It might be that the saying is all wrong. It’s not “you are what you eat” but “you are how you pack.” The history of Sherry according to Sherry includes a chapter everyone’s heard: “The Day I Threw Out All My Clothes for the Rocking Chair.” Additionally, we are discovering other packing impracticalities. There are the two L.L. Bean down coats I forgot about and left in a suitcase in storage for both winters, only to discover them now that we’re headed south to warmer climes. We have found boxes of china that never made it out of the newspaper to our single kitchen cupboard. There’s the fact that I got rid of all my clothes but packed the pasta-making machine and, as my sister noted, the ugly, broken plastic magnetic box that I stuff bills in every month. On our way down, our moving trailer will be half full of girl clothes for a baby whose gender we refuse to find out.
To come here, I left a tenured position at a growing community college and to return, we’re hitting the road to the tune of almost $5.00 a gallon, with or without a job for Aaron, at the (hopefully) tail end of the worst recession in decades. I’ve considered the facts and then dismissed them: the facts are never the truth. The truth is we never wanted to say “we should have taken more risks.”
Clara and I leave in a week and a half, but I’ve gone Clint Eastwood a la Gran Torino and have let a series of refusals turn into a small case of repression. I’m experimenting with emotional immaturity. But it’s time. It’s time to think about it.
See, I have these friends here.
For my birthday, Kelsey remembered that we wanted to get facials together on our Seward trip so she got one for me through Groupon. Yesterday, Mandy emailed and said she saw in the church bulletin that our anniversary is Tuesday and she wanted to know when we were going to bring Clara over for her to watch so we could celebrate. My friend Tanya organized a small little baby shower for our Saturday book club and surprised me and the baby with this crocheted masterpiece:
But those are just the facts. The truth is we all barely remember to get haircuts and we let our baby girls get dirty together. The one word I hold onto with my friends is effortlessness. Kelsey is effortlessly perfect—she always looks beautiful, even after she’s finished teaching a circuit training class, and she makes quinoa and flaxseed taste delicious. Mandy is effortlessly good. You meet her and a little part of you finds your faith again. She’s this unusual combination of interesting and fun but also completely open and nonjudgmental.
But the truth is Aaron and I tried to go for a walk today and the wind made my eardrums hurt and Clara had to nuzzle the side of the stroller to keep it out of her face. The truth is it’s the middle of May and I’m freezing. When the uncertainty sets in, as it always does, I’ll remember that it was too cold to go for a walk in May. The only way I know how to leave is to take some of Mandy and Kelsey and a little of this whole gosh darn state with me. I’m convinced there is not a more sincere place on earth.
Not that sincerity is always pretty. There was, for instance, the guy with the bumper sticker “Don’t drink and drive. You might spill your beer.” Since being here and meeting 3/4 of the town, I’ve learned that the guy with the bumper sticker is very likely a really nice, helpful person. I think he’d probably stop and change my tire if I needed him to.
What I’ll miss about Alaska is that unless you live in town there’s really no cable television up here. The sheer isolation of the place has created an Alaskan culture that is noticeably different than commercial culture. People don’t joke about how their husbands don’t do s**t around the house or about how their wives never stop nagging them. The men we’ve met up here build their own houses and paint with watercolor in their spare time. They talk about the books they’ve read. They dote on their daughters and they are kind to their wives. The wives gut fish and drive trucks and play the banjo. People run deep up here. Everywhere you turn is authenticity.
We came up here to get married and then to start our family because we needed these huge fresh starts to be clean and true and authentic. In Alaska, it’s easy to recognize yourself. There are just not a lot of resources for creating a disguise.
Nobody wants to feel stuck. I think we chose to come here in part to know that we could make that choice. I’m not sure people go looking for a change as much as they go looking to be changed. In Alaska, I have been changed by the goodness of my friends and by the warmth of a state that’s always a little cold.
Enough about me. The real tragedy here is Clara’s friendships may have peaked at two-years-old. Our little girl has learned how to love her friends, too.
Here she is—just being cute in the headband she found mid-packing.
Oh, my little explorer. She and Aaron went out walking tonight while I finished dinner and they both found appropriately-sized walking sticks for their jaunt.