29 August 2010

neither here nor there

I am moved in but not unpacked. I cannot unpack completely until I get a dresser and some sort of storage thing for the bathroom and possibly a bookshelf and, oh dear, there is a box under my bed labeled "Random Shitola that I (almost) Wish Would Disappear" that might never get unpacked. C0mc@st bills from 2008, anyone?

The kitchen is unpacked, though, and I can cook and eat. Today I wanted popcorn, but I have no microwave, so I opened the bag of microwave popcorn into a pan and popped it that way. It worked remarkably well. I had not one un-popped kernel.

I like this town, so far. I drank good coffee yesterday, and I have wandered through several interesting neighborhoods. And yet, I keep thinking that there is something wrong with this move. It's anti-climatic to move when all you find at the other end is another town like the old one, only smaller. I am used to moving to somewhere completely different. If I'm moving, there should be a new culture at the end, and a new language. If I'm moving here, I keep thinking, I might as well move back to Michigan. Then I could at least be near my family.

Remind me why I'm not in Africa, again?


The first night camping, we slept out on the pavement, under the shooting stars. We laid our sleeping bags down in a little alcove of the path and snuggled into the depths of, in my case, two sleeping bags. (Getting the -15 degree F bag that I usually use would have required extra phoning and driving and all I could think of was getting out out out to the woods. I had to double up.) In the night, in the dark, each time I woke up, I looked up and strained to keep my eyes open long enough to see just one shooting star. I tried to remember to wish on each one.

27 August 2010

sugar bowl

I have been looking for a sugar bowl for a long time. Not actively looking, of course, but periodically I remember how handy it would be to have the sugar out on the counter in a bowl instead of in the cupboard in a bag, and I surf etsy for a while hoping to find one, and I am disappointed, and then I forget about it for a while. Today, after running such vital errands as changing my address at the bank and getting a library card and bus pass, I began walking in the direction of the Freddy's store to buy a mattress pad (the allergy cover for the mattress is so horribly heat-trapping that I can't sleep, especially now that I don't have air conditioning).

I walked for a while through little neighborhoods, which were pretty and which cause me to think, looking at a For Sale sign, I might actually someday be able to buy a house if I stay in this town. That would not have been possible, ever, in Gone West City, but it just might be here in Universe City. Then I left the neighborhoods behind and the trees disappeared and the road was full of cars and I was getting hot and tired and lo, a bus pulled up just as I walked past a bus stop, and it was going to the very place where I needed to be.

I went to goodwill first, and there I remembered, again, how nice it would be to have a sugar bowl. This time, I found one that I actually liked, but it seemed sort of... wide and squat. I began to doubt myself.

The following conversation ensued:

Me, to Fifty-Something Motherly Woman: Excuse me. Can I ask you a question? Do you think this is a sugar bowl, or is it something else, like maybe for gravy? It has a lid like a sugar bowl but it's the size of the gravy boats.

Fifty-Something Motherly Woman: Oh, wow. People used to use those to put sugar out for tea and coffee. With those little jugs for the milk.

Me: Um, yes. That's what I want to use it for.

FSMW: I never use them myself. I just get the sugar out of the container. It looks like one, though. Little lid like that. The gravy ones have a space for a ladle. Yeah, people used to use those sugar bowls all the time.

Me: Yeah... I am planning to use it, too. I don't need a creamer, though, but I just thought this sugar bowl was pretty.

FWMW: It is pretty. I just didn't realize people still used them.

So I've spent months to years looking for something that even people my mom's age think are old-fashioned.

I wonder what she would think if she knew that I also bought a pyrex bowl with the gold pattern that my mom's corelleware had in the 80s. Oh, and? On Wednesday, I bought a tupperware canister in classic 1979 green, to match the yellow tupperware container I inherited when my grandma moved to the nursing home. That yellow container got a lot of compliments - from people my age - when I brought cupcakes in it to work.

20 August 2010

in the end

There are layers of delicious, addicting, chocolate cake on my stovetop, and boxes everywhere, and I'm still not sure if I'll have everything packed up by nine a.m. when people arrive to load my life into a truck and cart it to Universe City. The cake is my anchor right now. I can see progress in it, while the rest of the apartment just seems like chaos. I load a box and then make some frosting, carry out some recycling and cut one layer into two. I am accomplishing something, just maybe not the something I need to accomplish.

