Friday, February 5, 2010
Home from Alaska
by Gayle McCain
The day that Kari called to wish me happy birthday, and chat, surprisingly I was somewhere that my mobile phone got signal. I had just gotten off the ferry for some site seeing along the coast of Alaska when my oldest friend called. I’d been in the Alaskan boonies for so long that I usually forgot to put my phone on the charger, but my phone was fully charged and Kari was chatty.
She droned on and on about her new boyfriend, until I finally tuned her out. What jerked my attention back to her I never was really sure, but when I asked her to repeat that, she said “I ran into Chad the other day. Apparently his divorce was final last Christmas.” Not hearing any reply to this news Kari was annoyed. “Are you listening to me? Apparently his ex fell ‘in love’ with a lawyer, or was it his bank account?” sarcasm dripping from her lips. “Anyway she left Chad & got married right away. I heard her marriage is not going well. Anyway he’s well shut of her. Are you still listening?”
“Yes Kari, I’m listening,” I answered. “I just never thought it’d happen. How does he doing, how’s he look?”
“Well, he looks good. Like he’s never been happier. He asked about you. Said he was going to miss spending your birthday together. Dia, what did he mean?”
“His birthday is the day after mine, and we’ve shared a cake, a cup of coffee, or a Kailua every year for the last six or seven, depending on how things were going,” it was all the explanation that Kari was going to get, as unshed tears clogged my throat. I had put so many emotions on the back burner when I’d left home that I didn’t even realize that I’d put the fun there too. Up here I’d forgotten that I even had a birthday, and all the fun that we’d had over the years came flooding back.
“Are you OK?” Hearing what I hadn’t said, worry filling her voice. Mumbling that I was fine, and how was her new job going, I managed to fend her off. Distracted, Kari began talking about how wonderful her life was, while I had a chance to think about Chad.
He and I had been good friends, both of us married, when I’d fallen in love with him. Because he was married, I never told him how I felt, for a number of reasons, including the fact that I liked his wife.
My marriage on the other hand had been rocky from the start and my husband and I had been negotiating the property settlement when he was in an accident while on a business trip and died. His family never knew what hit them. But they assumed that since they were so immersed in their grief that I must be too, and so had descended on me and my home like a hoard of, well, relatives. I was never left alone, there was no place for me to retreat to. And I couldn’t get away from their grief. Whatever happened to the idea that grieving in private anyway? My in-laws were into sack cloth and ashes, prone to sobbing in line at the grocery store, telling the tale of their long lost son to any one foolish enough to stand still.
But since he’d died just before I filed divorce papers I was officially his widow. Entitled, or was it accompanied by, all of the hoopla and parade that goes on.
Chad had tried to be supportive, but I had found it increasingly difficult to be around him without telling him how I felt. He was still married, and I just couldn’t bring myself to be “the other woman”. I had remained silent. And so had he.
Finally one day I couldn’t stand it any longer. I told my in-laws to go home. I tried being polite, then firm, then stern, and finally I was downright rude. Nothing worked. I even thought about bringing in my bullyboys from the local welding shop to bodily pick up their stuff and throw them out. Instead I simply packed my bag and left. I know it was cowardly, but I’d had it. Maybe without me there to play off of, they’d go home. So I dropped my house keys and a big check on Kari’s desk, had her drive me to the airport and bought a ticket to the one place in the US that they would never go: Alaska. Alaska was the land of mosquitoes, snow that never ended, and endless night. Also things cost more in the far north. That by definition meant that my in-laws would never, ever come here.
So a year ago I had left the lower 48 and come to Alaska. The snow did end, just about the time the mosquitoes came out. I’d survived both with locally manufactured clothing and lots of calamine. I’d also survived the loneliness. That I conquered by writing. I’d sold more than two dozen short stories in the first four months. And was well on my way through my second novel. The first was still shopping publishers, but I’d conquered.
