denise stoughton

Image Courtesy of Denise Stoughton

Finding Bainbridge

They say, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl. Manhattan was home for decades. Forty years of fierce loyalty to her virtues and…

They say, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl. Manhattan was home for decades. Forty years of fierce loyalty to her virtues and vice. Forty years of being captive to and captivated by the kaleidoscopic decoupage that is her skin and her hair and her eyes; and me, a riotous participant in the pasting of ideas, styles, art, blood, sweat and tears onto her surface and into her soul – she was as beautiful as she was decrepit but make no mistake, she was both.

Buoyed by her capacity to set the stage for adventure, I took wild rides in careening taxis at 4:00am to private soirees in obscure galleries, dared to pour every ounce of myself onto the streets, into doorways and through underground tubes. I sunbathed in Sheep Meadow, stole kisses in The Brambles, scarfed pizza at Big Nicks and ate delicate finger sandwiches in the café at MoMA, swapped words, philosophies, grievances and pieces of myself with rock stars, evangelists, writers, rabbis, skateboarders, socialites and slackers, fell in and out of love and learned about this thing called life. All of this, all of her, all of me, inextricably bound.

Denise in New York

“She knows who I am, she sees my good deeds and she kisses me windy…at least I have her love, the city she loves me.” – Red Hot Chili Peppers, Under the Bridge

“It’s not you, it’s me,” is what I told her when I decided to move away.

She was hurt, I could see that. Was there nothing else she could give me? Had she not provided me with every thrill? Had she not cradled me in my darkest moments?

Clearly, she did not want to release me into the world and so created a huge backup at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel as I tried to leave. Making it through NYC traffic without killing yourself or someone else is a real rite of passage but I didn’t want to spend my life being chewed up and spit out as I’d come to see it. With tears in my eyes, I pressed on and eventually the tunnel released me into New Jersey and then southbound onto the turnpike like a trucker spitting a loogie.

Afterward, when talking with friends, I was fond of saying “I did my time” or “I saved myself “ (from becoming that crazy lady riding the crosstown shuttle on a loop, spewing obscenities) but really, it felt like a betrayal – I had left NYC with all her textures and her nuances and her indelible truths for a job in Dallas, Texas.

In Dallas I believed my destiny would always be that of a wayward satellite tethered to NYC – exchanging continuous signals and feedback with the mother ship while orbiting other planets; a displaced citizen of the five boroughs which wouldn’t release me or perhaps which I could not quite release.

And not “just-like-that” but through a chain of misadventures spanning three years, two states and one relationship, I found myself in the embrace of trees and moss and rain and frogs and fairies and ferries in a world bearing no likeness to my city.

She, resplendent in emerald green amidst the sun-sparked waves of the Puget Sound, was as welcoming as a warm blanket on a cold night. The ferry ride went smoothly, we glided into the terminal and I was flooded with anticipation as I disembarked onto her soft shores with my fancy luggage, two pampered dogs and golf-course-ready partner but really, like a shipwrecked sailor. I tucked myself into life on Bainbridge Island, into the fiber of her being.

Yes, I took to her – the solitude and peace of the Grand Forest, the charm and utility of Bay Hay and Feed, tides and beaches and estuaries and spits, boots in tidy rows at front doors, friends who lend a helping hand and neighbors who give things away “Free on the Rock”, the Mayberry-ness of downtown Winslow, the compactness (your friend from yoga might also be your doctor) of community, stretches of winter darkness that aren’t really dark but candlelit moments for inner reflection, the reward of having born the winters for the best summers on earth, where filmmakers, writers, artists, makers, vintners, villains and vaudevillians toil without much fanfare beneath her canopy, where quietude, creativity and cooperation intersect, where like a blinking traffic light you intermittently find and lose yourself.

“She acts like summer and walks like rain; reminds me that there’s a time to change…did the wind sweep you off your feet? Did you finally get the chance to dance along the light of day? And head back to the Milky Way? And tell me, did Venus blow your mind? Was it everything you wanted to find? And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?”

– Train, Drops of Jupiter

You can have two homes. Not in the sense where you own a home here and own a home there but rather in the realm where parts of your soul reside in two places – like having two parents, two hands or practically anything that comes in pairs – like shoes or gloves. In this way, there is no betrayal – there is balance and symmetry, the embodiment of yin and yang.

Bainbridge is the home I never knew was always waiting. We’re born not knowing what we’re tethered to, lives spent swinging from branches, craving this and that, seeking and longing, imagining and remembering but the soul will always guide you home. You can’t take the city out of the girl or anything out of anybody for that matter. Each of us are like cities and towns, each of us are self-contained secret worlds unto ourselves, having our own pathways and monuments and kaleidoscopes of experiences and we are faceted and fashioned from the places we’ve lived.

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it / This brokenness inside me might start healing; Out there it’s like I’m someone else; I thought maybe I could find myself.”

  • Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me

ABOUT DENISE STOUGHTON INSPIRED by globe-trotting, day tripping, found objects and high fashion, Denise has been designing home decor for two decades. Originally from the island of Manhattan, she traded concrete and glass skyscrapers for skyscrapers of the deciduous and coniferous variety and now lives happily on Bainbridge Island with her Chihuahua, Tula. Interior Design has and always will be her first love. She studied (and later, taught) at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. Denise writes a blog for Mercury Michael and is also a member of AHB’s Public Art Committee – placing public art in public spaces.