"Get some sleep," my momma cautions me, and I mean to, but I'm not sure if it will work, here in this room of box after box surrounded by random papers and rejected bags. I don't know if I can sleep.

I moved here with two suitcases. I am leaving with too many items to count.

"When I was moving," T. said, "I tried to find this comedy sketch. The woman talks about how when you start packing, you are organized and you label things, and then by the end you are throwing things randomly into boxes and yelling, 'I HATE MY STUFF!'"

I hate my stuff. My boxes aren't quite totally random yet, though.

My friend E. moved a month ago, and when we arrived everything was neat and clean and already half loaded in the truck. We were in and out in half an hour. I was awed and inspired, and I'm trying to do that here. I will manage it, I keep telling myself, even if I don't sleep tonight.

I might not sleep tonight, or not much, and that is the worst moment: in the dark, in the night, surrounded by impossible packing, crying with no one to call because the whole world is asleep.

19 August 2010

I feel sick, sick, sick. I know this sick feeling, too. It feels far too familiar. This sick feeling is the reason I moved to Gone West. It is the reason I promised myself that I would never change cities again if I had to do it alone.

Two years and nine months after I moved here, three years after I made myself that promise, in August of 2007, in those miserable days before I left for Sudan, I am moving alone, again.

And I'm actually pretty pissed about it.

15 August 2010

pleasant little hike

Someone, and I really do not know who, because it happened before I arrived, had the genius idea to hike a fifteen mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. Fifteen miles is not a problem for S. and N., who are bizarrely fit without making any kind of effort, but F. and I are slightly less naturally athletic, and I'm not sure I have ever in my life hiked fifteen miles in one go.

Of course we had to start out with a good night of sleep and pancakes and coffee, and then we had to drop the car off at the trailhead where we were going to leave the trail, so it was 1:15 pm before we actually started hiking.

Obstacles encountered:
  1. 15 miles
  2. Lots of uphills (these are mountains, after all)
  3. Lava fields in the afternoon sun
  4. Fifteen miles
  5. F.'s bum knee and, as he said to me later, "the eighty to a hundred pounds I have on you"
  6. Forgetting to eat/drink enough
  7. All those MILES.
Four and a half hours and 6.5 miles into the hike, S. insisted that N. and I leave her behind with F., so that we at least could complete the entire planned trail, and hopefully see the sunset from the final lava field. She and F. would cut off a few miles and meet us at the trailhead. N. and I had been hiking far ahead anyway, and then sitting in the sparse bits of shade on the lava, throwing pebbles across the path at each others' water bottles while we waited for S. and F. to show up.

"Midnight is panic time," she said. "If we aren't out by then, start walking back up the trail to find us."

If anyone could get F. over the pass and through the trail, it would be S. She is infinitely patient with the slow people on these sorts of trips. Last year, she got a forty-something, out of shape woman who had never before climbed a mountain up a fairly large one. She cajoles and persuades and feeds and bullies, and somehow the slow people keep going.

So we set off, N. and I, with me in front to set a pace that I could maintain. It took us just over four hours to do the remaining 8.5 miles. We hiked through alpine meadows and stunted pines, over lava and obsidian, and up and down through the woods. We barely stopped to rest. I wasn't sure I could keep going once I stopped, although I didn't say that out loud.

"Do you want to climb down to that waterfall?" I asked at one point.

"Not really. Do you?"

"No," I said. "I would rather let that be a moment of beauty rather than a detour of beauty."

"Let's just keep going," N. said, and we turned our backs to the waterfall.

Even N., the invincible one, began to say that he was tired. "I've been standing on a boat for six weeks," he said, referring to his salmon fishing in Alaska. "Good," I said. "That's the only reason I am even close to keeping up with you." I tried not to complain so that I could pretend that I can hike on his level, even though I know that I can't. Not at all. He climbs mountains for fun. Not the kind we hiked last year all in a day, six miles up and six miles back, but the kind that are over 14,000 feet and that require helmets and crampons and ice axes.

