Via the Deschutes Historical Museum.

Your Bend is Not My Bend

Recently, I’ve been thinking about my hometown. Maybe it’s some nostalgia creeping in when I realize it’s my last fall/spring/February or what-have-you here. Maybe it’s the fact that I won’t be around long enough to understand complaints about construction on whatever road the City of Bend is ripping up now. But more so than that, I realized that when I move away, I’ll have to describe to other people what my town was like—if you can call it a town at all. Right now, it’s like an obese baby, bordering on a small toddler city.

When I moved here, it wasn’t all that big, and it wasn’t all so overwhelming to find parking. At the same time, there wasn’t super interesting cuisine, either. Five years of my life have most likely been devoted to sitting in various, identical breweries. Blindfold me and walk me into a brewery, and I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart until you walked me to the bathroom. I’m not sure how to think about Bend-that-was, because my old Bend was someone’s new Bend.

There’s this old thought experiment about the Ship of Theseus: after Theseus slayed the Minotaur and returned to Athens, his ship was kept in its pristine condition by replacing various planks once they’d rotten. In time, the ship was all replaced, bit by bit, so that it wouldn’t rot in the harbor. Everybody wanted to know if it was the same ship, even if it was made from different materials–even though Theseus had never touched the bow, even if it wasn’t the same planks that had carried him home. It still looked like the ship, and it still sat where the ship had sat.

It happened slowly, and I wasn’t angry about it. There was an influx of people, which led to some of the best friends I’ve ever had. In fact, I was a part of the earliest wave of newcomers. There were new restaurants, new stores, new roads, new neighborhoods. I loved some, hated more, and am currently harboring a personal vendetta against the boutiques that seem to pop up like unfortunate pimples. 

But at the same time, it was disorienting. I’d look around me in school assemblies and not recognize anyone. Going to familiar restaurants, I’d leave once I saw the crushing crowd of people waiting in line. Later, I would watch everyone in my neighborhood move out, selling their now-coveted homes for double the price. I’m sure the faithful who’ve lived here all their lives are experiencing an even greater shock. Nowadays, people who have lived here for generations are slowly watching their town turn into a major tourist destination. 

My last full year living here, and all I see when I go anywhere is the memory of my childhood home, like ghosts clouding my vision. It wasn’t all great, but at least we could go to the river in relative solitude. 

When I go grocery shopping, I still mess up and say “Food 4 Less” instead of its new name, which has already slipped my mind. Traffic detours are my nightmare, and new neighborhoods mess up my sense of direction. The land they were built on were places I took my dog out, away from the bustle of the street. 

My dog loved sniffing that tree, I would think, as I drove past construction workers chopping it down. We loved to walk under it.

I remember the small pockets of land that would end up getting bulldozed for more houses, more people, more boutiques. In my own personal act of spite, I enjoy letting my dog pee in their grass. 

It’s not their fault, but it’s mine for my inability to move on. Old Bend is dead, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we’re just growing apart. When I move on, I’ll just shrug my shoulders whenever someone asks me what Bend is like. How should I know, anymore? And anyways, Theseus ended up getting crushed by the rotting planks of an old ship that wasn’t his, so I guess I shouldn’t think about it too hard.