My empty nest adventure

I just returned from dropping my daughter off at a University in a big city near the East Coast. Far away from Alaska, our home, where both of my children were born. Where I was born.

I knew it would be difficult. I knew I would feel like a hollow shell for some time, at least until I got my head wrapped around all the changes that come with this right of passage most parents want for their children. It wasn’t necessarily the going to a college or university aspect I found important. My youngest was heading out on her own. She was going to pursue her own life. I am elated that I had a part in creating someone, could credit myself in molding someone, brave enough to jump out into the unknown and create a life for herself.

Sure, I have an amazing older son (he turns 26 in this month) who went off on his own a few years ago. His leaving home was in easy-to-bite-pieces. He only moved to LA less than two years ago, and he is regularly back in Alaska for work.

So my last child at home, my movie buddy and fellow series binger, my let’s go to the museum or for a walk or shopping or sushi, my most effected by my incarceration, has moved out.

Out of State for that matter.

So, I decided to embark on a journey of my own. I’ve always had wanderlust. It was a perfect time to go visit friends and family on that side of the States.

The East Coast.

Two weeks.

Driving rental cars part way, riding in Amtrak trains part way, even public transportation trains at times,

I wandered big cities and little towns, careened down toll roads and held firm in the belief that the Universe would carry me safely along my journey. I was ready for the discoveries I would make along the way.

It started rough. We stayed in a hotel less than 2 miles from where my daughter would be attending school, both tired from the overnight travels from Anchorage, complete with a shitty late evening/early morning 5-hour layover in Seattle.

I awoke with my eyes itchy and watering and a sneezing episode that kept me from sleeping any longer than 7am. Allergies? Maybe I am allergic to change. Whatever it was, I dealt with it throughout the trip. Even at home now I am dealing with it. So maybe I am really allergic to change.

I have to clarify something that may not be obvious to all reading this. People like me don’t usually bring their children to college. Normally we don’t shop for dorm necessities and comforts for them. We don’t usually have friends and family open their homes to us, feed us, even clothe us. People like me are lucky and blessed when this happens. I try to never forget that fact. I don’t forget where I started from and everything I have been through.

Short story, I was a throwaway kid. Age 14 found me in State custody (mom had issues, I had issues, State took over and had issues) and thus begin a whirlwind shit show of group homes, foster homes, youth detention centers, treatment centers, wilderness excursions for wayward youth and a lot of running away and making the choices broken kids are apt to make. I made it out, survived.

And for a while, that was enough. Then I decided survival wasn’t enough and chose to thrive rather than survive. But, that is a whole other story, part of it in the previous blogs.

Back to the journey.

The first day on the road alone I drove for hours towards Philly. I left after 10am, after I had brought my daughter and her last-minute Target items to her dorm. I was trying to stay composed as I headed to my rental car from her dorm building. I had her stay in the room since I didn’t want to have her walk me to the parking lot, being seen with a blubbering mom. As soon as I saw the car in view I knew I was safe enough to let the tears start flowing. I was happy to be wearing sunglasses and drove off quickly.

Waves of emotion, anger, fear, loss, and loneliness crept in at once. Anger the last to leave and we drove halfway to Philly together. Anger that I had missed out on two-plus years of my daughters’ life due to a charge that was both illogical and unfair. I drove on, mad at Alaska’s judicial system, listening to music. Crying. Happy. Grateful. Yet torn.

I had a long trip before me and knew I would have some time to figure things out along the way, get out of my system whatever might be blocking this growth gently prodding towards me.

It was time for me to walk out, or drive out, into the unknown. As I had so many other times in my life. I was still among the living. I would be fine. I would survive. Hell, I was going to thrive.

I was headed to meet someone I had yet to meet in person but had spoken to many times over the last two years. I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going to be staying but was able to make arrangements if needed.

I had about 5 hours until I got to Philadelphia. I listened to music, streamed from my phone to the nice Bluetooth system the blue Nisson Sentra rental car included. I loved being able to skip a song just by the touch of a button on the steering wheel.

