I’m sitting near gate C10 at San Jose International Airport, heading home after my aunt’s funeral. The weather is perfect outside, low 80s, warm but not hot. The hills are still green. After lunch, my father drove me through the cemetery, past Grandma’s house and through many places that evoke strong memories of my past life. Right now I want to stay in San Jose. I want to stop saying goodbye, knowing it will be months before I see any family. I want to be within 10 minutes of them all. I also want to enjoy the work possibilities here. De Anza College is taking teaching applications, and I want to apply.
Meanwhile, I am so Oregonian. I am dressed differently in my jeans, Hawaiian shirt and rugged shoes. I think differently, too, treasuring the simplicity of life in a small coastal town, loving my yard surrounded by trees, my dogs able to run and spread mud all over. I love that I meet someone I know every time I go out. Here, I keep seeing people I think I might know, but I can never be sure. It has been too long. I say “You look familiar,” and sometimes, like this morning when I met the mother of one of my school classmates walking down Fenley Avenue, I guess correctly. But usually I look twice and think, no, probably not.
I found a hat in the gift shop just like the one my dogs tattered. It says San Jose in blue letters on tan, blue, and maroon suede. I considered buying it, but then thought “You can’t go home again.” I know it’s a cliché, but I would add, “You can go home, but it will be different—and so will you.”
I’m part Californian, part Oregonian and will be forever changed no matter which way I fly.
Time to fly again and try not to cry as I watch the city fade away. I have avoided the big sob so far. As I told my cousins, see you online.
Caught between a big man and a crying baby, I stare out the window of the plane. Crowded houses, office buildings and freeways yield to the multicolored waters of Alviso Bay shining in the late-afternoon sun. Beyond that, I name the bridges over San Francisco Bay. The water gives way to brown hills, then snow-sprinkled hills, then the green hills of Oregon, and the multi-hued pastures of the Willamette Valley. Soon we are cruising over the Columbia River as we make our descent into Portland and bump down onto the runway. As I pick up my suitcase at baggage claim, it has all gone so quickly, I imagine I can still feel the warmth of my father’s hand on the handle. Within minutes, I’m in my car, speeding down the freeway as the sun sets on my right and my heart struggles to catch up.