Spirit

Making the Move

Stephanie Kuehnert

Part One of Three

In April of 2004, I went to Seattle with four girlfriends to pay tribute to Kurt Cobain on the tenth anniversary of his suicide. I expected a week of music geekery and much-needed girl-time. I did not expect to fall head over heels for a city like it was a soul mate.

seattle

It was love at first sight. On the bus ride from the airport to our hostel, I was giddy and wide-eyed. My blood buzzed like I was sitting next to my eighth grade crush. I could barely talk to my friends because I was too busy staring at the lush green hills and the serene blue-gray of Puget Sound. One thought played on a loop in my mind: this is where you belong.

I’d been fascinated with Seattle since junior high, at the height of the grunge era. I felt even more drawn to the Pacific Northwest a couple years later when I discovered Riot Grrrl, and I even applied to college at Evergreen State in Olympia because it seemed like the hotbed for independent, feminist thinkers. But, as independent as I wanted to be, I was too scared to travel that far from my family in Chicago. I ended up at a school in Ohio instead.

Over the years, my teenage obsessions led me to romanticize other cities: L.A., which Weetzie Bat had painted as a paradise, and New Orleans, which appealed to my dark, Poppy Z. Brite-loving side. While I loved both places, neither had inspired me like Seattle. I spent my whole life feeling like I never really fit in anywhere. Seattle felt like home.

Initially I associated this connection to Kurt, since he’d had such a profound impact on my life. I was a scrawny, weird girl who felt powerless until I saw this scrawny, weird guy use his voice in such a powerful way. He inspired me to write poetry and essays and I believed that one day I could make the same impact with my words as Kurt’s had impacted me. This belief in myself and the power of my words helped me a lot with my depression.

But then Kurt’s own depression got the best of him. I was fourteen when he committed suicide, and I connect that event to a lot of bad things that followed soon after, the worst being an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship. Ten years later, traveling to Seattle to pay tribute to Kurt was also my way of bringing closure to that ugly chapter of my life. It made sense that I would come away from that feeling stronger and more complete.

Maybe Seattle is my power source because it is the birthplace of the music that lent me the most strength when I was the most vulnerable. Maybe all of the surrounding water diminishes my chronic anxiety because I’m a water sign. Maybe I just really enjoy all the vegan food and healthy lifestyle options. Most likely a little bit of all those things makes Seattle the city of my heart.

But I “couldn’t” move there in 2004 because I was still in grad school in Chicago and entangled in another unhealthy romance. And then after grad school I “couldn’t” move there because I was in a new relationship—this time a good one with the guy I’d ultimately marry. And then I “couldn’t” move because I bought a house and quit my full-time job to focus on my writing when my first novel came out. 

While I “couldn’t” find the courage to move to Seattle, I still visited every year, and the visits recharged me with good healthy food and connections with nature at places like Discovery Park and the Washington Arboretum.

Then, last year, I decided that recharging wasn’t enough. I had published two books, but was struggling to sell a third. My main source of income was bartending. I felt like a failure. I was as creatively depleted and as depressed as I had been after my abusive relationship. But that experience taught me that I had two choices: wallow in the pain or empower myself and pursue a dream. Last time I felt as bad, I spent three years drinking heavily before finally choosing to go to school for writing. It was time to make the right choice the first time around.

I could have found a thousand reasons to put off moving to Seattle forever, but deep down I knew that none of them outweighed my reason for going: I feel strong, independent, and happy there. So now, at thirty-three years old, I have decided to stop letting fear hold me back.  

200270148-001

About the author

Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert was raised as a health-conscious feminist. She went vegetarian at 13 and vegan at 17. She hated gym class, but learned to enjoy working out in her late 20s when she realized how fun and empowering it can be to punch and kick imaginary opponents. She also writes for Rookie (rookiemag.com), an online magazine for teenage girls, and has published two novels, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia. Find out more about her writing at stephaniekuehnert.com.

Leave a Comment