This latest move doesn’t feel like a transition. It feels like an alternate universe.
Somewhere in the recesses of my memory is a life before. But that life seems foreign and distant, like a dream.
Sometimes I am shaken with the realization that I really did it. I really quit the job I loved and packed up and moved to a new house in a new state to take a new job, again. After dreaming of living in this place for so long, it seemed like an impossibility. Yet here it is. I am living it.
This course of drastic change seems so stark compared to the life before.
Just months earlier, I stood in airport in some city somewhere for the 20th time last year. Announcements echoed through the corridor, funneling people into lines that led to seats that led to flights to faraway places. Suitcase wheels buzzed around me as rivers of people wearing scarves and holding Starbucks cups and talking on cell phones flowed through the hallways.
I stood like rock in that river, as people moved to bump and splash on either side. I felt as though that moment was a little analogous to the life I was living.
Everywhere were birth announcements and engagements and job changes and life events. I seemed to be in the midst of that steady stream of change, standing, unmoved. I watched the metamorphosis of many a friend go from single to engaged to married to motherhood. Years passed as these events took course in their lives, one after another after another.
That day in the airport, as I looked back, it was if I had been watching a time lapse video of their lives in motion. And all the while, amid the flurry, I stood still.
Then something shifted. It was so slight at the beginning. Like a boulder that has sat perched on a crux, motionless for years. Then some internal, unseeable settling sends it rolling. I felt it in my core one day — that shift — and knew the tumble was coming.
From my spinning viewpoint at the center of it, I watched my world morph into something new. Here I am, at a conclusion and a new beginning. And finally, at the end of still.
The lights from the city are glowing off to my left as my car glides through the tos and fros of this six-lane artery. This is usually when I wait in ambivalence for the drive to be over. But tonight I feel prickles of nostalgia come over me in the peace brought by the darkness and the staccato beats of the white dotted lines ticking by.
I’ve lived my entire adult life in this state, never quite feeling at home in my mind, but somehow making one of it. I’ve talked endlessly about my native state with stubborn loyalty and complained about the politics and softness of the culture here. Yet, now that I am faced with leaving, suddenly all the good things I will miss surface.
I will miss the warmth of the sunshine, which never seems daunted by winter rains for long.
I will miss the frothy beaches set against rocky crags.
I will miss year-round biking though oak flanked clay single-track trails.
I will rivers flowing over granite and fields of wine grapes tucked in blankets of mustard flowers.
But most of all, I will miss the pockets of friends I have scattered throughout different cities I have lived here. The ones I explored the mountains with. The ones I worked with. The ones I ran with. The ones I prayed with. The ones I sat in church with. The ones I traveled with. The ones I lived next to. The ones who I stayed up late dreaming about this very move with.
Suddenly my future seems like a blank page without them to help me write my stories. And yet I know there will others who will take up the pen.
But for now, I can’t help but feel a loss at leaving this state.
I always wanted a nick name. I tried to cautiously insert one myself. That strategy never works. Instead, I was always called my name with the last “A” dropped off. I didn’t hate it. But I didn’t love it either. And it didn’t qualify as a true nickname.
I was 29 when I finally succeeded.
“You should do it now when you are moving,” my friend said. We were sitting on a rocky beach in Seattle, talking about my fruitless pursuit of an alternative. This was a last hurrah trip shortly before I was to take another job in another area.
For the rest of the trip, she began introducing me with a new name.
It’s one thing to play along with a friend, it’s another to decide you are going to change your own name. The decision came impulsively with the first person I introduced myself to in my new town. “Hi, I’m A…,” I said. The name sounded foreign on my lips … insincere … strange. But the person believed me. They accepted that answer and shook my hand without blinking.
At first, when people called me by my new name, I had to remind myself of who they were talking to. A few times, the name would float in the air unanswered, until the realization bubbled to my mind – that’s me.
It’s been five years since then and something funny happened. I became that new girl they called by a shorter name. The new name fits me now, as if I was a toddler who grew into big shoes. Now my old name sounds foreign and unnatural. As a group of friends used the old name recently, I had to remind myself that they were talking about me.
