We left our home as swiftly and quietly as we could one rare sunny afternoon in March. The Israeli and Canadian stamp ink was still drying in our passports as the kids packed a few toys and we slipped the dog's kennels on the floorboards in the backseat of our car. We didn't know what the world was going to do. Whispers of lockdowns and economic meltdowns loomed heavily in our consciousness. Our situation was unique and terrifying. A single bridge and a county line that once connected us with the mainland now threatened to disconnect us.
We made our way to my (unofficial) home state. A place where I had spent my teen years. A place where loved ones had offered their empty AirBnB's to us to wait out the storm. The warmth, sunshine, and access to reliable internet/medical services/grocery stores/stable social structures made it an easy decision.
We had no idea what awaited us in the coming months. Nor did we have any clue that this would turn into months. We figured it would be a week, maybe two... three at the worst.
We felt incredibly lucky that we could leave. Lucky that Scott worked remotely (regardless of a societal shutdown). Lucky that our kids were unofficially homeschooled and we could seek shelter among the blue skies and deep orange mountains of Sedona with little to no disruption in our day to day life. We were lucky. And we still are. Even with everything else that happened...
The first few lines of George Ezra's song "Pretty Shining People" played on the car stereo early one Monday morning.
Staying at Tamara's was the one album we had with us when we left Washington. We played that album over and over again during those 3 months. When driving to the local trailheads the boys would always request "Shotgun" and would let the album play through on the way home. I swore I was going to hate this album eventually... even so, we hunkered down and hit play just the same.
Scott and the kids slept soundly as I fumbled with my mascara and pulled a pair of scrubs on and quietly padded to the car. My how things change. I hit the first round-about in uptown Sedona and the lyrics kicked in
Me and Sam in the car, talking 'bout America Heading to the wishing well, we've reached our last resort I turned to him said, "Man help me out I fear I'm on an island in an ocean full of change Can't bring myself to dive into an ocean full of change...
... He said, "Why why, what a terrible time to be alive If you're prone to overthinking and Why why, what a terrible time to be alive If you're prone to second-guessing"
I know George Ezra did not write this song for my life... but gosh, it felt like a punch to the gut to hear those words. My life, in song. It comforted me to know that someone else had experienced these same feelings.
Sedona was cold and rainy when we first arrived. We wore sweatshirts and scavenged the AirBnB for extra blankets at night. We were so thankful to be away from our home. It was the hardest and easiest decision we made. The lockdowns followed us south. The bustling downtown of Sedona suddenly became a ghost town. Still, we walked the quiet streets at night, hiked during the day, and scavenged the local grocery store for good cheese.
However idyllic our day to day life was, however relieved we were to be closer to support and loved ones, please know it came at a price.
We were unwelcome.
The messages, however subtle, came through loud and clear.
We were told to "go home".
We had to start parking our car in the garage because a passerby would see that our car was from "Washington" and loudly imply to a fellow neighbor that we brought the disease with us.
Whenever the boys played outside they learned to jump into a drainage ditch and hide when they saw a car drive by.
A police car drove full throttle through the downtown, sirens blaring one afternoon and Oliver asked me "Are they coming for us?"
We were unwelcome.
We were displaced from home. That stress alone stays with you. It lingers at night when you wonder what kind of psychological effect this will have on your kids. You wonder if you made the right call. The masses online declared anyone a monster who wasn't doing things their way. I suppose we were monsters. We left home, after all.
The weather began to warm and the boys spent their days splashing in the local creek. The snowmelt cut its way through the red rocks, the boys swam in the deep pools, and we marveled at our good fortune.
Yes, it was hard to feel unwelcome, but it was far worse to feel unsafe.
Just as we had begun to make peace with our unwelcome presence when we were slammed again. The News.
I stood at the coffee pot one Thursday morning when Scott came in to tell me The News. He had been laid off. Collateral damage in an economic downturn cheered on by fearmongers, I suppose. It came as a shock. Just a few weeks prior the company had declared things were "Great." and "Don't worry if your kids show up on the Zoom call."
Perhaps there was more to the story. Undisclosed financial snafus and upcoming lawsuits that made the investors jumpy. Mass layoffs and pay cuts were made, and our world turned upside-down.