We entered the final 3 mile stretch of woods just as the sunlight faded.

"What is a good hike without a need for headlamps?" I said.

After thinking for a minute, I answered myself. "Probably a better hike, actually."

"Let's not use the headlamps until one of us falls or runs into a tree," N. said, and we set off nearly blind in the almost-dark, until I said, after nearly tripping over a root, "I hope you are prepared to carry me the rest of the way down this mountain when I sprain my ankle."

I thought those woods would never end. We kept walking and walking, silent now, too tired to talk, too focused on the ground beneath our feet. Finally, I began to stumble over nearly every root, and I realized that I hadn't eaten in hours.

We sat down on a log, and N. took off his backpack and sighed. "That feels good," he said.

"It would feel a lot better if I didn't have a splinter in my ass," I said, picking out the offending bit of wood. I realized that I felt sick. I took out a granola bar, but I was too nauseous to eat it. It was too sickly sweet. I settled for choking down a coconut scone and some water.

Half an hour later, we finally stumbled into the parking lot. I have never been so happy to see a pit latrine.

Two hours later still, after checking four campgrounds, one youth camp, and a resort for water, we filled up the water jugs at a spigot in the parking lot at the resort, and screamed around corners all the way back up to the pass, trying to get back to S. and F. "Are you scared?" N. kept asking, as I clutched at the door and laughed.

"Um... no," I said, as calmly as I could, as we skidded around a 15 mph turn at 35 miles an hour. "It's like a roller coaster."

S. and F. had been waiting for an hour and twenty minutes. We felt bad. But we had water!

We all took ibuprofen, except S., who said that she felt fine. F. went straight to bed. N. heated up chili, and N., S., and I sat huddled in silence over warm bowls of it, each with our headlamps glowing down on the food. A more pathetic bunch of hikers you never did see. This morning, N. said only his feet hurt, and S. still said that she felt fine, and F. said he felt fine but was afraid that tomorrow would be that much worse.

I tried to pretend that I wasn't limping.

05 August 2010


Around 7:30 p.m., I started realizing that I felt weird. My head felt a little floaty. My stomach felt icky.

I really do have to remember that two large cups of cold-brewed coffee on a nearly empty stomach is not a good plan for me.

I was drinking lots of coffee at dinnertime in an attempt to make my red-eye flight to Michigan slightly less awful. If I'm not sleepy, I can't be tired, right?

Lie. Coffee doesn't actually keep me awake (except for the whole psychological aspect), but it does make me have to pee, a lot. Getting up to go to the bathroom is going to be what keeps me awake. The people sitting in seats 34E and 34 D are going to LOVE me.

"Can I just... squeeze past you one more time?"

Yeah. Not so good.

04 August 2010


The mountain glowed purple on Monday night as I went to bring N.'s car back, and for the first time I thought, I am going to lose that when I move. It happened again today as I sat in my favorite park, watching the kids play in the waterworks. I am going to lose this when I move.

It's a process, letting go of a place, and I am glad to have a whole month to do it, because this place, in particular, is going to be nearly as hard to leave as was Rwanda. Rwanda was harder, of course, because I had no idea when I would be able to go back, and now I haven't been back there in five years and everything has changed and I have missed it all. Universe City, on the other hand, is a few hours away from here. I can come back pretty much any weekend I want. I have friends here, and my Family No. 2 is here. In fact, I will virtually have to come back here if ever I want to fly anywhere.

Still, it is going to be hard to leave. This is the first place where I have ever been happy. HAPPY. Are you happy? Can you imagine it? I don't think I could, really, before I lived in Gone West.

There are all sorts of Happy, of course. There is the Big Exciting Event Happy and the Hope For New Things Happy and the Favorite People Ever Happy. This is a different Happy. This is the kind of Happy where you sit in a park all alone, or on a mountain with a new friend, or just at your desk, and you are still perfectly happy with all that you have and don't have. I hope I can keep that kind of Happy after I move. I think I can.

(If you write happy a bunch of times, it starts to look like it is spelled wrong.)

03 August 2010


I have big plans for this evening. BIG PLANS. Pretty much, my goal is to be in bed by 9 p.m. Maybe 8:30.