Note to self: Next vehicle I buy, catch up with technology. The cigarette lighter attachment seems archaic after being spoiled.

I found a new band I liked, listened to parts of two different audiobooks, “Feminasty” and “It’s Great to Suck at Something”, and drove on.

Before I knew it I was sitting at a patio in the sunshine at a fancy grocery chain, waiting for Melanie as I ate a huge greek salad.

It was great finally meeting this powerhouse writer I had shared several phone calls with. Her vibrant eyes, easy smile and gorgeous head of hair led me to recognize her before she even sat down.

She had me stay at her apartment and felt so very welcomed. I spent three days in Philadelphia, and they went by so fast. Our first morning we went on a “walk” that seemed all wrong for my shoes. It was beautiful, and being outdoors with the fresh air and the trees and the light, comforted me. Going back to nature is always what I needed to feel grounded, and this was perfect timing.

My second day was spent on the perusing around the waterfront and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The last evening had me walking her casual neighborhood, stopping in for a pizza and a local brew a few blocks away at a well-seasoned bar with a feel of refined nostalgia.

I headed onward north after three days, the last stretch of having my rental car. From Philly I was headed to West Warwick to meet a powerhouse of an advocate, the incomparable Bella that formed Rhode Island COYOTE, positively impacting many sex workers and their allies’ lives.  She was also one of my pen pals while I was incarcerated for Sex Trafficking and really made a difference to me, both emotionally and mentally.

Watch this YouTube video of 10 years after Re-Criminalization: Reflecting on a Decade of Anti-Trafficking Activism in Rhode Island

 

I had a three-day visit planned with Bella. I really wanted to see how this amazing woman was able to do what she did and see first hand how her passion transformed in action that had made so much of a difference for so many.

From there I would be taking the Amtrack to Boston to visit my maternal family, a few cousins and hopefully find my grandparents’ final resting place. Then onward to spend time with my paternal side, my aunt and uncle, in Maine. I was about halfway through my trip now. I wanted to relish every moment. I remembered walking the yard at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center not knowing what my future held in store, and if I would even have much of a life after jail. Seeing the freeway, the open road even with traffic and bland travel stops, brought me back to the realization that I not only survived, but I thrived.

I drove through five states on my almost 5-hour drive. I had downloaded a bunch of Bruce Springsteen to listen to as I drove through New Jersey. My google map announced when I had arrived in New York State. As I passed the “Welcome to New York” sign there was a seemingly obligatory fender bender pulled off the side of the road. I only saw New York City from afar on I95. I was close enough. It seemed impossibly populated.

From there, I drove through Connecticut to Bella’s home in Rhode Island. I would be staying at her place.

Bella is vivacious. We shared similar life experiences. After we went to return my rental car and I felt the pangs of loss once again.  I loved the independence of driving, but my plan from here on was by train. Bella treated me to a delicious sushi dinner and a chance to catch up on the amazing projects COYOTE was working on.

Just look at this! I almost didn’t want to eat it, it was so pretty!

Spending time with Bella I got to see first hand the time and effort she put into COYOTE. She didn’t waste a moment of her day, always writing, reading or researching, I was enthralled by her sheer energy.

We discussed how sex trafficking propaganda and the harmful training and information given by law enforcement, and other anti-sex worker rights organizations that focused on rescuing sex workers, only caused harm.

Rescue usually meant handcuffs. The criminalization of sex work did nothing to help sex workers pay for childcare or their rent.

“When people are going to jail, they’re losing their apartments, they’re losing their vehicles, they’re losing all this stability they’ve created,” Bella shared, and I agreed.

 

COYOTE RI observes the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The days went by quickly. Across from the Capitol building was the Amtrak station, where I would take a quick hour trip to South Station in Boston, Massachusetts. As luck would have it, my cousin Billy was working a food truck at a nearby Square. I easily maneuvered my rolling luggage a few city blocks and joined my cousin.

