The Capitol Hill bar is as crowded as you’d expect on a Friday night, but to me it’s a ghost town. I down a pickleback shot and, through the packed din, tell my husband about the cafe that used to be on this block, its tomato-tahini soup that I subsisted on as a 21-year-old.
This moment repeats itself on nights when we are out, the two of us, away from our children. Here, in the neighborhood where I lived for over a decade, streets pulse with the spectral presence of places and people now gone: The bookstore where I got my first job. The bar I closed down most nights, whether my shift ended at 5pm or 10pm. The young woman (ahem, me) who yelled and smoked indoors, got high off the attention of very average men, never considered consequences, never thought to document nights out with a smartphone. A person who could live in the heart of the city on minimum wage, impulsive, insatiable, freewheeling.
As my husband and I walk down Broadway, the line between present and past becomes porous. Memories fold into my current perceptions, a perspective I never asked for but can’t ignore.
Cities are meant to change. Hopefully for the better. People too. I’m twice the age I was when I moved here, and less selfish. Recollections of my early days in Seattle can feel more visceral than my current life, though—the sense-deadening daily routine of ushering small people through tooth brushing, butt wiping, drop off and pick up, fulfilling their relentless requests for snacks. My hair is graying and I’ve traded tight jeans for elastic-waist soft pants. It seems almost impossible that I was once so young and feral here.
At the end of the night, tipsy and heading to the light rail station, I note the Panera Bread where a brick church once stood. A church that faced the Lincoln Reservoir, a gray space surrounded by dusty gravel. It’s now a bustling park with a perpetually green field I have marched across with my daughters, demanding justice and equity, voices raised with our community.
If my old city lives within me, then the restless, desirous young woman who stalked its streets is still here too. She just has better ways of showing up, new pleasures to discover.
Angela Garbes’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Cut, and elsewhere. She published her first book, Like a Mother, in 2018. She lives on Beacon Hill with her family.