My friends from my past life give me sideways glances when they find out. They insist I am who I was. My new friends are incredulous I ever had another name. They insist I am who I am now.
It seems silly that I would change my name at 29. It did to me even as I was making the change. But looking back, I realize I needed that new identity at the time. I needed to start fresh. To disconnect from the person I had become. To take a new paint brush and fill in the letters of who I was with new colors.
It was in giving myself a new name, I found the person I wanted to be.
I have the phone tucked in the crook of my shoulder as I listen to him from the seat of my desk in my dorm room. Dad is trying to talk me out of quitting my music minor. “It’s too hard,” I protest. “Most of the other students have dropped out.” Somehow, in his quiet, coaxing way, he is bringing me back around. It’s been 14 years since then. With “music minor” scrawled securely on my diploma, I am glad he did.
Fast forward from that phone call. We stand in the dealership as I look around. “Which is it?” I can’t stop smiling. Dad points. There in the center of the floor is a cherry red Chevy with a gigantic bow on the top of its roof. It is so perfect — unscathed, unscratched. It has 18 miles on it. It is mine. A few months later, I pack it up and drive to California. It has been 10 years since then. It is now scathed and scratched with the paint peeling back from its roof where the bow was and 92,000 miles on its odometer. It is at mile 91,254 I find out how Dad really felt when we hugged goodbye. “It was really hard for him when you left,” mom tells me.
Fast forward from the day in the dealership. I am sitting next to my sister on her wedding day, wearing a maroon taffeta dress. She is glowing. I think she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in that moment. My dad stands in front of a crop of round tables, as people in dresses and suits look on, their chins on their fists or tucked in their laps. In the midst of his speech, he sings brokenly the song he used to sing my sister when colic kept her restless through long nights, “Amanda, the love of my life, you will make a gentleman’s wife.” I am overcome. I absently wonder what he will say at my wedding. Six years have passed since then, and he still hasn’t had the chance.
These are the things that wash over my mind tonight — all those little memories that sum up my picture of him: wise, supportive, loving. I’m sitting on the laminate floor of my hallway, a passage way too narrow to sit with my legs outstretched. “Please God, don’t take my dad.” I’m crying. Not the pretty, subdued kind. The sobbing, gut-wrenching, begging kind. Like somehow, if I cry the hardest I have ever cried in my life, God will take mercy on me and answer my prayer. “Don’t take my dad, or I will walk away and never look back.”
The threat scares me a little. Do I mean it? I wonder. I don’t know.
I have lived life believing a fallacy: That there is some sort of quota on hardships. Once someone has reached that magic mark, they are done. But I am learning that past losses don’t exclude you from the present ones. Sometimes the inverse is true. For some people, it’s as if one begets another, like a snowball tucking in more snow to its girth as it gains speed downhill. I thought once my mom was diagnosed with cancer, that meant my family was done. I feel silly for believing that now.
My dad told me about her diagnosis while I was driving my car on the highway. “I have some bad news…” he started and I started sobbing. He has always been uneasy with tears.
That was four years ago. Tonight I was in my car again when he tells me about his own. “I have some bad news …” he starts. This time I hold back so he can’t hear me. But the tears come and don’t stop long past when I am sitting on the floor in my hallway. Long past after I go to bed. Long past the treatments are over and the tests come back clear.
Part of me is waiting for the next phone call as I’m driving , as if my mind is walking on the eggshells that are my family’s health and happiness. I can’t stop thinking about the advice and the wedding and the other big life events I need him for. So the pleading doesn’t stop with the good news.
“Please God, don’t take my dad.”
I probably could have found justifications for not being happy if I had wanted to. Parents who were divorced when I was young. Some pretty messy heartbreaks. Some of those insolvable family tensions.
But to me happiness was always a given. Those things were just bumps in the road of a pretty great life.
It’s only relatively recently that mentality has taken more convincing. Somewhere along the line, those things I thought I always would have never came. Those things I took for granted went away. But most disconcertingly, the faith I had securely renewed began taking a beating. It’s like someone began pushing back my fingers one by one from the grip I had on it.