After dropping off my luggage I joined him on the food cart for a little drive to a private party a tech company had booked. There were other food trucks, some live music, and a beer garden. For free. Companies did this for their employees here? The sun was winding down and before long I found a not so expensive hotel in Malden, thanks to my Hotels.com app. I had no idea where Malden was, and not until the next morning did I realize that 1) I was quite an Uber away from Boston and 2) I was right next door to a graveyard. I didn’t mind the graveyard bit, but the location was killing me, and it became very apparent I would need transportation to get to Western Massachusetts. I booked another car and set off.

I will never rent from Budget again.

After a costly Uber ride to the city, I was told by Budget Rental that because I had a debit card and not a credit card I was not able to rent from them. The manager I spoke to on the phone made it sound as if I would be unable to rent from anyone in Boston due to not having a credit card. I didn’t understand. I had never had this problem before, and I had just rented a car from Budget and driven it through five states and had just returned it mere days ago!

 

Frustrated, I was able to call and make reservations with Dollar Rental and would be picking it up the next morning. Which meant a few more Uber rides. Always making the best of the situation I explored Bostons waterfront area, taking a sunset cruise and then hopping onto the Boston Gravestone Tour trolley.

I think things happen for a reason, and if I had a car and had to worry about parking,  I wouldn’t have been able to experience these two fun tours.

Still, Budget, you can bite me.

The next day I Ubered to Dollar and picked up my car. I headed to Revere to pick up my cousin Bill, and off we went on I90.  Learning to drive in Seattle prepared me for any big city driving. I had the keys points down: drive on the offensive; use my horn a lot; and pay attention to my mirrors.

Sadly, cousin Bill had no idea where my grandparents were buried. My Uncle Al had brought their cremated ashes to Massachusetts in the mid-2000’s and laid them at the base of baby Ray’s grave. Uncle Al didn’t remember where or how he found the grave, and cousin Bill had no idea. It seemed my maternal side was not at all close. Some unremembered squabble or just lack of care stagnating any familial ties.

I vowed to figure it out and try again next trip, and we drove on, me dropping him off at his cousins and I headed to cousin Heathers to finally meet her in person!

Heather is in the picture of us circa 1981, but she has a sensitive job, so no pics of her. But it was really nice to connect with someone I had been able to communicate with on Facebook, she is so creative and has a beautiful home and wonderful family.

I drove back to Boston in the dark, knowing the next morning I would be returning the car and taking the train to Maine. I was officially headed towards my last leg, and was really wondering if I was able to take in everything I was seeing and experiencing. Time was flying by too quickly. I was ready for a quieter pace and thankful to be headed to see my Aunt and Uncle.

I had been to their summer home once before when I was about 14 or 15 years olf. My aunt swears I was closer to 12. I had never met either of them before and wasn’t happy about being so far from my friends and my grandma Lorraine. They were so different than me. They ate pizza with a fork and a knife! They ate really weird cheeses I had never even heard of. My aunt, understanding she was being handed over a troubled teen, had made arrangements for me to assist a local lobsterman. He was a guidance counselor at the school. and he reminded me of my grandpa Ray. An old school seaman, they even had similar accents. It wasn’t a month later I was headed back to Juneau, Alaska. I had reached out after my dad died, the large array of flowers sent by them filling the entryway to St. Pauls Catholic Church where my dads’ service was held. I had last seen them when they had come up for a cruise to Alaska in 2007.

I immediately recognized my uncle standing near the stairs as I deboarded the train. He looked the same, besides the slight limp he had from recent hip surgery.  My aunt awaited in the running car. She had the same eyes my dad had. It was chilly out, fall seemed to have transcended before my eyes as the train traveled north, the trees turning golden hues of yellows and reds as I had neared Brunswick.

Dexter

I was older now, and able to see the beauty in everything. I was able to make the connections I didn’t even know I was looking for. The history of what made my dad into the person he became.

The summer house was even larger than I had remembered and had the most gorgeous water view. There were kayaks. I could walk the shore and smell the ocean. I love Maine.

Me at age 3

My uncle took me to Kinkos for some reprints of some pictures I could take home.

My aunt drove me around to see where she had gone to school, where my dad was born, and the house they had all lived in when they were children. We stopped for me to take a picture and the neighbor across the street saw my curiosity and asked what I was doing. We struck up a conversation.