Here we were displaced from home, unwelcome in our temporary space, panic and societal breakdown raging, an unknown contagion, and now 15 years of a successful career suddenly up in smoke.
What was the point of any of it? What was the point in getting an education and taking your career seriously when it can vaporize the moment the proletariat decides to freak?
I panicked. Never had we faced this. We had prepared for it, of course. We had savings and a crash plan. We came of financial age in the wake of 9/11 and the 2008 Financial Crisis. We knew that job loss could ruin your life, so we planned for the worst- but I'll be 100% honest here- we never expected it. Never.
We couldn't go home even if we wanted to. The lockdowns were firmly in place. Unemployed and displaced we stared down a road we never imagined ourselves going down.
I cried rivers of tears and felt my face contort into James-Vanderbeek-From-Dawsons-Creek ugly cry face when our friends told us, with all the love and sincerity in the world that we could stay at their AirBnB "As long as we needed to." It was the first kindness we had received since hearing The News, and I still cry when I think about that moment.
Scott applying for unemployment was my second undoing. Oh gosh. It was awful. He was at the top of his career, never did any shady dealings, was educated, and successful and somehow now reduced to social services.
What was the point of any of it? Would he even be able to find a job? The stock market was devastating, unemployment rates soared, a recession loomed... It felt so incredibly unfair.
Nobody asked us if this was ok, and yet we bore the brunt of all of it. Bitterness lingered in my periphery. I cried in the shower overwhelmed with "What if's..." and just before the bitterness and anger consumed me I thought about how terrible the last 5 years have been. After recovering from Post-Partum Depression and near-death births twice over only to be knocked down by a ski accident, botched surgery, a cross-country move, getting priced out of a ballooning housing market, broken cars, broken septic systems, seeing my extended family be ruined by drama outside of their control, and job stress I couldn't help but feel WHY ME.
And then it came- Yes, why you? Why? Why does this keep coming? Excellent question.
And I had this epiphany:
Life is grotesque and grand. I always knew that and it terrified me. I have spent my entire life running from pain. I thought I could avoid it by being responsible and then I get mad when it happens anyway. It will happen anyway. I can mitigate it. Of course. But, stop running from pain.
That is what I am running away from.
The same reasons why I compulsively surf WebMD in the witching hours of the night is so that I can never be surprised. I'll always have the upper hand on misfortune. I need to stop running. I'm exhausted and spent.
Trying to avoid this Pain of Surprise has done nothing but steal my joy and has never actually helped me cope with any challenges that come my way.
There is this quote by Glennon Doyle that I have wrestled with over the years, wishing it wasn't true.
"Pain is not a sign that you’ve taken a wrong turn or that you’re doing life wrong. It’s not a signal that you need a different life or partner or body or home or personality. Pain is not a hot potato to pass on to the next person or generation. Pain is not a mistake to fix. Pain is just a sign that a lesson is coming. Discomfort is purposeful: it is there to teach you what you need to know so you can become who you were meant to be. Pain is just a traveling professor. When pain knocks on the door—wise ones breathe deep and say: 'Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.'"
And there it was. After a lifetime of running, I was done. I sat with my pain and said "Teach me everything I need to know."
Scott and I sat down and took stock of what mattered to us. Turns out a house on an island wasn't one of them. We were grateful for our pretty house, nice cameras, not paying attention to our grocery bill, and travels- but those things didn't matter. Not really.
So we hunkered down and made a plan. We bought beans and rice. We read books to the kids at night, like we always did. We watched The Office at the end of a long day as we always did. Scott surfed LinkedIn and I got a job. Yes. We switched roles. Part of our original "Crash Plan" (that we never thought we would need) is that I would go to work in the one area where I actually have hard skills (healthcare) if anything were to ever happen to Scott's bread-winning job. Yes, in the middle of a pandemic. It wasn't that big of a deal, just lots of PPE and Cavicide.
I listened to that damn George Ezra album on my morning and evening commute. In fact, when I hear the music today I know just where I would be on the switchbacks based on which song is playing. Scott stayed home and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I called him on my lunch break. It was a different life, but it wasn't bad. Scott gracefully slipped into the stay-at-home parent role. He spoke about bringing wine and cheese to the next playgroup.
