Three days after our wedding, my husband Adam and I packed everything we owned into a U-Haul and drove south out of New York State. We had no plan, only a destination: the Gulf coast of Alabama. We left behind everything that was familiar and started a new life together in a new place. We planned to stay for two years. Now, nearly six years later—with no plan, only a destination—we’re moving back.
A few evenings ago I stood in the bathroom, brushing my teeth. Everyone already in bed tucked in for the night, I didn’t even bother to flip on the light. I just kept reciting to myself the beginning of Wendell Berry’s “How to Be a Poet”: Make a place to sit down./Sit down. Be quiet.
Quiet is an abundant and scary place. It has become scarier now that we’ve settled on a moving date, now that the “someday” of our move is very quickly becoming now. When it’s quiet, I start thinking about all the things left to do. Panic sets in. I start worrying about what Adam will do for employment, what city we’ll end up in, how we’ll stock up on blankets and winter coats. I go to the quiet in short bursts, until I can’t stand it anymore, and then I back away.
Because we knew our time in Alabama was temporary, Adam and I always treated it that way. We knew someday we would leave and it would be easier if we didn’t plant roots that would soon need digging up. On paper this makes sense, but it has left a gaping hole in our southern life. Now as we prepare to leave, I realize that we are actually leaving very little behind. Our relationships are proving to be flimsy and our entanglements easy to untie. Already people have let us go, and we haven’t left yet. But this is our doing, the harvest of a temporary life.
What surprises me most is how sad I’ve felt about moving. It occurred to me after a recent trip to New Orleans Zoo that I may never visit New Orleans again. I might never drive through Mississippi and see the “Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful” sign again. Adam and I made a bucket list of things to do before we move, and I’ve lamented over the things we didn’t do enough.
When we moved away from New York, we knew we’d be back to visit family and friends. But I’m not so sure about Alabama. I’m getting ready to leave and never come back.
In a few days, we will celebrate Lily’s second birthday. We have no plans for a party; the move is just too close. Instead we’ll celebrate like we did on the day of her birth—just the three of us. No visitors, no guests. Just us. When we get to New York, we’ll celebrate again, this time with family and friends who we’ve been far from for far too long.
In the meantime, we’ll keep crossing things off our to do list and enjoy these last days in our first home. This was our first big adventure together, and Alabama will always be special to us. But it’s time to start compiling a list of things to do when we get to New York: see a favorite band with a friend, go to a poetry reading, swim in Lake Ontario, take Adam to New York City for the first time. This time we’ll pack everything we own in a U-Haul, along with the dog, cat, and two year-old who have joined our family, and make the long drive north, back to where this all started and to where it will start again.