And so my soul slid into this melancholy. I feel like I have been fighting off the black tar of self pity. Sometimes I let it linger before shaking it. Sometimes I reel back from it, but it still crouches in a corner of my mind. It brings a numbing lethargy.
Still, there are these moments of reprieve.
I am sitting beside a fire in the mountains of a far off place. The flames lap at the cold air. A friend stands at a make-shift table nearby, pouring me a glass of wine. We swing between goofy and thoughtful. In this moment, I am happy, I think.
Later, I lay in a tent with the doughy material of my sleeping bag pulled in around my face. Our words float up around us as we lay there, shrinking from the bite of the cold. This is nice, I think.
In the days after, I hold to the handlebars of my bike, letting it glide on the ups and downs and sways of a powdery trail. The movement feels exhilarating, refreshing.
Tonight, I am sitting in a wooden pew, letting the mellow sounds of blues wash over me. I tilt my head back on my seat and watch as the singer’s hands weave up the stem of his guitar. Something about his voice, his music, is like a balm to those parts of me that have felt a bit tender.
Sitting here, I don’t want to go back to the dim light of my present outlook. I want to bathe in the respite that moments like this bring. They are like bread crumbs God has doled out in the midst of a season of bare cupboards.
Some say happiness is based on events. It is joy you should seek, which doesn’t come on the tides of circumstance.
To me, they have always felt like the same thing. Because I knew how to be happy about the good things that often come side-by-side with the bad. I hope this deviation from my norm is a momentary detour back to a road I’ve paved.
In the meantime, I relish these reprieves.
It’s 7:30 p.m. and I am sitting in my car outside my gym after my work out, trying to decide if I can put off going to the store for one more day.
I talk myself into thinking I don’t need milk.
It’s almost 8 by the time I weave through traffic and climb the steep stairs to my house. It doesn’t take long to regret my decision.
I stare at my open cupboards. They are a smorgasbord of snacks: popcorn, chips, trail mix … marshmallows. It’s like storage space for an upcoming Girls Scouts camping trip. There is nothing in there of substance.
I squat in front of my fridge.
I really don’t want eggs again tonight, I think.
I stand up and survey my cupboards.
I squat and peer into my fridge.
This goes on for several rounds, as if I am on a teeter-totter by myself.
I do this little exercise more frequently than I would like to admit. I don’t enjoy grocery shopping. And even when I do it I never know the right collection of items to buy for a week’s worth of full-course meals. That requires forethought and looking up recipes and, of course, money.
But this time, I can’t even eat cereal, the ultimate dinner cop-out, because I don’t have milk.
This is unglamorous side of living alone .
I am focused on her feet in front of me. Sand and black remnants of lava crumble from each of her footprints as she takes another step upwards. Then I follow suit.
My lungs are desperately sorting through the air I breathe for molecules of oxygen, which are evasive at 10,000 feet. The summit is a jagged black promise across a field of snow.
Two days ago, I wasn’t sure if I would make it here. Three jobs were demanding a lot of me. Deadlines were looming. I was exhausted from a series of out-of-town excursions. I had worn out the same words praying for my dad’s health as he recovered from chemo. A stubborn injury and some health-related bills had left me disillusioned. It’s too much, I thought.
But for some reason, I summoned the little bit of energy I had and got in my car and drove for hours. Past hay fields and mountain passes and tiny towns with rusty water tanks.
At the top we let our legs hang off a ledge while we eat bagel sandwiches and carrots and trail mix. We laugh, and I forget all about home. The air has a bite, but the sun on my jacket is warm. Peaks ripple below the tips of our shoes. And suddenly everything, even the things that had loomed above me days before, seems very small.
This scene is over-saturated with color in surreal proportions: the red of the rock, the blue of the sky, the teal green of a glacial lake. I’m drinking in the colors with insatiable thirst, as if they will somehow refill my empty reserves.
There is something intoxicating about the color and the air and the sun at 10,000 feet. And there is something refreshing about the 10,000 steps it takes to get there.