In my eighth grade year, my family drove up the AlCan Highway from Vancouver, BC to Anchorage Alaska, with three cats and the two of us kids in a VW wagon. We moved for a well-paying job that my parents hoped would allow them to save enough to buy a house after years of renting. And we moved for the adventure.
My dad promptly absorbed himself in reorganizing his new company, my brother went to school, and left to our own devices, my mom and I began to go mad. Anchorage was small and unsophisticated enough to have only opened its first big department store, Nordstrom, a year or two before. Outside the city, the barren landscape stretched endlessly. After our third backyard moose visitation, the thrill was gone. I developed SAD living through three hours of daylight in the dead of winter, a summer that lasted two and a half months. We lived farther away from my relatives than ever before, in an era when one still had to contend with long distance phone rates, and a time delay.
Meanwhile, my dad was developing diabetes, his insulin levels plummeting. Losing weight and his temper, he was unwittingly adding to our angst.
My parents’ plan was to live there three years. After a year and a half, they decided my mom, brother and I could return to Everett, and my dad would stay, to finish his work and meet their financial goals. Shortly before we left, my dad’s diabetes was diagnosed.
Moving into a two-bedroom apartment across the street from my high school, my mom and brother and I alternated between the sweet relief of homecoming, feeling frustration that we were still so far from owning a home, and missing my dad.
Originally, his decision to remain in Anchorage seemed generous and self-sacrificing. But after half a year, my mom and I began to question that. We three were happy to be home, we missed him, we wanted to spend time with him now that he’d regained his former cheerfulness, we were sharing a tiny apartment while he lived up there all alone. My mom was taking my brother to school events joking that she was a single mom; my dad went trick-or-treating with us for his favorite holiday and said maybe three words the entire night, stressed and still struggling to maintain his blood sugar levels. I hated my school, stiffening at the mockery every group I passed in the halls delivered. When my dad visited, I’d move out of the bedroom I shared with my mom to sleep on an air mattress in the living room. Our cat of ten years was dying before our eyes. It was a depressing and challenging year, and it seemed like spending more time together would help us all more than the money he was earning.
But no, he said, he had to finish what he started.
I remember my mom sometimes suggesting and sometimes accusing my dad of being more interested in his job than in being with, or helping the three of us.
And finally, one evening, I broke down in tears, begging him to please find another job, please come back to us. He reacted sympathetically, but did not consider it.
He commuted between Alaska and Washington for perhaps another year, finally settling with us in a house that my parents bought in Eastern Washington. That house was lovely, and for several years, we were all happy there. But one could argue that we, as a family, never really recovered from spending months divided, my mom and brother and I finding our own way to cope in that tiny apartment, my dad living his own life, however bleak, in Anchorage. And I know we never again killed the suspicion that work was more important to my dad than we were.
That night when I tearfully asked my dad to find a way to return to us, I was overwhelmed by the sense that not only was there was nothing I could do to persuade him, there was nothing I could offer to make him want to be with us. I fell asleep to dream of a team of superheroes befriending me, surrounding me with love and belonging, empowering me to make it. Without my dad.
I relive that moment of grief and inadequacy, unimportance, all the time. I do not date workaholics like my father, but I do find men who, often through no intentional desire to hurt me, have to say “No, I’m sorry, I can’t.”
I don’t blame any of these men. And if only in the interests of moving on, I try not to blame my dad for generating, or myself for perpetuating, a circumstance that is both painful and familiar.
Last night, I put myself in that position again, with someone I care deeply about, and all day today, have longed for those superheroes to pat me on the back and say, it will be okay.
But I don’t want them to tell me, this time, that they will give me strength to enjoy life singly. I want them to explain to me why I keep putting myself, or finding myself, in that night, crying, asking Marcus, asking a widower, asking a distant friend, to please love me, please stay with me, please put me first. To please come home. To me.
You’d think once would have been enough.