When you leave civilization for an extended period of time and then return, albeit even to a small civilization like Anchorage, it can be overwhelmingly stressful. The noises, the lights, the crowds, paved roads, reall grocery stores, malls, I didn’t realize returning, just for a short trip would be so hard. I worry about when my family moves permanently out of Barrow, I worry that we have already become “Sloped” as they (we) call it.
Coming to Anchorage after almost seven months on the North Slope, aside from a brief stint for the Iditarod, was not as refreshing and exciting as I thought it would be. I was excited to eat at a real restaurant, even excited to eat at a McDonalds, be able to drive a car on a paved road, shop at a regular store and not pay $12.00 for a gallon of milk. What I forgot about in cities are the bums, the homeless, the potholes, the crowds, the unnecessary excess, the whole idea of keeping up with the Joneses. I suppose added to the stress of that was meeting with the University, having multiple interviews, taking my board exams, and seeing my ex husband after six long years.
It was hard, seeing him, that sticks out more in my mind than anything from this trip, a bigger point than successfully passing my board exams and nailing my interviews. I drove to Wasilla, he showed me his new home, gave me a tour even, showed me the bedrooms, his man cave, his cars, inviting me into his life. All of the things he and his new wife had acquired, a stay-at-home mom, she’s younger than me, he’s ironically, an oil boy and has also worked on the slope. He made very good money, yet another drawn by the lure of the high pay of the slope, until he blew out his knee, since then he has been collecting a very generous workman’s comp, home with his kids every day. I envy the time he gets to spend with his little ones, I feel like I have sacrificed so much time with my son for my career, I regret that.
All I needed from him was an affidavit from our divorce, the divorce he had wanted, but that I had filed for. He looked like he had it all together, at the same time, he seemed so discontented, unsettled, a very unhappy marriage, he confides in me his woes with his life. It as if no time has passed at all as words flow between us as they always have, with an ease that is pure and simple. He tells me things I am quite sure no one else knows, nor does he want people to know. I realized how much I miss talking to him, we have been friends since we were 14 yrs old, we are both almost 30 now, I tell him I am worried about him, he says he’s fine. We linger with each other for a bit, stretching out the time, not quite ready to say goodbye again, we both realize we never got closure with each other after I left Alaska the first time.
He pulls out his wallet, rifles through it for a bit, brings out a very worn photo, he hands it to me,
saying “I’ve kept this for this entire time we’ve been apart, I want you to have it.” I look down at the photo, it is a picture of our dog (the dog he got for me from a friend of ours, the dog I still have and adore second only to my son) as a puppy, I am shocked he saved it, said dog is 8 yrs old now, I guess we meant more to him than he let on.
feel for him, he is still lost, I hate seeing him so broken, a shell of the person I married, I tell him he can always call me if he needs anything. I know he won’t, too proud to admit he might need help from me. For that I am grateful though, I have my own troubles and life.
He tells me before I go to call him the next time I am in town, even going so far as to ask when that might be. I don’t really know when that might be honestly, maybe in a few months…I want to go to Kodiak with my father to find my first childhood home.
I am ready to go back to Barrow, it is my home, its too hot here, too crowded, I feel lost here, unimportant. I miss my tiny apartment, my son, my boyfriend, my dog, I have my place in Barrow, as tiny, isolated, simple and lonely as it is, I like going to the only grocery store in town and having it take 2 hours, not because of traffic but because you know everyone you see there.
I miss the Inupiaq faces, I miss hearing snow machines roaring by at 3 am, I feel safe wandering the streets at any time there, even if I am accosted by my drunk neighbor on a regular basis and have to walk him across the street for my boyfriend (who works at the grocery store where I bring said drunk neighbor) to call a cab because he can’t even stand up. Its okay though because I know him, his father, brother, sister, aaka, and aapa. I don’t feel safe in the city, afraid to go out alone past dark. The drunks out that late there are not my neighbors and I’m betting they don’t maintain close family contacts that I would have a chance of running into, coming to the city has made me realize that the bush is my home.
My grandmother had laughed when I announced where we were moving, you know those Eskimos use cardboard boxes for luggage right? I didn’t think she was serious, turns out its not just cardboard boxes, its coolers, totes and action packers too. I welcome the sight of all of it at the airport when I arrive, I welcome seeing my sons teachers on the flight with me, I love seeing a flight full of everyone from my town, I know the names of 80% of the people in the terminal with me. I even enjoy watching the unregulated native children running up and down between gates, parents lost somewhere at the airport bar making sure they get their last drink (or six) in before going back to the slope where alcohol is not sold.
You know you are home when you land at the airport with a dead phone, no cash for a cab and no plan for a ride and somehow still manage to get home within 15 minutes of arriving, because three different people waiting to pick up others know you and offer a ride to you, it’s still -13 F after all. I am home and I am content with my isolated, lonely, simple life.