What it takes is this: KL behind the wheel, Pearl Jam on the radio, and the two of us driving down Sunset Highway toward Forest Grove for the start of our final residency. The windows are down, the sun cuts across a bold, blue Pacific Northwest sky and the Cascades are in full view. That’s when my anxiety finally eases and I start to feel like myself again.
We turn onto campus and pull in the same moment that Beth does, and there is Felicity around the corner, and before we know it there are hugs all around. We haven’t even made it to check in and there are shouts already, “Congratulations, Graduates!” We’re all smiles, ear-to-ear, and walking in stride through the campus, and it hits me: this is my home in the Pacific Northwest now. Here. Right here. These writers. This University. And all the effort and thousands of words we’ve written to get where we are.
Unloading, I meet my roommates, one of whom practices Okinawan Shuri-Ryu karate. Her teacher knows Hanshi and she is also a blue belt! We bow, unpack, and dart across the campus greens in our workout clothes to practice form on the lawn. There are the ten ippon, the sambon kumite, Wunsu kata, and more. She knows some taezu waza and I know some forms she doesn’t know. She knows free sparring and I know promise fighting. We move and connect immediately, as her teacher is also classically trained and devoted to the history of the lineage. The chances of meeting another karateka in this same vein are slim, let alone a fellow writer who is also enrolled in this program. I struggled so much at the dojo in May and now, take this lovely coincidence as a sign and gift. For the next ten days we vow to train together. We bow, say “Osu,” change clothes, and head over to the first party of the residency in the courtyard of our dorm.
The party is a meet and greet organized by the University and nametags and intros abound. But the small talk doesn’t grate on me and the number of people does not overwhelm me. Again, it occurs to me that this is my left coast home and there is nothing to worry about. By the end of the night I’ve said my anticipated hello’s to the faculty members I most connect with, made some new contacts, and hugged every member of the graduating class (six of us!). Our program has grown in fame and numbers in the two years I’ve been here and we are now 67 people all totaled. Saying my goodnights, the director leans over and whispers to me, “You know, you guys are it. There will never be another class like yours. We’ve grown so much now and I’m happy about that but there’s something about your class. You’re small in numbers but big in heart, and beautiful and bold in personality. I love you all.” We hug and kiss goodnight, and I walk back to my dorm room, lighter on my feet than I’ve felt in months.