I don't know what is going on here, other than a cup'la late nights in a row, but last night I fell asleep on the couch. At 6:40 p.m. It did not make for a pleasant rest of the evening when I had to get up at 7:40 and drop some stuff off at goodwill and clean out the car I had been borrowing. I spent the rest of the evening counting the minutes until I could go back to sleep, but by the time I got to go back to sleep there were fewer than seven hours left before I had to get up again.

I have a... thing about getting eight hours of sleep. T. used to mock me for it in college, because I get very upset when someone disturbs the eight hours. I know in my head that seven hours and forty five minutes is functionally not that much different than eight hours and five minutes, but I have a mental block in my head there. I think I've gotten a little less neurotic about it, but I still need my sleep. I need my lots of sleep.

This week, I seem to need it more. Having found a job - a job I want to do, no less - brings a whole new set of stresses (moving, the actual work, learning a new town), but it also relieves one huge chunk of stress: I no longer have to look for a job. I was really worried about that. I was beginning to think that this recession/depression would change the entire course of my career. There are so few jobs available, and my law school's loan assistance program has conditions that mandated that I start a new job by September 8 or lose a whole lot of help. I needed a job, quickly.

I decided that if, on average, a job receives 100 applications, interviews 8 people, and hires one, I needed to do 8 interviews to get a job. Surely my resume and cover letter could get me some interviews, I thought (I've seen what passes for a resume in some parts), so then I just had to plug on through eight interviews until it was my turn to get a job.

I did three (four if you include a second interview). I know that my job search could have been many, many times longer and harder, but I have been carrying the weight of knowing that I should be applying for a job for a year or more, now, and actually getting a job feels like someone took a basket of rocks off my head, a basket that I didn't even know I was carrying.

And now, in the relief, the only thing I want to do is sleep, to sleep real, restful, relaxed sleep, for several days or weeks, possibly months, straight.

01 August 2010


Nearly three weeks ago, I got a call asking if I was still interested in interviewing for a job in a town I'd never even visited. It was a job I applied for on a whim, kind of, because it was the perfect job but obviously, obviously, I couldn't move.

Three weeks later, I have been to that town three times. I am beginning to know where things are, vaguely. I have a job scheduled to start there this month, and I have an apartment there (I think; pending the lady checking with my current building). This is what the mysterious person called they always says: when changes come, they come quickly. Life changes so fast you can't keep up.

I am a little bit scared and a little bit excited and a little bit overwhelmed. I'm in shock, I think. It needs a little time to settle in.

When I moved to Gone West, I promised myself that I would never again move to a new town and start over alone. I'm breaking that promise, and it is the economy's fault. In a good economy, the perfect job would be available here, but it's not, and I have to work. I want to work. I want to put this degree to use. So I'm breaking my promise to myself. I'm starting over again in a new town, alone. All manner of exciting things feel possible, and yet I'm already dreading that first night in my cute new apartment when I realize how utterly alone I am in Universe City. I know that feeling too well.

Here we go again.

on the dance floor

There is a DJ in the living room, blasting West African dance music, and in the back yard little kids with their hair in poofs are being ignored and protected by every adult whose legs they dart around. I ditch my piece of birthday cake for kallah, little round fried balls of dough, and a crowd of us are handed shot glasses of some indeterminate alcohol from a bottle full of sticks. It burns as it goes down. I gasp and ask, "What WAS that?"

"Didn't you have that in Liberia?" C. asks.

"I was ten!" I said.

"I guess not, then," he said. "They say it is medicinal. It's made of vodka and some parts of trees. Well, it's supposed to be medicinal for men, actually."

"What is it for women?"

He just laughed, and T. and I looked at one another and said, "We are going to have to watch out."

Inside, we dance in an oval between the living room and the dining room, and when A. tries to turn on the airconditioner, everything electric goes off. This is the only time I dance: when the music is from somewhere in Africa. I need the strength of the beat to keep me grounded. This song is in French, and now another with bits that might be Swahili.

The truth is that I can't dance, not like these Liberians can, not like the girl now down in the center of the group. But I wouldn't give it up for anything, to be celebrating A.'s birthday and her return to Liberia, to be in this crowd. Every face looks so familiar.