Childhood home

I learned a man had lived there for years now, a shut-in, the house was to be demolished when he passed due to the asbestos in the old construction. The neighbor shared that his wife had grown up in the house they still lived in. He was probably about 60 years old. I felt right at home, encountering Alaskan neighborly hospitality I had experienced growing up in Juneau. Neighbors looking out for each other.

We went by my grandmother’s house, a woman I never met, bought years after she divorced my grandfather, a house sold long ago, after she had passed.

I felt a connection to this land so similar to Alaska. I hadn’t even realized that my dads’ side was from Maine. I wasn’t interested in family or relatives growing up. The ones I had either let me down or were unable to be there for me. Only after my children grew older and asked about family did I start peering around ancestry.com. It hadn’t crossed my mind. I had only ever known what I had grown up not knowing.

I wondered how much Maine my dad had remembered. Before long his father had been transferred to Germany. His parents’ relationship had been in decline gradually throughout the years. My dad, being the youngest, was sent to boarding school. Away from his older brother and sister. My aunt was the eldest and grew to feel a mothering attachment to him since his parents were distant from each other and, sadly, to him. My aunt felt she had failed him. I knew otherwise. Addiction is a mother fucker.

I went back to Alaska with a deeper understanding of who I was and where I came from. Answers came to light on things I hadn’t even thought to ask. Of course, it all made sense.  I had long ago forgiven my dad for his trespasses and now came to understand he didn’t have an idyllic childhood as I was led to believe. I hoped he was able to forgive. There were so many things left unsaid between us.

I took the train back to Boston, where my cousin Dave picked me up. My aunt was worried about the sketchy Airbnb I had rented and didn’t want me using an Uber alone, due to safety concerns. I happily obliged, I had only met my cousin once before, and we were both self-absorbed teens at the time. I had a great time getting to know him over tacos and his overly lovable sweet dog, Sage.

I flew home to Alaska September 5th.

September had been a difficult month for me in years gone by.

Septemeber 5th exactly was THE day.

September 5th, 2002, was the day my grandpa had died. I flew down to Juneau and stayed with my dad in order to go to his funeral.  I headed back home after a few days. My mom refused to answer any of my calls or let me know when the funeral was and I needed to go home for my son’s birthday.

I spent time with my dad on that visit, sitting with him in the evening as my then 1-year-old daughter slept in the extra bed that belonged to his roommate, who was gone on a trip.  My son and husband were in Anchorage. We talked about his HepC, how he tried to just smoke pot rather than drink alcohol. I learned he appreciated college football, “because they were in it for the love of the game”, and hadn’t sold out yet. He was proud of me, of the woman I had become. Of leaving Juneau and going on with my life. Proud I wasn’t stuck there in the revolving door of state assistance, domestic violence and going to jail. That’s where I had left off.

That was the last visit I ever had with my dad. A police officer knocked on my door a few weeks later. September 23rd, 2002. Or around that date, since a coworker had to break into his place after he didn’t show up for work for a few days. Very unlike him. He was found with a needle in his arm.

I lost my dad just as I was really getting to know him, and I brought my kids and husband to Juneau to be with me as I buried him. It was my first funeral I could remember attending, and the first funeral I had to make arrangements for.

Since then, September was the hardest month of all. It didn’t help the next year, at the very end of August, my grandma had passed as well.

Now September would remind me of finding family and the missing pieces of myself along the way. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I headed out, to meet friends and family I didn’t know too well.

I learned I liked my own company. I met kindred spirits believing in a just cause and doing hard work to bring about change. I found a connection with people I share relatives and generational trauma with. I l was reminded that people are good and caring, and still check in on their neighbors. I finally grasped that we all carry on the best we can, with the aches of regrets of things that could not be changed. That didn’t have ruin those moments of life we had left to live. Those moments of driving down the Jersey turnpike, listening to Bruce Springsteen, no longer angry at a time lost.

My aunt, my grandmother, and my father on the Linderhof Castle grounds, near Garmish. Circa 1951.

5 thoughts on “My empty nest adventure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s