We arrived in Seattle in the late afternoon September 1st after being in transit for what seemed like forever, despite my constant referring to the flight as "only 10.5 hours". The dogs had been picked up and taken to the airport many hours before us and we left our apartment earlier than was strictly necessary to head to the airport ourselves. I was angry and done. Our last interaction in Korea was being told a significant part of our deposit was going to be kept because the oven was too dirty and would be impossible to clean and that a screen door with a hole in it would need to be replaced despite there being a hole when we moved in. We had been living with our ceiling leaking copious amounts of water for 2.5 weeks and our super telling us to just put a bucket under it because he didn't want to fix it before we left. I had had argument after argument about whether or not it was just the central air leaking buckets of brown water and simply been told not to use the air conditioning. By the time the dogs were gone and we sat on our floor surrounded by our four suitcases to get us through our first few months back in the US while the rest of our possessions made their way slowly across the ocean, I was so done with Korea, I would rather spend my last few hours at the airport than spend a minute longer in the place I had worked hard to make our home for the previous two years.
We got lunch in a haze and then drove to the airbnb where we'd be living for a month while we settled in. Due to a miscommunication we were spending our first night upstairs with the homeowners instead of in our own basement apartment. Seattle felt frigid after the heat of Seoul's Summer but we lay on the bed upstairs with the window cracked open over the garden and I relaxed into myself thinking "oh, home". I'd never even been to Seattle before that day but the breeze coming through the window was the familiar scent of the pacific ocean mingled with evergreens and bay laurel.
The next few days we walked our dogs through the neighborhood and my body became reacquainted with how it could be normal to be too cold in the shade but too hot in the sun. I remembered layers for when the temperature dropped from 70 during the day to 50 as soon as the sun went down. My bones remembered the damp chill of my childhood, the way it settles into you and can only be gotten out with a cat nap in direct sunlight or soak in a hot tub. I marveled at the way the houses in Ballard could've just as easily been in North Berkeley. Set back from the sidewalk, raised yards "rewilded" with rosemary growing over my head and lavender spilling over onto the sidewalk. Wild thyme pushed its way through cracks and patches of mint grew in the untended strips of grass by the curb. Momentarily I understand why people not from these places are so charmed by them. Clean sea air and the smell of fresh herbs while walking through a city.
Excited to speak English without slowing down my speech or thinking carefully about what words to best use so I'd be understood, I ordered coffee in a rush " CanIGetTwoColdBrews?" and was met with a blank stare. I had forgotten that ordering quickly was the courtesy of a New Yorker, that "canIgeta..." or "gimme a..." are not how we start sentences on this coast, that first I must make eye contact and small talk and pretend I want to talk about my dog instead of get this over with as quickly as possible while he howls and cries outside, not yet over the separation anxiety that came with the long flight. I walk out with two coffees, more overwhelmed than I would've been stumbling through my order in Korean or pointing and miming in China or Japan.
The grocery store is also surprisingly confusing. Despite having gone back and forth between the two coasts my whole life, my brain decided to make a permanent switch when I moved to New York. Best Foods was Hellman's, non-fat milk became skim, sugar was Domino not C&H, but here I was back in a Safeway trying to buy mayonnaise and feeling like I had returned not from two and a half years abroad but that maybe I had just been living in a very slightly different parallel universe.
Objectively I know Seattle is a growing city and I guess I can understand why natives now find it crowded but after 3 years in New York and 2 years in Asia, it feels like a ghost town. There are so many homes and so much new construction but where are the people. How can I get on a bus at mid day and be the only passenger? Why can I walk blocks and blocks through the city and often not pass more the 2 or 3 other walkers?
There is always too much space around me.
Dan says our time in Korea doesn't feel real but I've been here in Seattle 4 months now and it has passed in a dreamlike haze. I try to pay attention and focus, to find the small things that will make me fall in love with the city but instead I'm usually lost in my own thoughts, thinking of the places I've been or could be, unable to ground myself in the place where I am.