14 May 2022

Yeau Claire

No sense in quarantining the TP
When I left Lehigh on March 20th, 2020, just before they sealed it up like a giant stone Tupperware, none of us knew how long we’d be gone before things got back to normal. It was my first full-time academic job, as a VAP the year after I’d earned my PhD there. Closing the door on Drown 303 felt like a change, like the end of something, like the beginning of something, like a surreal suspended animation or like I’d walked out into the spring air of an alternate universe—but I didn’t imaging I’d never be back.

Leaving my beloved home on the north side for an academic conference the following summer felt much the same. I packed, blithely told my kitties I’d be back soon, printed out the paper I was giving, and headed up in the general direction of the Mass Pike. It was there that I got an unexpected phone call offering  me a multi-year position eleven hundred miles away—with a catch. I needed to be there in a month.

Thirty-seven days. That’s how long I had to pull up the roots that had been growing for a decade, find a place to live, fly out for three days to attend in-person training and sign a lease, and transplant myself and everything I owned. But the truth of the matter is, I’d been uprooted several times in the intervening fifteen months, even while mostly locked in my cherished 650 square feet of sunny, pre-war space: unimaginable life changes for my beloved that still weigh on me, a failed contract renewal due to Covid, eight and a half months of increasingly debilitating symptoms that took seven infusions (that nearly damn killed me, thank you very much Affordable Care Act for forcing me to use a drug it turns out I'm deathly allergic to) and a surgery that ended up being not nearly as simple as anyone expected. The loss, again, this time irrevocably so, of a dearest, precious friend with whom I had finally been able to make amends, due to things beyond either of our control. An incredibly hard year of online adjuncting, half of it at a school I still haven’t set foot on the campus of. I’m still not entirely sure where it is beyond the exit sign off 22. Five weeks of filling in for parental leave at Lehigh after the Dean managed to screw me with my pants on one last time.

So moving to Wisconsin never felt like a choice. It has always felt, in some ways, like a desperate loss, despite how happy I am here in the larger sense of fulfillment. It still feels like an amputation, a bewildering exodus by night. A flight from something. I still don’t know what. I'm still mourning the old life that I'm just now starting to accept would never have returned even if I had stayed there. 

I can't believe I get to work here.

 But it's full spring here, finally. I haven't been down to the river since my sister came to visit me in October, when I took this picture, but finals start next week and I have many many riverine plans (not to mention a deep-seated call that I now recognize as not just the Chippewa but also
Anishinaabewi-gichigami, Lake Superior), and I'm slowly starting to put down roots here, even if they're mostly just herbs in the window boxes. Part of the joy of my presence here is tempered by the knowledge that I'll be here less than five years. And I think that's part of the problem too. That I forgot that, on top of everything else that's happened in the past two years, my very presence in Doodlehem was always supposed to be impermanent. 

And so I continue in this liminal, limerent space, in this not-quite-reality that I know will end, because everything around me the past two years has pointed towards that in a way that it never has before. And at nearly fifty, I'm not sure how I should feel about that. While Covid cases continue to rise, a recent email from university administration characterized the pandemic as "distracting." Students continue to be exposed but no longer mask. My partner and I continue to be in the holding pattern brought on by both our situations. I plant annuals in the garden, because I know I'll have to dig up anything perennial I want to take with me. I continue to agitate and protest and advocate for BIPOC folks in my community because my students are freaked out and my colleagues and friends are furious, and it matters deeply, and I love them so much--but I also subconsciously know that at some point I'll have to quantify that for my academic future, which is something that feels both totally gross and absolutely necessary. 

I'd stay if you'd have me, but I know that's not how this works.