Here means Alabama

I love Alabama. There. I’ve said it. So has Gabriel, just yesterday, before taking a step back and admitting that he probably doesn’t know enough about Alabama to make such a declaration without reservation (our interpretation of events, plainly). I concur both with his pronouncement and his restraint.

What I love: the sun. the sound of insects at night. the tree frogs that live around our house. the heat. the egret and the heron that live on the defunct golf course right outside our front door. the river. the dam. the pines. the elderly black women sweeping off their front porches each morning. the popsicle shop. the gardens. the curious glances people give Jonah and me as we walk Lucy. the way the rain pours. our house on a hill. our neighbors! the view of the grain elevator from our front window. the sound of trains nearby.

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I’d make a list of what I don’t love, but it’s not so easily done. So much is strange and new. I feel myself adrift . . . not exactly disoriented, but nearly so. It is a curious thing to find oneself both firmly on course and unmoored.

The squirrels are super skinny. The birds have longer beaks and tail feathers. The grasshoppers are black, with red stripes. The cicadas are twice as big as I’ve ever seen. Sometimes it feels like I’m wading through the air when I walk out the door in the morning, or at night, or in the afternoon. I’ve started to drink my water with ice for crying out loud, and I find myself needing a nap each afternoon, promptly at 2. They say you can see baby alligators in the lake down the hill at night. What am I to make of it all? The Ruth in me finds herself a stranger in a strange land.

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So much of the work of change is absorbing the new reality. People ask us how we are doing, how we are adjusting, what the new life is like. The new life is very much like the old life; the same irritations and propensities plague us and urge us forward or threaten to drag us toward our not-so-better natures. We are, on the whole, more sensitive, more defensive, less able to weather irritations. There have been angry outbursts and the stomping of feet and the flowing of tears. But the freshness of things here is a balm. We are discovering where to find our favorite pickles and creamer. We are delighted by the beer selection in a college town and are trying new brews. We’re a week into swimming lessons; we’re registered for school; we’re looking for jobs. We’re adorning our spaces with our favorite things and settling in. We’re cursing each time we hit our heads on the 5 ft. ceiling in the crawl space that serves as our garage storage (possibly the biggest adjustment: moving from a four-car garage to a complete lack of a garage). We’re installing a gas oven and setting up a coffee station.

We are here.

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Alabama: Ohio version

So when I say that we are moving to Alabama, I mean next week.

Let me backtrack. In February John was offered the position of directing the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Alabama. After he returned from his campus visit, I had a sense he was going to get the job. I really did. But of course, that’s much easier to proclaim in hindsight. And there was part of me that kept thinking, it’s the University of Alabama. It’s not only a big deal, but it’s in the South, a place I know next to nothing about and have never experienced in any significant way (I don’t think Texas counts). I even dreamt he got the job—one of those true dreams that’s more real than waking. No metaphors or symbols. Like it’s preparing you for what’s coming. Being me, I cried. I started the grieving process straightaway.

I also, straightaway, proceeded directly to sort, toss, and organize. Everything. I began packing away what we didn’t need. We made plans to finish the many projects we’d started on the house. We commenced finding people to finish the drywall in the kitchen and to make kitchen cabinet doors. John painted. And painted. And painted. I cleaned out the garage and the attic above the garage and the basement. When we finally got the house on the market, we received a contract in four days. Honestly, I don’t know how people live in their homes for months while trying to sell. With two dogs and two boys I don’t think I could have lasted much longer.

In nine days the truck arrives, but I’ve run out of steam. Having lost Sophie the Blue Dog and regained the boys full time again, released from school, I’m moving around in a daze. I’m numb and hazy. Lucy Lou (our remaining mutt) and I hide out in my room in the morning as long as we can and stay up too late enjoying the quiet of the house. We are in a similar place, she and I. A little lost and wondering what to make of things.

Fortunately, the boys are out of school, and they are the best medicine for getting me up off my ass. Jonah in particular, who has the special gift (among many) of moving me out of despair and keeping me back from the brink, even as it sometimes feels he’s simultaneously pushing me there, is awaiting my entrance into the life of this day. He wants a list of chores. God love him. He’ll save me yet.

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Blue Dog Gone

I’m not sure that I ever explained where the Blue Dog comes from.
I’m not certain I know precisely myself.

It has something to do with this very black dog.

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© Ze Bernardinello

Who, over time, became this quite old black dog, with beautiful white and silver streaks.

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It has something to with the blue carpet in the picture, at the bookstore where I worked for ten years.
Something to do with the light and the shadow in the photograph’s composition, which is a reflection of how I have come to see myself.

I started this blog shortly after we moved to Ohio. It was a hell of a move. Jonah had just had heart surgery. John had a new job. Gabriel was five months old. A month before the move I slipped and dislocated and broke my long finger toe (if you have seen my feet, that description makes perfect sense), next to my big toe. We moved into a house that was and is so beautiful and full of promise and character, a house that needed a great deal of work. We poured ourselves into all of it, with all of ourselves.

And then Jonah was diagnosed with autism.
And then I was diagnosed with PMDD.
And then I very nearly had a nervous breakdown.

So I wrote (and I started taking Prozac, and then something else, and then Zoloft), because I was losing it and because I have proven to be nearly incapable of making sense of my life if I don’t write it down. But it wasn’t enough to write it in a journal because I needed someone to read it. I needed someone to see my life, see me in whatever way they were able, through the light and the shadows I cast. Call it a testimony to my introversion.

And over time, the need to write remained, but I allowed the circumstances of my life to convince me that I didn’t have time to right (interesting mistake there; I think I’ll let it stand). And sometimes I didn’t have time, because I started edited books and I also needed sleep. But here I am again—with my need, knee-deep in loss, another big move ahead.

Sophie died a week ago.
We are moving to Alabama.

It’s good to be back.