Fifteen years ago today, I bought a cell phone and became a Seattleite.
Last night, I sat on my roof with some friends, drinking and having the same conversations as we always do, discussing our shared associates’ flaws and leaving me wondering what they say about me when I’m not around. It wasn’t until this evening, after I’d hopped from board gaming to a friend’s DJ gig to Safeway and was on my way home, that I thought about the night fifteen years before last.
And I couldn’t remember what happened.
I met two friends, for sure. One, I never saw again, the other, maybe? Many years ago? I heard rumors about the former, that he’d burned out at Vanderbilt after one semester. The overachiever who fell on his face as soon as his parents weren’t there to push. Allegedly.
Had we done dinner, the three of us? (Now that I think about it, was there a fourth? Or did we maybe just run into somebody?) We wound up at TCBY, for certain. That much I remember, sitting and eating frozen yogurt, knowing that this was goodbye, possibly forever.
While we were there, my mom called, because those were the days of having to actually call. My uncle wanted me to swing by his house before I returned to what, for one last night, I was calling home. It might have been the last phone call I ever got on that old 901 line. Eighteen hours later, I had my 206 number. And so it’s remained.
At my uncle’s home, I parked on the street and strode through the front yard, the darkness of night concealing the minefield of dog shit that I’d fallen prey to. It was fitting, in a way: Weeks into my high school career, at a youth group recruitment event, I headbutted that house’s previous resident, a boy two years my senior, after he’d poured chocolate syrup in my hair in front of dozens of our friends in a scenario that made sense at the time. Even though my uncle had lived there for several years, I still didn’t think of it as his house. It was that guy’s old one.
I’d expected my uncle to attempt to provide me with some sage wisdom before I left town, that he would attempt to be a fatherly figure for a moment as he bade me farewell. Instead, as he cleaned his dog’s shit from my sneakers, he gave me the sort of advice I perhaps should have expected.
For the first two years, he told me, act like you’re going to join a fraternity, so you’ll get invited to all the parties. Then, when they start to catch on, start dating sorority girls, so you’ll get invited to all the parties thanks to them. He told me, proudly, that plan had led him to enjoy all five years of college. I was mortified at that idea; I still believed college was supposed to be done in four1.
I did none of those things.
A few nights ago, while playing No Man’s Sky, I was thinking about the nature of our universe. How, no matter how much it might feel like you’re staying in one place, the constant motion of planets, solar systems, and galaxies means you’re never actually in the same place, ever. The expansion of the universe means that, really, there’s no such thing. Position is a relative phenomenon.
Last night, on my roof, my friends spent time looking for the moon before finally noticing that it was rising to the east. But beyond them, over their shoulders to the west, I spotted the Big Dipper. Seven stars, six of which are so distant that the photons hitting my eyes left them before my mom was born.
As of now, I’ve lived in Seattle for 25% longer than anywhere else, and it feels like forever. But a quick Google search tells me otherwise. As best I can tell, there are only 39 stars2 in the sky within fifteen light-years. Only 39 stars whose photons left after I departed Memphis on a flight from a long-defunct airline, with a return ticket we knew would go to waste. That light traveled 88.18 trillion miles in that time.
As for me, my first Seattle address is only 3.4 miles’ drive from my current home. I could walk it in an hour. But I’m pretty sure I’ve come further.