t have to go to school or work today. Out in the country we don’t get just one or two inches of snow, we get feet of snow. These are just the trivial pros and cons of living in the city vs. living in the country. The story I am about to tell you is about more than just the trivial things.
Growing up, my mother and I moved around a lot. From Bend, Oregon, where I was born, to Sedona, Arizona, back to Bend, to Lake Oswego, Oregon, to Vancouver, Washington, and then finally to Portland, Oregon where my mother bought her first home. Nestled in the small neighborhood of Piedmont, our little lime green 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house with a huge backyard was the perfect place for us to start our new life. At the age of 12, the urban environment was a bit of a culture shock to me. At the middle school I attended down the street--although my father was Native American and Hispanic and my mother Jewish and British--I was the minority because of my appearance. It was assumed that I was just “White” and for the first couple months of attending school I was known as “White girl”. Every ethnic background you could think of was present at that school. Having moved around so much throughout my life, I adapted quickly and made a best friend by the name of Pema, a tiny Tibetan girl who lived 5 blocks away from my house. That is when the trouble began. We would sneak out, steal our parents' booze, and we smoked weed for the first time together in the bushes at the park by our school when we were only 14. As we got older, the mischief that we were always getting into only continued and grew.
High school was when I began my tremulous journey into adulthood. It is where I met my other best friend who would be instrumental in creating the person I am today. She was an enigma. She was one of those girls that walks down the hallway, and everyone wants to talk to her and be around her, please her. She could talk with anyone effortlessly and their mouths would turn up at the corners and open wide in laughter as she told some hilarious story. She had this magnetism about her. I was always so envious of her and in a way, wished I could be like her. So, I went along with whatever adventure she had cooked up for us next. Being one of the only people in our friend group with a car—you didn’t need one in the city, the buses were our main source of transport—she would drive us around to meet new people or to show up at different parties. After high school, it was more of that party lifestyle anytime I was with her—which was almost all the time.
As I entered my 20’s, my friends and I gradually embraced that partying lifestyle. Going “barhopping” as we called it, getting hammered, doing drugs—but never anything harder than cocaine—and running around the city getting into mischief was all we did. The world was at our fingertips, we were young and beautiful and ludicrous and there was nothing that could stop us from doing what we wanted to do. And then all of a sudden, it didn’t seem so glamorous and cool anymore. At least to me.
I remember one morning of many, after an intense party night, waking up on the lumpy couch in my best friend’s apartment. Around me there were a mix of my friends and some random people I didn’t know strewn across the living room in slumber, along with dozens of empty bottles of alcohol. My face smeared with the heavy makeup from the night before, my head pounding as I came down from the mix of alcohol and cocaine and marijuana, I gathered my things that I had remarkably kept track of throughout the night before, and walked out the door.
As I sat on the number 72 bus headed home, tears suddenly welled up in the corners of my eyes and tumbled down my cheeks continuously, until an older gentleman sitting across from me cautiously turned to me and asked, “Hey hon, are you okay?”. Embarrassed, I wiped my cheeks and smiled, telling him I was fine. But I wasn’t, and I’m sure the wave of emotion was amplified because I was lacking serotonin from the cocaine, but that did not make the feelings crowding my thoughts less real. I was devastated with what my life had become. And more importantly, what it had not become.
All those tiny voices in my head that I was so good at pushing aside came barreling at me all at once. What are you doing with your life? Are you just going to work at the fucking pizza shop and party for the rest of your life? Why didn’t you go to college when you graduated high school? Why didn’t you join the Navy like you always talked about? Why did you stop writing that book that you used to spend hours on end writing? You’re such a loser. You don’t even have a car or a license. You’re getting fat because of all the alcohol you drink. You can't have a romantic relationship—let alone any relationship—without alcohol being involved. You’re doing too much drugs. What has happened to you? Is this the life you want for yourself? Everything that had been buried was suddenly and inexplicably unearthed.
My mother has always expressed admiration for my ability to make something happen quickly and efficiently after I’ve set my mind on it. So, after that fateful bus ride, I went down to the DMV and renewed my license, step 1. I spoke with my mother and my grandma about my desire to get out of the city, step 2. Put my two-week notice in at my job at the pizza shop, step 3. Used all of my $6,000 savings to buy a tiny 2013 Ford Fiesta, step 4. Crammed the small bit of belongings I had into my new car and drove down to central Oregon to live on my grandmother’s property and go to school, step 5. Step 6 was the goal, to change my life for the better.
Leaving was surprisingly easy. I thought it would be impossibly hard to leave and I had this dramatic image of me and my friends all embracing and crying on my last day in the city. I thought my friends would try to convince me to stay, but we had grown apart. In the time it had taken me to realize that the life I lived with them was not the life that I wanted, it seemed that they had cemented their lives into the lifestyle that I was desperately escaping from. I think they subconsciously understood that, so, we didn't talk about it. It was too bleak. I wanted to get away from it, wanted to make something positive of myself, and it seemed like they didn’t. In my hypocritical and judgmental thoughts, I went over how they were content to not get educated, to just work boring jobs, to go out every night. I felt there was no ambition, and I knew if I stayed in that environment, I would lose mine. It was not hard leaving my friends.
Shortly after moving into a mini-barn that was renovated into a living space on my grandmother’s property, I enrolled in school at Central Oregon Community College, with no idea what I was going to school for. It was enough for me to know that I had started something positive, it was enough to know that it was the beginning of my new life. The wide-open skies and jagged mountain peaks that lined the horizons were freeing compared to the dark city streets. Finally, I could see the sun as it dipped below the horizon. Finally, there were no more walls obstructing my view of the sky. Finally, I felt the excitement of possibility. I could start over, I could be anyone I wanted. I could be Daja, the 24-year-old college student/bartender/cat mom who has her own car and her own apartment on a beautiful property next to Smith Rock. Not Daja, the 23-year-old loser who works at that pizza shop in the city and is always out and about with that crazy group that is always partying.
Slowly, as I integrated myself into my new life, I became comfortable with the woman I was becoming, not desperately grasping for acceptance as I had in my old life. I didn’t need the fast-paced instant gratification anymore. I found that the stunning beauty of my new environment had the power to enthrall me in a way that I had never been enthralled before. I fell in love with my new life and the way I could be completely at peace with the beautiful simplicity of my own breath and the breeze of the Central Oregon air flowing over my skin. I fell in love with the way my writing classes awakened the passion that existed inside me that had been stagnant beneath the surface for so long. I fell in love with the dust that creased between my toes as I climbed over rocks and trails to reach a rushing river. I fell in love with the new ability to be okay with being alone with myself and alone with nature. I fell in love with every aspect of my new life, and in turn, I fell in love with myself.
Daja Wilson is 24 years old and a student at Central Oregon Community College in Redmond, Oregon. She is extremely passionate about writing and has just begun her journey into making writing a career. This is her first submission to a literary blog.