I am officially a house sitter! After 15 hours of travel across three flights (Cleveland to Detroit to Seattle to Fairbanks), I arrived in Alaska safe and sound. I spent a couple days with the homeowners before they departed on a Caribbean cruise, acclimating myself to the house and their expectations of caring for it over the winter. They are kind, generous people who provided me with every resource I could need, including introductions to family, friends, and neighbors, should I require help or want some company.
The house itself has clearly been occupied by a family for decades, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Generations worth of family photos; shelves lined with countless knick knacks and pieces of art collected over years; awards of commendation; a drawer of perfectly mismatched dish towels; all the little details that make a space feel warm, inviting, and personal. It has been very easy settling in, making myself at home away from home.
With travel comes meeting new people, and most introductory conversations include the inevitable question: “Where are you from?” This has become increasingly difficult to answer. My recent responses have sounded something like “Well I’m not really sure, like…I don’t know. All over the place? Chicago…but not really. Maybe Alaska now?”
The simplicity of the question short circuits my brain and I end up rambling like an incomprehensible jackass.
I’m “from” Cleveland but I haven’t considered the area home since I was a teenager. Even then, it felt more like a place I occupied by happenstance rather than somewhere I was meant to be. I consider Chicago my homebase, though my name hasn’t appeared on a lease in almost four years. I will likely live there again, but I don’t know when and it feels inauthentic to say I’m a resident at this point.
Since 2015, nearly every six months I have lived in a different place with a drastically different way of life. Where you’re from/where you live is a major component of many people’s identity, myself included. I loved being a Chicago Guy. Being unable to succinctly identify where I fit in the world has me feeling off-kilter.
On one of my flight to Alaska, I listed all of my living arrangements over the past three years. Here’s the rundown.
August 2015. My husband and and I vacated our apartment in Chicago. He left for his PhD program in Berkeley and I moved into a friend’s extra bedroom in Chicago while I tied up some professional loose ends.
February 2016. I crammed my Honda Fit to the brink and drove to California with my sister and two cats in tow. Rent in the Bay Area is every bit as disgusting as you’ve heard. My husband and I paid more for an apartment with four roommates than we did for a spacious one bedroom in Chicago near the lake. Within weeks of my move, I discovered that my husband’s new BFF wasn’t so much a friend as an affair. This was the tip of his iceberg of lies, as is often the case with cheaters.
My husband dumped me in June. I spent the remainder of 2016 getting divorced, working daily overtime at an awful call center job to keep my head above water while hemorrhaging money. I moved into an even smaller bedroom in the same apartment (less space than a dorm room) to save on rent. I didn’t even bother unpacking in that shoebox.
March 2017. I headed back to the midwest (my third time making the drive in a year and a half) with best friend and kitties along for the emotional ride. I deposited my few remaining possessions at my parents’ house in Cleveland (mostly boxes of movies), where much of it remains, including the cats.
On March 23, I flew down to Georgia and started my northbound Appalachian Trail thru hike the following morning. For 5.5 glorious months, I lived in the woods, carrying only what I needed in my backpack, brain, and heart. Upon leaving camp most mornings, I looked back at my freshly cleared site, reflecting on nomadic life. I made a little home on that spot, and now it’s gone like I was never here. I finished my hike in Maine on September 7, forever changed.
September 2017. With few other options and little money to speak of, I moved in with my parents after the hike. Transitioning back to normal life presented some unique challenges, which I discuss in more detail here. I worked, saved money, visited friends out of town, and plotted to get the hell out of my childhood bedroom as soon as possible.
May 2018. I relocated to Alaska to start a new job as a tour director. I rented a hotel room in Anchorage by the month with two co-workers, occupying only one drawer and a corner where I kept my backpack and bed sheets. We were consistently on the road for work and rarely there at the same time. I traveled about 24+ days a month during the four month work contract. It’s a brisk pace of life, spent packing and unpacking a suitcase almost daily.
September 2018. I split my time between Cleveland and Chicago, organizing a reading of my recently finished play and selling my car in preparation for…
November 2018. My stint as a housesitter is underway (more details in my previous post). I currently sleep in the bedroom of someone who started her AT hike a mere three days after me. We were complete strangers until six months ago. Of all the people and all the bedrooms in all of the world. It’s wild.
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When I first started selling my possessions and packing my world into boxes back in 2015, I saw a long tract of life ahead of me. That life vanished in sudden, brutal fashion. One of the sharpest stings of divorce is mourning the death of the future you planned. In my case, a future I cared enough about to drop everything and move across the country to support. But that future was tied to a person, and for better or worse, people change. Sometimes I still step on a shard of glass in my memory, and I’m struck with a pang of loss for the security I felt in my marriage, phony as it may have been.
As my life circumstances continue to branch in unexpected directions, I’m working to find my new place in the world; to locate the slot where my irregularly-shaped peg fits. I’ve crammed more living into the last three years than any other period of my life, and I’m reeling a bit from the whiplash of constant transition.
For the time being, I have a wonderful house in Fairbanks to call home. I feel a sense of peace here that I hope will provide some clarity about what I want my future to look like. I flew up with only a suitcase of clothes and a backpack full of outdoors gear. Though I don’t have many belongings, I can’t fully explain how good it felt to unpack and establish a sense of ownership in the space. Even if it’s temporary. I’ve gotten really good at “temporary”, but eventually I’ll need some roots.