Two weeks after moving to Vienna, Virginia, Tropical Storm Lee kills at least seven and forces tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. A fifteen minute drive home turns into several hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic, something I’ve never had to deal with in Alaska.
My windshield wipers cannot keep up with the rain pouring at a rate of four inches per hour from the skies. Every detour that GPS offers routes me back to the same closed road leading to my neighborhood. Meanwhile, Thomas, Kyra, and Ethan, dry inside our rental home, call me on my cell to report that our neighbors and their horses are being evacuated.
Stuck only a mile away from my family, I have a lot of time to ponder the wisdom of resisting change.
Kyra and Ethan ride change like champions. On our last day in our Eagle River log cabin, Kyra woke us up in the morning with, “Come on guys. It’s time to go to D.C.”
Whenever I look down, Ethan asks, “Are you sad Mommee? Is it Alaska? Do you need kiss?”
Starting first grade was rough for me, but not Kyra. The school encourages all kids to ride a bus to school. Since Kyra has never ridden a bus before, I begged her to let me take her to school on the first day. I was worried about her transition from a tiny school with one classroom of kids in her grade to one with five classrooms of first graders. The school is so large that the four of us got lost during open house.
Kyra said to me, “Mommee, I’m not scared. If you don’t let me take the bus, I’ll be mad.”
The kids ask me from time-to-time when we are going back to Alaska. They will even say that they miss our house, but I can tell they have moved on, something I’m not very good at.
To be honest, I’m still at Patricia (“Trish”) Opheen Redmond’s Celebration of Life, the eve before we depart Alaska, grieving about my loss of Alaska and Trish, a colleague of Thomas’ who always made me feel loved.
With the rain beating down all around me and the shrill of passing ambulances with boats strapped to their roof, I remember that Trish’s best friend of 40 years, Carolyn Bettes, encouraged all of us to “move forward” in her remembrance speech. She offered a list of moving forward ideas, things that Trish used to do: prepare an amazing meal and share it with friends, send a postcard to a best friend about your day, walk a dog, be a mentor, volunteer, live up to your own potential, live out loud.
Mike Redmond, Trish’s husband, defined Trish’s attitude towards life as a woman who could never cook the same thing twice, “no matter how strongly I pleaded, because there were so many other recipes to try.” If it was a sunny day, she would cancel whatever they had planned for the day. “Even if we had planned something for weeks, nope, she would change the plan so we could be together outdoors: hiking, biking, backcountry sledding.”
Adapting, letting the waters of life sweep you off your feet, moving on. I grip the steering wheel and force myself to move. Approaching the cop car that blocked my road, I roll down my window and plead with him. I tell him I need to get to my family, that I am driving our only form of transportation.
The cop says, “Well, you can go around us, but do so at your own risk. Your street might be underwater.”
With images of Trish coasting down mountains lit by moonlight with the engine turned off or sipping a glass of wine to the sunset on the landing of their Resurrection Bay cabin, I maneuver around the cop and make my way slowly down the slick street. I’m the only one on the road and I can see a lake where the road disappears around the bend.
Fortunately, the entrance to our rental is still above water. I drive into a forest of trees, where my friends joke that I managed to find the only Alaskan cabin located in Northern Virginia. Thomas is waiting anxiously at the front door.
“This is not good,” he escorts me into the house and points out our glass sliding doors facing the backyard. Through the dense trees, what used to be roads and homes is now a lake as far as our eyes can see.
“Let’s go to my sister’s house. Pack your bags,” Thomas announces.
Kyra and Ethan erupt into excitement at the prospect of playing with their cousins. “Yeah, I’m Superman!” Kyra yells, then starts to run in circles around me.
Ethan chases her and says, “I’m Batman!”
My heart is pounding and my knees feel weak from “moving on” and I can do nothing at the moment but lie down on the carpet where I stand.