On December 19, 2021, I was standing in our bedroom in Douglas, Alaska, when my dad called to tell us he’d had a seizure. Subsequent tests revealed cancer. He’d been unable to find words when he was speaking, and the friend to whom he had been speaking had called for an ambulance.
As we would already be in California after Christmas, we decided that would be a good time for me to fly to Wisconsin and check in over New Year’s Eve. We had a nice, late night talking with my dad and brother. The next morning my mom called early: my grandma, her mom, couldn’t breathe and was asking for me.
I’d flown to Wisconsin to check in on my dad, but my brother and I spent that cold, quiet holiday weekend in the hospital with our mom and grandma, telling stories, listening to chill music, and drinking coffee.
An hour after I’d arrived back at my in-laws’ house in California, she was gone, and I was devastated. I hadn’t realized I wasn’t ready to let her go until she had already slipped away. But… I’d been there.
Even before all of this happened, we had been having a little bit of a hard time in Juneau. Our house was getting too small. On our best days we would talk about adding on to it or getting a separate space for Jacob to work. It almost never stopped raining, which did have its own mystique. But I was sick of it.
I had been talking to Jacob about how I was ready to move on from the mountain town when we got the call from my dad. Even when I had been much further away, I had never felt so far away or helpless as I had after receiving that news.
We hadn’t necessarily decided to make a beeline for Oshkosh. Now, we had a reason: to be around people again. Especially after COVID. Especially having just lost a main family member. I billed the move of our lives this way to mine, and, even though at least half of us were skeptical… we went for it.
We’d moved to Juneau, Alaska, from Bonn, Germany, when our daughter Imogen, now six, was two months old, making Alaska our kids’ only home until now.
And then, from the first end table to the last mattress, we dismantled it, shipping to my brother and sister-in-law what we’d keep, giving away all the rest of our things, and our fish, selling our cars and eventually our house. That part was actually easier than I thought it’d be.
On March 18, 2022, I left Alaska with my own family and made my way back to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the place of my birth.
We had to make one stop on the way: in Kona, Hawaii, with seven 50-lb. totes containing the stuff we’d needed until the last minute and all the leftover stuff. (The stuff! I don’t even have a lot!) We rolled into Wisconsin at the end of March, a few days before my birthday. It’s been (almost) a year.
It’s only been a year but it’s also been a whirlwind of a year, the ins and outs of which I am only now beginning to process. I still can’t think about the kids saying goodbye to our crew on 5th Street. But we were able to stay at some friends’ house and travel with them to their family place on the Big Island of Hawaii, which we’d had planned before the move. It was good that it fit in between places.
I finished my MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching program) from Alaska, Hawaii, and Wisconsin, time zones be damned. We all got COVID upon arrival in Wisconsin. My mom and I went to Georgia for more days than I’d ever been away from my kids. From my Aunt Dana’s front porch, I started applying for high school teaching jobs in Wisconsin; I got one, in Oshkosh.
During the eight-ish weeks we were staying next door to my dad’s in a gracious, traveling neighbor’s house, Imogen and Ansel each successfully finished the year at new schools, we went for walks by the pond, caught turtles, snakes, and frogs, played in the creek, and took supper over to my dad most nights.
We celebrated dad’s 75th birthday with family and friends on June 2nd, the last day of the school year, and we also had a beautiful service with my aunt and cousins for Nana (“Gigi”), which did offer some closure, but didn’t make it any easier to not have her here to listen and talk to and be around. As grateful as I am that my kids have their own grandparents, it’s weird to be in this town with none of my own anymore.
We were able to move into our house on Knapp Street the Monday after Gigi’s memorial. Our house immediately felt like home to me. The first night it was ours, I turned on the country radio and washed every inch of the original wood floors. Around Christmas time, Imogen told me she was starting to like it here. This past week, she told me she is starting to like it better than our old house. It’s been a year.
Summer in Wisconsin is for cabins and lakes, and we were able to take part in a lot of that fun in Wautoma, Waupaca, Lake Wandawega, Manitowish Waters, and at my dad’s own cabin in Crivitz (twice). Family and friends visited from Florida, Minnesota, Illinois, and Germany… Jacob and I even made it to Driftless Music Gardens to see Charlie Parr and Trampled by Turtles in concert.
So this has the breezy tone of someone who has things all dialed in… but I do not. Dad is doing well. But there are so many aspects to his care, to the care Imogen and Ansel need with their friends and activities, to the care my job requires, itself a high learning curve. There is not much at the end of the day. I know I need to put down my phone and pick up my running shoes, and make some homemade dinners.
I was forty when I had Ansel: something my students would refer to as a “me decision,” it might have something to do with why I cannot do the things I know I need, except, apparently, yoga and the occasional loaf of bread. As it is the last day before spring break and I am a high school teacher, let’s allow for a bit of grace around the edges as well: even the “just teacher”-teachers are at their breaking point.
But since I’m also the lady who jams earplugs as far as they go into my ears, and sleeps in the guest room if Jacob comes to bed one minute after 11:00 pm and dares to turn on his bedside lamp… I can’t imagine who I would be at this point had I not had the time to fully inhabit myself in Istanbul, in Africa, in Greece in my twenties, etc., and would not have had all of that balancing on the other side of this husk.
This has been a long-winded way to say we were there and now we are here. We may, at some point, go somewhere else. And we’ll be fine, again, because we’ll do it together. But for now we are here. Our house, as already stated, is beautiful. We want to fix up the basement a little. The kids have friends and are excited about summer and we have a black lab puppy and two kitties and a bunny named Stan.
And my dad is here. Fifteen months ago, I was given a reason to believe he may not be.