Kari had called me a while after she took me to the airport to say that the relatives had left in a huff about a week after I did. They had taken odd things from the house when they left. Photos, plants, and a couple of wedding presents. They’d also taken all of his clothes, as apparently his little brother was the same size and really liked the suits that my almost-ex-husband had worn. But they’d finally gone, lock stock and barrel, leaving behind a huge mess and mountains of garbage. Kari had called in a cleaning service, contracted with a lawn service, and had kept an eye on my home ever since. She knew that eventually I would be coming home, just not when.
But we didn’t talk often, and usually when we did it was because I had finally remembered to charge my cell phone.
Then Kari called to wish me happy birthday. I knew it was time to go home. Home! The home that I had fled after living with the grief of all of the people around me. I hadn’t felt that grief, because I hadn’t been that fond of the deceased and had come to terms with it. But the others had wallowed in sorrow and tears. But that sunny day in middle June, I knew, knew that I could go home. Wondering if I could skip the site seeing and catch the ferry back to my hotel. I had planned on taking the last ferry of the day, but if I could make this one, I could probably get a flight out tonight.
So I began to run, purse banging against my hip as I ran down the village street. I could hear the whistle blow. My ride was leaving. I didn’t know if I could make it. Jumping over a sleeping dog, I raced down the dock, leaping packages, dodging people, only to skid to a stop. The ferry was 200 feet away already. No chance to catch them and it was a known fact that the pilot never, ever turned around for anyone. Fuel was too expensive.
Wanting to leave the island today, I looked around. A fisherman in a longboat was just making ready to dock, shouting across the closing distance I asked if he’d help me try to catch the ferry. He didn’t know if he was fast enough, but he’d try. If we hurried we might catch the ferry before it left the cove and put on full steam.
He never came to a full stop, never even touched the dock, as I jumped into his boat, nearly capsizing it. We were off, getting every bit of power from his small engine. Handing me a paddle, he tied the tiller and taking the other paddle, dug into the water. Pulling for the ferry, closing the distance.
I may never know what caused the pilot to hold off getting underway. I’d like to think he saw us and waited. We made it to the ferry a full two minutes after the place where the pilot always put on full speed. I dug into my purse and dropped $20 into the fisherman’s shirt pocket, before jumping onto the ladder of the ferry. I felt like Indiana Jones. I, a woman who two years before hadn’t been able to run thirty feet without panting and feeling like she’d have a heart attack, I had just run a half a mile, paddled for fifteen minutes and still had the energy to jump onto a moving ferry. I didn’t know that this type of miracle ever happened.
I had just jumped when the cranky pilot put his vessel under full steam, and we pulled away from the fisherman, threatening to swamp his tiny boat. He managed to keep from a dunking, and waved happily as he headed back toward the dock.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, allowing my heart rate to slow back to normal except…
I was going home.
Arriving at my long term hotel where the desk clerk is also the town travel agent and postmistress, I laid $20 on the desk.
“There’s $20 more if you can get me to St. Louis before noon tomorrow. It’s my friend’s birthday and I don’t want him to spend it alone. “
Ten minutes later, the desk clerk came up saying “Tommy will fly you to Anchorage if you can leave in fifteen minutes. He has a run up there anyway, but he’s on a tight schedule. I found you a flight to Seattle where you’ll change airlines. It looks like I’m able to book you to arrive in St. Louis about 11:30 tonight, give or take a few minutes, but you’ve gotta be ON Tommy’s plane in 15, oops 12 minutes.”
I had been throwing stuff into my suitcase, disregarding its cleanliness. The only thing that I took any care with were my laptop and camera gear. I left everything liquid, put my toothbrush and a spare pack of undies in my purse and dragged my luggage down the stairs. Hugging the desk clerk and handing her the promised $20, I ran for the airport, which in this small town was all of 4 minutes away, by foot. As it was Tommy was ready to be underway. When he grabbed my suitcase, he wanted to know if I was carrying rocks or something. Nope, just dirty clothes & manuscripts.
