If you know me, you know I’m a planner. I love to plan! Board meetings, dinner parties, holidays, where my career might take me, how to get to the next step in said career- I love to look ahead and think of what might be. I love my plans, and I love sticking to my plans like a dog with a bone, but sometimes, life has other ideas.
Last year, my plan was something along the lines of ‘stay the course’. I’d created a book, I taught my first class at a forensics conference, I gave a public science talk, and after all these things, I went home to my studio apartment and my cat. I was feeling like I was doing OK as a single lady, I had friends, a nephew to dote on and projects aplenty to keep me busy.
This last year, friends, has NOT gone according to plan. I am not teaching this year, I have made no books, I am not filling a sketchbook a month, I am not where I thought I would be. What I did do, however, has been bigger than I could have dreamt up all on my own. This year, I moved in with the love of my life, I got hired for a super swank design position, I quit that super swank design position when I realized a 3 hour daily commute is actually insane, I got engaged to my high school sweetheart, and next week we will be wrapping up the final stages in buying our first home- it has more than one room! It’s in Wisconsin! None of this was in my plan!
My life, faith, and future have been transformed by the surprises I had not seen coming my way. I needed to learn that change is change, good or bad, it takes time to adjust to. I’ve spent the majority of this year on a near social media blackout, because I haven’t known how to put words to the immense changes in my life. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation for where I’ve been- but I do feel I owe it to anyone who might be feeling like… when is it going to happen to me?
So many of us work hard to keep up a happy face, make our plans, and try to make something happen, while inside, we are hurting, and wondering when it’s ‘our turn?’ I can’t tell you when it’s coming, but I know it is. I never could have foreseen the adventure that was hurtling towards me, while I spent my mornings at the Dragonfly Cafe, studying, sketching, and trying to make a change in my life. I am of the opinion now that to some degree, this is out of our hands, and the best we can do is try to be ready to say ‘Yes’ when a door is opened, to step through it, even if we don’t know where it leads.
2 days after my last post (in early October of 2018), I got a message from the one person whose name has set my heart racing since I was just 14. He’d been my first love, and the greatest adventure partner of my younger years. I thought of him often, though we seldom talked- both of us had married other people in our twenties. I had married and quickly divorced- this is not something I’m proud of, but it’s something I find important to be honest about. After he married, I didn’t have the heart to keep our social media ties active, it hurt a tender spot deep down every time I saw his face or name. We kept in light touch, sending each other art or music we thought the other would enjoy, and so it went last October, until he asked if he might visit me in Portland. I can’t tell his story for him, but suffice to say, his marriage hadn’t worked out either, and due to my social media blackout, I’d been none the wiser.
I picked him up at the airport the day after he sent that message. While I was still wondering if this visit ‘meant something’, I couldn’t help but feel that after not seeing each other for 8 years, picking him up from the airport felt as natural as anything, as if we were back in college visiting each other for breaks. It felt like no time had passed at all. We fell easily into conversation, while I got us thoroughly lost in Portland, missing every correct turn while we gabbed away.
Three months later, we were sitting in the cab of a U-Haul, twisting through the redwoods late at night during a rain storm, while my cat yowled in helpless indignation, towing my car and all my worldly possessions behind us.
Time is funny, because three months can feel like an awfully short amount of time when it’s just day to day life, but when it’s tacked on to 15 years of hopes and dreams, it can feel like another three years. We’ve talked many times about how nuts this timeline might seem from the outside, and I know some of my connections in Portland are only now discovering that I jumped ship on the land of early retirement, but just like picking Jacob up at the airport after an 8 year gap- it feels like the most natural thing in the world.
By May, we found ourselves on a recon trip to the Badger State- Wisconsin. We’d singled it out from a long list of prospects, because shocking though it may be, our visions of an ideal life do not include living in a high rise apartment or tripping over poop of unknown origins in the city (the Bay Area has changed a lot since my last stint here in 2011-2013). I had been doing my research for what felt like ages, but was probably 2 months, by which time I had singled out Appleton, Wisconsin. It sits on 2 lakes, and a river, and is spitting distance to Lake Michigan, Milwaukee and Green Bay- this translates to: art museums and nature, my basic building blocks of ‘the good life’. We wanted to see if Wisconsin was a place we could see ourselves in.
We had scheduled a meeting with a realtor (just in case), after I had fallen for a tiny 1890’s cottage off a park and a stream near the main drag in town. It turned out that the cottage was actually off the market (if you’re looking for a house, don’t get hung up on Zillow, call a realtor for accurate listings), but we wanted to see what else might be out there. After discovering a ‘Mid Century Modern’ specialist, we figured it couldn’t hurt to see what she could find, and if we hated the state on arrival, we wouldn’t waste her time. Luckily for all of us, we were immediately enamored. Milwaukee is beautiful, even the parts that aren’t for show, the regular working class neighborhoods, and industrial side streets- it is orderly and clean in an unreal kind of way. By the time we’d driven through 90 miles of farmland to sweet little Appleton, on the river, I was done for.
