I had agonized over who should get my first letter—just a little, and for some number of weeks before we even finished packing boxes in Winston-Salem.
That first letter would launch my project, and then I'd turn around and tell the world who got it, and that felt like pressure.
But as I went down the list (the actual one, of dozens of people I plan to write to in the coming months), I saw my brothers' names and thought about writing to them, and I realized that, that letter felt like no pressure. Not like "oh cool whatever it's just your brothers." More like, "it's clear; it's plain; it should be your brothers." There was no onus or judgment or overwroughted-ed-ness.
I had imagined I'd write it over the course of the week it took us to drive across the country.
And then we actually squeezed ourselves into a car—dogs and baby and things and stuff—and I realized there wasn't room left in my brain for letters.
Then I thought I might write in some little coffee shop once we got to Portland, perfect light, hot mug, cookie.
And then we actually got to Portland and I realized I was ready to stay very still and close by, whatever that meant now.
Unglamorously, I wrote my first letter, yes, over the course of a week, but in various states of cross-leggedness on the floor of our bare apartment, or in the common room on the first floor of our building.
It was maybe the longest letter I've written, recounting all kinds of feelings about what this country looks like once you get into and beyond Texas; what it is to be crammed into a car with so many other living, breathing things; how incredibly wide-eyed I was as we drove into Oregon, and then nearer and nearer to Portland after so many years.
I won't get into every little thing about the letter. That's for my brothers. But one thing at the heart of it was this: they were getting this letter because they were there when I was twelve, and I have this idea about being twelve and daydreaming and becoming a grown up.
At twelve, you are still firmly in touch with your imagination; you can still wield it. But you're also starting to peer into adulthood and see yourself there; you're starting to understand who you are distinctly from who other people are.
So it's a magical sliver of time in which you get to imagine a grown life for yourself that is mostly free of rules and obligations.
When I was twelve, I visited Seattle for the first time and fell madly, madly in love with the Pacific Northwest. Our Uncle Chris lived there, and at the time, my grandmother, too. I stayed with them, toured the city, used buses for the first time. I remember my grandmother being impressed with how effortlessly I got myself around. I don't remember feeling at all scared at this new big place I was in. And in fact, I wanted to come back to claim it in adulthood.
That was all more than twenty years ago, and in the time between I made a lot of good decisions, but also very safe ones. Instead of going to Washington for college, I went to a small women's university in Virginia (best damn years).
When I was in my early twenties and single and itching to break out west for Seattle again, I chose to be smart and stay in a paying job, instead.
Patrick and I visited Portland in 2008 and loved it. We talked about moving here. But then I started a little baking business and we bought a house in the town where we'd been living.
Really, I wouldn't unmake any of those choices. They were all so good.
But by the time we visited Portland for the second time last summer, we were both done with safe decisions.
When we were driving along the Columbia River in the last day of our trip to Portland ... my god. Specifically the trains—mile-long trains—cutting through the valley, along the river, with green, green mountains rolling up around them. And then woods thick with moss-covered trees. Little towns cut into the scenery. This was my imagination opened up in front of me.
This is what I would have told my brothers when I was twelve, if I'd had to describe to them where I thought I might be when I was finally grown up.