It is hard to say exactly what I learned during that time. Perhaps the deeper lessons will show up in time. For now, I'll say that I learned that I am so grateful I had the time with my kids that I did/do have. While I was 99% sure I wanted to be a "mom" when I grew up, there was always this lingering question of "what if" I had spent my 20's differently... the truth is I am 100% glad I had that time. The time to snuggle, make quesadillas, and invest in my children. Whatever happened- whether the 8-5 doctor's office grind was going to be my future or if I could go back to being a stay-at-home mom I was grateful I had taken that 99% chance and spent my time the way I did.
I learned that my family and I can live in 900 square feet and be super happy.
I learned that I still hate mornings and I will feel no shame about it.
I learned that running from pain is straight-up pointless and I feel really embarrassed that I wasted so much time, energy, and joy trying to keep it away. It is going to come and go just like the grand moments.
We learned that we want to be financially independent ASAP.
We learned that we have some pretty awesome friends and family who were a safety net of love and support that we definitely didn't deserve.
We learned that we don't want to live in a high cost of living area, and we probably will be selling and moving soon.
We learned that hanging on to this idea of living in the Seattle area was simply a product of our pride and that achieving our goals of financial independence will happen in less sexy cities. (Sorry, PNW. As soon as your housing market bubble bursts, we'll be back for a townhome. There is a lot about this place that we do still love.)
I think the bigger lesson that we all learned is that our family can go through a major disruption and handle it with grace. (We also learned that we can handle it with not-grace too, as evidenced by the last 5 years.) Sure there were moments where I cried so much I had to wear sunglasses indoors, or I entertained fantasies of getting super famous and going up to the schmucks who laid off Scott and going "Ohhhh heeeeyyyyy" in a smug sort of way, I even asked my parents if they would buy a majority share of the company stock so I could have a seat on the board just to annoy the CEO (Yes, I am that petty).
The biggest lesson/truth/comfort, as of right now, is that I think by not fighting pain and being willing to adapt and create our own light (regardless of our circumstances) we were able to get through that time with minimal emotional damage.
The lockdowns began to lift and Scott got a new job. We were happy and relieved. Still, we weren't the same. Everything was so, so different now. We had all changed. Home didn't feel like home anymore.
In an interview with Michelle Obama, someone asked her how she was able to get her life "back on track" after a major disruption of being in the White House. Her reply knocked the wind out of me, she said that it wasn't a matter of getting back on track- not after something like that. She said she needed to find a new track. There was no going back to her life before becoming First Lady.
There was a chance we could go back to our old life after we left home. There was no chance of it ever coming back after Scott was laid off. We now are tasked with finding a new track...
The first few bars of Pretty Shining People played in the car today. The kids had insisted on it. Out of our entire music collection, they still choose that album. I joked with Scott how funny it was how we swore we would hate this album because of how many times we played it during a really stressful time, and how it was our only music source. A few weeks earlier we knew we would be sick of it... and yet we weren't. Scott smiled and said "Yeah, but we went through something together and this album was all we had."
We now see it as a source of comfort. A monument to a series of difficulties that threatened to overwhelm us- and yet we came out ahead.
Sure we are a bit more jaded, suspicious, a little bitter... that is normal, I think. But we are also happier, more content, stronger, and ok with the fact that life is wild and unpredictable. There is no more running from an unknown threat or wondering what we did wrong when it does inevitably come our way. Weirdly enough this realization makes all the difference in the world.
I'm reminded of the time I drove up Oak Creek Canyon on my morning commute, the early Arizona sun blaring down on me when I really heard those first few lyrics to Pretty Shining People... the lyrics that made me cry, the lyrics that told me other people have also gone through this type of thing before... the song also went on to say this:
Hey pretty smiling people We're alright together, we're alright together Hey pretty shining people We're alright together, we're alright together, hey
Took it in turns to dream about the lottery And what we might have done if we had entered and had won We're each convinced that nothing would have changed But if this were the case, why is it a conversation anyway?
And I realized that we were going to be ok.
Ok, could mean many, many things.
A thousand iterations of prosperity, love, financial difficulties, identities, circumstances, and stability and that is ok.
It was always that way anyway. We just know it now.