Thursday, November 30, 2017

In Which I Discuss My Recent Move

Much has changed since my last post.  I now live in a dollhouse on a corner lot nestled between the canal and a city park.  We have lived here for one year now and have fallen in love with our gardens and our favorite walk over the aqueduct.  We love the lake and the waterfall, the thriving old-fashioned downtown, and the lovely stretches of farmland surrounding our new village home.  As the year unfolds, we are delighted by new surprises and new traditions.  The flowers come up in the spring and summer followed by the burnished colors of autumn.  The winter brings us a parade of lights and fireworks downtown as the snow makes a wonderland of the park outside our door.  In many ways, this has been a good year, political tragedies notwithstanding. 

I would not, however, be honest if I did not acknowledge that in some ways, despite our appreciation for our blessings, it has been one of the most difficult times of our lives.  In the end, the personal is political and this year, more than most, the political became very personal.  I am haunted by the what-might-have-been of the election last year.  Since that day in November, the world has been distorted for my family.  At first it was just the horrified realization that the nation had elected an individual we felt to be predatory and unethical.  We were afraid for immigrants, the poor, for the environment.  We imagined dystopia and braced ourselves for the work we would be asked to do to defend the vulnerable. 

But those were all impersonal fears, the kind that you find in television reports.  We were still safe.  Our move was still ahead of us, and we knew how valuable my husband was to his employers.  Hadn't they just transferred his employment to another refuge out farther west, and weren't they thrilled to have him on their team?  We knew how much they needed his labor, and so, while the worry that something (so unlikely!), it was not severe.  In fact, there was great promise that it was just a matter of time, perhaps only months, before his term position would be translated to a permanent position.  After four years of paying his federal worker dues with an "internship" in which he worked full time for frankly lousy pay while attending college part time, we knew it was his turn. 

Part of the fun of the move was hearing all the important things he was doing at work.  His sense of purpose and dedication enlivened all of us.  He wore his uniform with pride and told us about the job he was doing to protect the water and the wildlife that relies on it.   Then, just as the summer months approached with anticipation of all the work required in a refuge during the warm months, he came home early to tell me that he had been let go.  There was a federal hiring freeze and multiple employees were summarily dismissed from all the refuges.  In our district in the Northeast, two individuals had been tasked by their administrators with the unhappy responsibility of traveling from refuge to refuge to fire Fish and Wildlife workers.  The guy who fired my husband was very nice, and very sorry, but that doesn't count for very much.  Just like that, all the promises he had been given, all the support from his supervisors and co-workers came to nothing. In a moment, all the time, dedication, skill, and pride he had invested in what he thought was his career were all swept away. As he told me the news, I could barely stand to see the hurt in his eyes.  He was winded, sucker-punched, and even a little ashamed.  He felt that he had somehow let us down.

So that was that.  He was unemployed for three months and the money we had set aside to fix up this dear old house was eaten up.  In the midst of this, my grandmother passed away, and two of our dogs died.  I have found also that even on the happy days, I miss my parents and my son, still living back east on the old homestead, so much that it hurts. On the loneliest and most difficult days, I wonder if we made the right decision when we decided to buy this frumpy, old-lady of a Victorian house out here so far away from my folks and my old memories. 

My husband finally found a job as a truck driver for a recycling company.  The pay is reasonably good, but the hours are terrible.  He leaves for work at 1:00 each afternoon and, on a good day, comes home around midnight.  More often he is out much later, sometimes as late as 5 am.  The man who just six months ago was so bursting with pride in his work that he kept his uniform on even after he came home, now winces as he puts on his neon yellow work shirt and calls me during his breaks to help calm his anxiety and to buoy his spirits.

Meanwhile, I am working from home as an online adjunct instructor.  I don't get the good assignments I had grown accustomed to.  These days, so far removed from the political structure of the main campus, I'm lucky to get any courses at all.  I've been busy with my work as an historical interpreter of 19th century women's rights history.  This is the 100th anniversary of New York women's achievement of suffrage so there have been plenty of gigs.  These help pay the bills and give me some sense that I have not sacrificed all of my career as an educator to come out here to live.

Sometimes I regret moving out here.  I am homesick for the Finger Lakes and my family still living there, I resent the loss of our jobs, and I worry about our ability to keep this house.  I am sometimes angry to the point of tears when I see that so many of the dreams we had as young people will never be realized.  He will never retire from the federal government with a retirement sufficient to provide for our children and ourselves.  I will never be a tenured faculty member with the respect of my peers.  But these moments of remorse for this move, one of the biggest decisions of my life, are rare.  Far more often I am thankful for a home I love and still hopeful that what sometimes feels like a series of misfortune and petty injustice is really just more transition, painful at times, awkward, and scary, but ultimately leading me to a greater depth and wisdom as my husband and I walk together into middle-age.

Garbage Day

A windy day.  I saw my husband off as he headed to work.  Minutes later, the sound of aluminum cat food cans tumbling into the streets aler...