Sunday, June 14, 2015

Before they left

When I first arrived in Coos Bay three years ago, I was given a strange piece of advice. Don't get close to anyone, they told me, because as soon as you do, they'll move away. Learn to let go of friends, they told me, because nobody sticks around Coos Bay for long. You will begin to measure time in goodbye parties.

The population of this town actually has a high turnover rate, mostly as a result of the jobs that are available. Coast Guard non-rates move in, do their duty for 2-3 years, get the training they need for a more advanced position, and move out. Wildlife observers and state park employees work on a seasonal basis. The local newspaper and television station are both staffed by recent college graduates who move away as soon as they get a better job elsewhere. Even the graduate students stick around for 5 years at the most. A good portion of the town turns over every few years, and at times, it can feel downright tumultuous.

Sunset over the hazy Pacific, 14 June 2015
I've recently found myself using phrases like "when N still lived here" or "before M graduated" to describe when certain events took place. Granted, I've also used "since I got back from Norway" plenty of times to describe the ways that I've changed, but that's a topic for another post. I actually had a surreal moment the other day, as I realized I was doing exactly what had been prophesied to me three years ago: I was measuring time in goodbye parties.

Well, today I added another benchmark to my temporal scale. A couple that I met soon after landing here in 2012 had their farewell gathering. They're moving north to Seattle, and now I can describe events by whether they happened before or after R and A left.

Huddling around the bonfire
We had a small gathering at their house. A vegetarian, gluten-free potluck dinner accompanied by craft beer. We watched the sunset. We built a bonfire. We played games. We said our goodbyes.

The evening was pleasant enough and provided me with some closure. I had barely seen either of them in the last year - you know, me being abroad and all - but still, R and A were part of my Coos Bay story, and I was part of theirs. Maybe I'll see them again; maybe I won't. Either way, I can hold onto the stories we share, the anecdotes they star in. And I can tell you about the sunset- and bonfire-filled evening we had before they left.

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