On January 25, 2017, at approximately 9:15 AM, I was starting my commute to work. It was a sunny morning and the temperature was right around freezing. The last thing I remember the radio DJ saying was, “There’s a lot of ice on the roads, so be careful out there.”
The next moment, a big white pickup truck took the corner ahead of me too fast and skidded on the ice. I remember thinking offhandedly: Wow, that’s a bad skid. Then, as the truck began to spin more and more out of control: Oh crap, he’s going to hit me.
I pulled the car over to the side of the road as far as I could, closed my eyes, and screamed.
When I opened my eyes milliseconds later, the car was full of smoke from the airbags. My glasses had been knocked off my face and my forehead and legs were bruised.
The rest of the memories from that day are spotty. I remember my manager at work calling me, his voice full of concern. I remember a tow truck arriving to take me and the car to a repair shop, and an employee referring offhandedly to my car as a “total loss.” I remember getting home, after hours and hours, and immediately falling asleep.
It was my first car accident. Just days before, I wrote, “It looks like things are finally starting to get better for us.”
January 23 through April 14 was just … a mess. I won’t go into the details, but it was exhausting, confusing, and terrifying. Looking back, it’s so clear that the S.O. and I suffered from Vitamin D deficiency last winter, which didn’t help.
Despite all of that, there are some things I will miss about Minnesota – the fresh, cool air in the suburbs, the lakes and endless fields, the rows of buffalo fish and Dover sole at the supermarket (yum, fish!) I’ll miss rediscovering podcasts like This American Life, S-Town, Welcome to Night Vale and Heavy Metal Historian – don’t ask. And I will miss wandering through downtown Minneapolis on my way home from yet another job interview. It’s such a vast, vibrant city, and I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate it enough while I lived there.
December 30 will mark my second anniversary of graduating from college, and I can honestly say that none of the past two years has been what I expected. At all. Of course, I didn’t really have any clear expectations when I graduated … besides “Get job. Earn money. Try not to freeze to death.”
One of the things I expected the least was moving back to my hometown – almost literally down the street from the hospital where I was born. When I lived in Minnesota, it was so easy to pretend I didn’t care about old friendships from my childhood. I don’t care, I told myself when I read about engagements, weddings, graduations. I have a new life now, and I don’t care if they’ve forgotten me.
Except, I did care. And I still do. And coming back to this state that is so full of memories – some bad, mostly good – I’ve had one heck of a time trying to figure out where I fit into all of this. Which friendships are salvageable? Which do I want to salvage?
I have spiraled into this weird, horrible depressive episode (?) with almost delusional levels of guilt and self-hatred. The good news is, I’m getting help for it very soon. I just have to hang on for a few more weeks.
In July, just before I started my new job, we adopted a third cat named Oliver. Younger than Calvin and Hobbes, and normal in terms of motor function, Oliver has been comforting in so many ways. He lets us hug him, swing him around, and cry into his fur (okay, the last one is mostly me ..)
Up until now, I’ve really underestimated the power of unconditional love. Our cats love and trust me so much, and that is one of the most inspiring things I’ve come across this year. Every morning, before I go to work, I kiss the head of every cat I can reach. I tell them, “I’m doing this for you,” and it gives me the strength to keep going.
Sometimes I wonder why God – or fate, or both, or something in between – brought me back to Arizona. I wonder why I was guided from a purely R&D, wet lab environment to a more client-oriented lab – a dynamic environment where no two days are the same and where there’s always something to learn. (Seriously, do not ask me about my job. I will never stop talking about how much I love it.)
But then I realize that it doesn’t matter why I am here – only that I am here. I was given a second chance to find closure, and I was given another way in which to change the world for the better.
The sadness is still with me, making my bones and muscles ache and tying my stomach into knots. Maybe it will always be here, in one way or another. But my cats and my S.O. are helping me to fight it.
Together, we are a family. And we are home.