I’ve done a lot of leaving lately. I always want to leave until the moment I’m doing it, and then I want to stay. Packing has become such a regular occurrence, it is shocking to me that I’m not better or more methodical at it. I envision myself having a systematic process and very well-organized stuff that make it easy for to get up and go. Not so much.
I left Michigan a few days before my 36th birthday with a brand new PhD, an 18 pound dog, and a small blue bowl that I’d bartered for by teaching Questionnaire Design Boot Camp (I actually get paid better these days.) I drove to Vermont, listening to Dawes, full of regret. I thought I had found the end of the 51 Frogs project, but it turned out I hadn’t.
In Vermont I lived in an old farmhouse out a dirt road, 15 minutes from the town of Rochester, which has a laundromat, a grocery store, a gas station, and a coffee shop. There’s also a bike store, whose owner tried to help me when I locked my keys in my car on a rainy Sunday, and a realtor (specializing in vacation rentals) who set me up in a tiny office when I realized I didn’t get cell phone reception in my house. When I had to travel, I would drive an hour and a half to Burlington, where the airport has a Green Mountain coffee kiosk and it takes under 5 minutes to get through security.
I would work in the morning, either in my office in town or in the converted milking parlor behind my house. In the afternoons, I would hike parts of “the long trail” and wonder what was wrong with me. Who leaves a good life for a bad life? Who jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire? Vermont felt wrong to me. It never quite felt like home, and it was getting cold even in October. I knew I couldn’t make it through the winter there. I planned my next departure.
As Hurricane Sandy rolled into New York, the dog and I (both 5 pounds heavier after our two months at the farm) headed south and west for my first foray into the Central timezone. We stayed in a few La Quinta Inns along the way, stopping one night near the Virginia/Tennessee border and another night in Mississippi. On the third day we drove into New Orleans, onto a street where I had to park in a shallow ditch. We stayed in a house with no stove and put our game faces on.
The night after we arrived was Halloween. I debated going to the Quarter to see all the debauchery I’d heard about, but first the dog needed a walk. We hadn’t gone far when some neighbors on their porch invited us over for wine and a chat, and we stayed a few hours.
One of the neighbors had a PhD from Michigan. The other had just gotten out of jail and was looking for security work. I’d never seen people who were so different be so comfortable in each others’ company.
Mosquitoes were biting me. I was wearing a sundress. It was October, but it felt like summer. I knew I didn’t want to leave New Orleans.