It’s Alaska Day today. Or at least we’re celebrating Alaska Day today– the real date was yesterday but that would have messed up everyone’s long weekend so we’re all pretending that it’s really today.
For those of you who don’t know, Oct. 18 is when the Territory of Alaska transferred from Russia to the United States, way back in 1867. (So yes, yes, Alaska is part of the U.S., even though we’re not included on many weather maps.)
In celebration of this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to share the story of how I came to live in Alaska. I never intended for this to happen. I never said, “I want to live in Alaska when I grow up.” Yet, here I am, a 28-year resident.
Like many women’s stories, mine began with a man. And this man’s dream was to visit Alaska. We had moved from Michigan to Flagstaff, Arizona, and that was as far as my dream went. I was happy in the high desert and the red sandstone and the sweeping vistas and the smell of pines and so much open space.
Yet I somehow followed this man to Alaska. That first summer we lived in an apartment off Muldoon Road and I waitressed at the Village Inn on Northern Lights Blvd., and we hiked in the mud and the rain, we fished in the mud and the rain, we camped in the mud and the rain (it was an especially rainy summer that year), and by the time September rolled around, I had had enough and headed back down to Arizona.
The next summer, I returned to Alaska. Maybe I missed the man or maybe I missed the person I was when I was with the man or maybe, even then, Alaska had started to get to me, like a slow tease, like a seduction that builds over time.
I ended up staying for two and a half years before escaping to Arizona, Tucson that time, and a stint in graduate school. David Foster Wallace was in my creative writing workshop and we used to bike to class together and one day, as we were stopped at an intersection, he said, “Cinthia, you could make it as a writer if you only learned to use commas.”
I didn’t learn to use commas, at least not then, for I left Arizona after less than a year. While I loved the desert and the heat, loved walking in the dried river washes, loved the smell of chaparral after the rain and the way the sky looked when I hiked up in the mountains, I guess I didn’t love it enough to make it work. I packed up a box of books, my cat and my bicycle, left everything else behind (including my beloved red VW Rabbit) and flew back to Alaska. And this time, I stayed. For good.
I found another waitressing job and another man, had my son, left that man and that job, worked my way through graduate school, became a journalist, wrote a book, got my son through college, and suddenly I looked around and realized that while I had worked and left many jobs, had met and left many men, I never left Alaska again, or at least not for long. At least not for good.
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