When I’ve been away from our apartment, I sometimes long for its coziness and I may even miss the hum of the city if I’ve been too long listening to crickets (or roosters). But without a doubt, there are a host of things that I forget about the place that are a shock to the system when I get back.
- Seattle possibly has too many people in it.
- There are too many people having accidents and then being delivered by shrieking ambulance to one of the three major hospitals in our neighborhood. (Be careful out there, Seattle Citizens. Z and I are watching Orphan Black and your emergencies sometimes interfere with our TV viewing.)
- Seattle is full of hills and we live ¾ up one of the steepest ones. Despite the fact that I know where the ascent is easiest, it’s still a workout.
- There are 23 steps outside our apartment building. (It feels like 53 when we’re carrying groceries.)
- 0ur building manager is lovely but sometimes promises things and doesn’t deliver them right away. In this case, a much coveted dishwasher. Coupled with this realization, is the harsh realization that Eunice did not travel back from Zimbabwe with us, and I am the house dishwasher since Z is the house cook.
- The M 303 bus idles outside our living room window five hours a day, starting at 6 a.m. depositing soot onto our windowsills and on onto our westernmost belongings.
- The buzzer for our apartment building is outside our bedroom window and our building mates have a lot of noisy, late night friends, pushing all the buttons except the right ones. I try to comfort myself with the knowledge that at least Amanda, the possible prostitute and/or drug dealer, no longer lives here. The buzzer was humming back in those days.
- We don’t have a car in the city unless we rent one, so those groceries we need must be toted up the hill (or down the hill, depending on which grocery we use).
- We left the apartment in kind of mess. We always do this. Departure times are a big surprise every time, and I am a time optimist.
- Z will be going off to teach in a few short days and it’s going to be lonesome in the apartment, just me and my computer and the screaming blank page.
And then there is the weather.
My first trip to the Pacific Northwest was to a writing conference in Vancouver, B.C., in 2005. While there, I took a tour of the city and ended up on the tour bus by myself with a very chatty U.S. ex pat guide. He was friendly and answered my questions about the city and his choice to immigrate. But then I made the critical error of asking if the grey, rainy days ever got to him. The temperature in the bus dropped five degrees. He launched into a tirade about other people’s views of the climate and how wrong they were. I backtracked quickly and he warmed again, but I felt like I’d learned the first lesson of Pacific Northwest Fight Club: don’t talk about the weather.
It’s how people who live here and plan to stick around recognize tourists and fair-weather residents who stay only long enough to take in the geography and bulk up their bank accounts before moving to sunnier climes.
The truth is, the rain here isn’t that bad. We laugh when we see depictions of Seattle, like in The Killing, in which windshield wipers are cranked up to high and everyone is drenched. It’s usually more of a delicate mist, and truth be told, I’ll be happy to feel it on my so-recently-parched skin. So I’ve done my best to abide by this code of weather silence. I might complain to Z if it’s a particularly hard, cold rain, but that’s it. Were I in Indiana, I’d be Goldilocks-ing it up: it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, too damp, not enough of a freeze or so much snow I’m thinking of moving to Florida. This is my native language.. It’s how Hoosiers bond with neighbors and strangers at the Meijer check-out. But not in Seattle. There are only three times you are allowed to talk about weather here as far as I can tell. The first is if it snows in the city. The whole place shuts down, but even so, you are amused by it—it is not cause for stocking up on bread and milk and blizzard preparation mode. It’s a two-hour anomaly. The second is if there is thunder. A single thunder clap is conversation fodder for days.
And then there is the third. Unlike me and the things I forget when they are out of my line of sight, most people in Seattle never forget what once was and will be again: winter. Yesterday, the first day I’ve felt human since we got back, I climbed the hill to the Corner Café for a solitary lunch with my book. I kept my sunglasses on while I read because the sun was blinding me when it hit the pages. The server, who is always upbeat and pleasant, let out a loud sigh when she delivered my sandwich and said, looking outside, “Summer is over. It’s depressing. Winter will be here before you know it.” She sounded like a spokesperson for the House of Stark. I peered outside to see if there’d been a big shift in weather since I’d arrived 15 minutes before. It was 84 degrees and the sky was completely cloudless. I raised my glasses for a closer look and then looked back at her and asked if the weather had been bad while Z and I had been away. She wrinkled up her face, trying to remember. “No. I think it sprinkled a little last Monday.”
There is, I think, a one-week window here wherein you are allowed to complain about future weather even though the minute the rain starts, you will be so busy pretending it doesn’t exist that you won’t even carry an umbrella.