And we raced off down the runway.
Home, I was going home. Tommy banked the plane for one last circle around the village where I had spent the last year escaping from my in-laws. Straightening out he made straight for Anchorage. Our flight was uneventful although he hurried because there wasn’t much time between landing and when my next leg took off. My luggage came off the plane in record time, and I was off and running for the check in desk. It wouldn’t do to miss this plane to Seattle.
The clerk was surprised to see me because she had been about to tell the stewardess that everyone was on board. She checked my luggage and I was whisked into a seat as they closed the doors behind me, strapping in for the flight to Seattle even as the plane taxied to the end of the runway. As the flight settled in and the stewards came around, she offered me a drink. I didn’t need one – I was high enough already. I could go home.
It would be a near thing for me to make my connecting flight in Seattle, and my luggage might not make it. The clerk had told me that I was lucky they had just begun a non-stop from Seattle to St. Louis that arrived late. But with just enough change over time in Seattle to make it possible. I might just arrive home today. My birthday.
I prayed that the wind was with us speeding us on our way. Arriving in Seattle twenty minutes early, I had time to get my luggage moved between planes. And time to try to get hold of someone to pick me up at the airport.
I made fifteen calls, and nobody was home. Even Kari didn’t answer her phone. Her cheery voice greeted me as the machine picked up the phone. They called my flight as my phone went dead. Knowing that Kari would probably order me a limo, that is IF she actually came home to listen to her messages. I was the last person on board the outbound plane.
Kicking back I took out my laptop and attempted to write my latest project. The stewardess offered me dinner, brown stuff or yellow stuff. I passed, had a couple of Virgin Mary’s and three packs of pretzels. My time in the boonies had taught me to go without eating every time I turned around. Besides anything that looked as unappetizing as the stuff they were serving - deserved to be skipped. Shortly before touchdown, I gave my hair and teeth a quick brushing. Grabbing my messenger’s bag with its laptop and camera. I waited to deplane.
I was home – I knew what I was going to do with my life. I was going to see if Chad was interested in going out on a date. A real date.
Tan, lean, brown hair now shoulder length; I was in a tank dress that showed my rangy figure to advantage, strong and assured. When I had left this fair city, I had had short hair, was plump and beaten down. And running away from my in-laws.
Looking around for a limo driver holding a sign with my name on it, I walked right past him. I had changed a lot in the last twelve months, so had he, and he missed seeing me as I got off the plane. Figuring out that the limo driver would be along shortly, I went to get my luggage.
I was tugging my overweight suitcase off of the carousel when a man’s hand reached for it to help me. “Let me get that.” I looked up at his smiling blue eyes and froze; not letting go of the suitcase that threatened to topple down on top of me.
“You always were independent, but let me help you.” Prying my fingers loose, Chad took the handle of my piece of luggage and pulled it to safety.
“Do you have any more?” at my negative nod he continued, “No, well then let’s get out of this crowd.”
Surprised to see him, I stood frozen, and he pulled me out of the way of a businessman trying to get to his two-suiter, arm around my shoulder to guide me out of the crush of people. I was an independent woman. I had battled ice and snow, pickpockets, muggers, overly sympathetic in-laws and yet this man’s matter-of-factness undid me.
“I missed you.” He said quietly, clearly audible in spite of the noise in the terminal. A wayward tear leaked out of my eye. Reaching up to brush it away, he was still holding my cheek when he bent down to softly kiss me. Straightening up he wondered if he was overstepping the bounds of our friendship.
I let out a sigh and flung my arms around him, and leaning in for a kiss. A deep passionate kiss with all the longing that I’d held at bay for years.
“I’m so glad to be home,” I said when I could breathe.
“Come on, let’s go, my kids are with my ex this weekend,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Happy Birthday.”
P.S. [I wrote this about 4 years ago - as I was trying to see if I could write Romance Novels and enjoy the writing. I can. I do. But I like Fantasy better.]