I take back what I said about Zillow partially- because the house we found was one we had picked originally before talking to the MidMod Whisperer- but there was another house that we thought was going to be the home run. We set up our viewings in what we thought was the order of interest, saving the fireworks for last. What we discovered however, was that the first house, our Zillow discovery, was so much more perfect than we could have imagined.
From the pictures, it looked like we’d have to rip out the carpets and scrub the walls, it all looked faintly dingy, and possibly smoky. What we discovered was an immaculately kept, single owner home, with surprisingly clean, white carpets, and only one spot of less than ideal wallpaper. As we toured the house, we found ourselves remarking how we would use each space- this corner for my forensic art studio, this area for your gym (friends, my better half bought his own gym as a bachelor, it’s heavy and big, but it beats the hell out of an XBox). The orange carpeted basement was a huge plus.
The second house gave me hoarder house flashbacks and smelled of cats and mildew (though it had a beautiful original 60’s oven), and the ‘fireworks’ house simply wasn’t our house. It was much larger than we’d expected, and we actually got lost in it while touring. It also sat not 40 feet from active train tracks in the backyard. I wanted to love it for the wacky gold lurex wallpaper, but I just couldn’t see myself there. It was not my yard, not my art studio, not our house. Whoever does buy it is getting the most magnificent Japanese Magnolia out front, however.
We talked about it with the realtor, we chewed on it together, and all the while, Jacob was sneakily strategizing with our AirBnB host for plans I was none the wiser about. In the end, we both saw ourselves in that first house, that we’d nearly discounted, all because the photos were badly edited. We learned about the first owner, and her love of Christmas, and her loyal support of the high school football team that plays around the corner. I’m not sure if you’ll find me out in the stands as much, but I can get behind some good old holiday baking and hosting. That night we worked out a letter to the sellers, sons of our home’s original owner, telling them how much we appreciated the character of the home as it is, and how we hope to take as good of care of it as their mother did. There might not be many people who see orange carpet and wood paneling as a major plus, but we definitely fall into that category. From the pink tile in the bathroom to the flower power shelf liners in the kitchen, this house is right up our alley.
The funny thing about plans is, sometimes they don’t work out, and sometimes they work out in a way you never could have imagined. When we were in high school, and I thought of our future together, I always thought about being with Jacob’s family at Christmas. His family threw a huge, happy, and completely lovely Posada every year- I think I got to go to two of them. I would imagine us as adults, coming back to the Posada, maybe even one day bringing our own kids… I held that idea very deep in my heart, I didn’t even tell Jacob until this past year how much that had meant to me. It ran so deep, that after we broke up, even celebrating Christmas at all felt impossible. I ran so hard in the other direction to avoid that pain, that I converted to a whole other religion. It sounds like an over the top Hallmark Channel movie, but even they couldn’t get away with that. I celebrated my first Christmas in 8 years (in my home, not just visiting family) this year, and knowing how much it had meant to the woman who owned our home seemed like a good sign to me.
As for Jacob’s plans that trip, I can’t begin to know what a Laurel and Hardy episode he was living on the down low, as he had an engagement ring shipped just in the knick of time to our AirBnB, only to have the host miss the package and have it sent back to the post office. While I spent the day we made our offer on the house daydreaming about guest room plans and holiday hosting, he was trying to figure out how to discreetly get to the post office, and find the right moment, all the while assuming I was totally on to him. Folks, I am so gullible that in the end, he had me believing he’d bought me an umbrella, and even though it hadn’t rained, maybe we should pick it up at the post office anyway? So when he told me to open up my present back at the AirBnB, I thought nothing of getting into my pajamas first before plopping down on the couch with the now-I-realize-far-too-light-for-an-umbrella padded envelope. I certainly wasn’t expecting him to drop down on one knee, and my brain went into a full blown frenzy trying to understand why I was wearing pajamas when he was saying all these wonderful things that my brain was too occupied analyzing my pajamas to process. I had to ask him to repeat himself later, so I could commit it to memory.
This year has not gone according to my plans, at all. I never could have laid the groundwork for such an adventure by myself, I could not have anticipated how much my life would change, starting with a ping on my phone during the workday.
I’m writing here, from the living room of our apartment in Oakland, with a coffee table scattered with books and wedding planning crafts. This weekend, we fly back to Wisconsin to finalize the sale of our first home. My life is nearly unrecognizable compared to last year- except that the cat is napping on my favorite blanket, as usual. I’m sharing this with you, not because I want to brag about a house, or show off this crazy shiny ring, but because a year ago I never thought any of this would happen for me. If you’re in a place where you think your dreams are impossible, or that nothing is going right… I just want to ask you to believe that good things can happen, even after long hard seasons, the seasons will change, it’s what they’re meant to do.