Here I am, sitting at my favorite Cafe Delirium, or Cafe “D”, in Gresham (east of Portland), across from a plush green sofa that my best friend and I clocked a lot of hours on throughout the years. The cafe is half a block north and two blocks south of both locations of my parent’s former bookstores here on Main Street. Across the street is Dee’s Studio where my sister found her wedding dress, now with a "For Lease" sign in the window. And so the memories start coming home, some with speed and others with the pace of an unhurried stroll.
Being back in Portland elicits strange, vague feelings, like shadowy clouds moving across a muted blue sky. I have nothing against the city. In fact, if I hadn’t already lived here and left it behind, when I read over reviews of how innovatively green and vegan friendly Portland is, I would think to myself, now that’s my kind of place. But Portland and I have a history. And while not a bad history, when I’m back in town there’s always an unexplicable sadness hanging over even the sweet memories, even the new memories. Not to mention, for all the delicious, funky cafes and coffee houses, all the eclectic hipster shops and the art scene, Portland is missing some vital things that I dearly love in Seattle: the Puget Sound, ferries, the overall urban factor, and of course, most of my dearest friendships.
Cafe D hasn’t changed much. It’s still jam packed with mismatched comfy armchairs, shabby chic furniture, tables and chairs, throw rugs and local artwork. It still has my favorite vanilla chai, which I drink blended for old time’s sake, even though it’s cold and windy outside. My bf and I spent countless hours here, most of them ditching our dull history classes at the community college for some chai and catch-up time. I don’t know how many tears were shed on that green sofa as we spilled our guts to each other, how many times we huddled together laughing until we cried, how many crossword puzzles we attempted (and later abandoned) together. We didn’t really come here to study; it was our meeting spot, for just about every occasion.
Main Street has changed, though. There are still the staple spots, like Sunny Hans teriyaki, Bocelli’s Ristorante, Wall Street Pizza, Lil' Britches, Tedrick Family Chiropractic, Main Street Nails and Tanning, and of course Cafe D. The spots where the bookstores used to be are an office and a resale clothing/home decor shop. The latter shop, the one that’s now a retail business, is a charming old brick building that originally started as a church. Since then, it has been a revolving door of failed businesses. It’s always been that way. Chinese restaurant, Irish pub, catering business, wedding event center, Christian bookstore and cafe, and now, resale clothing and home decor shop.
The way I remember it, though, when at the height of its glory as a business, is Still Waters Christian bookstore and cafe, owned by my dad and mom. Hardwood floors, old wood molding, dark wooden rails trailing up to a cozy balcony, tall ceilings and beautiful windows, neatly lined rows of bookcases, the smell of history. Now those memories are a part of my history. I haven't been inside for at least five years, but I will forever associate that place with my Papa. It was his baby.
I don't know where the sadness comes from, but each time in town, it's like I'm trying to stay ahead of the memories. The past no longer exists, that's the strange thing. The house we lived in on Orchard Place is still there, our old neighborhood much the same, but life has moved on, chapter by chapter, leaving the memories behind. The sadness was there even before my dad died, but it's more pronounced in his absence, as if to remind me he, too, is a past memory. And that, perhaps, is the main reason I could not foresee myself moving back to Portland.