My mother-in-law once told me that when her children were young she had three prayers. The first was that none of her children would get lice. The second was that she would not have any more babies once she turned 40. The last was that all of her problems would be money problems. She told me that only the last prayer came true—everyone got lice and my husband was born when she was 40—but wasn’t she lucky to have only had money problems?
I don’t pray, but I do wish, mostly with my daughter. When one of us loses an eyelash we are very serious about collecting it for wishing purposes. We wish on dandelion fuzz and coins in fountains and candles. We used to wish only on birthday candles, but lately we’ve decided that we should wish on every candle.
A year or so ago my daughter stopped telling me her wishes because she’d heard they don’t come true if you share them. I don’t know who gave my daughter this information, but I’d like to throttle them. I miss hearing her wishes and am constantly trying to convince her that it’s fine to tell me them, but she doesn’t buy it. Back when she would tell me, her wish was usually that an animal would come to our house. She wished for unicorns and cheetahs and lions. I doubt she is still making this same wish, but what could it be instead? Hopefully something as equally incomprehensible and charming.
For the past couple years I have wished the same wish almost every time a wishing opportunity has arisen: that my headaches will go away. But recently I’ve decided that I’m done with that wish. Instead I am wishing that I will have a good time. Maybe having a good time means that my headaches go away, but maybe it means that I will have a pleasant experience anyway, even if I have a headache while doing so. Even if my life won’t ever be like what it was before I got chronic migraine.
A year and a half ago, Tony and I started thinking about where we might like to move. Tony’s job became fully remote during the pandemic, and I lost my career due to my migraines, so we could go anywhere. We thought about a lot of places, the most practical of which was Kansas City, Missouri, where we have lots of family.
Last spring was a tough time in my family. I would like to try to learn how to live with less secrecy and shame, but I wonder if it’s possible to do so while still respecting the privacy of my family. In any case, last spring was a difficult time, during which a few things were made clear to me and other things were horribly obscured. I have thought a lot about last spring over the past year, and I’ve drawn all kinds of conclusions about where I come from and why things matter or don’t matter and how, if ever, I could make myself understood, or if being understood is worth anything at all. The only practical conclusion I’ve arrived at it is that it doesn’t make sense for me to move to Kansas City right now.
Throughout all of this I’ve talked to my siblings many times. Almost every conversation devolves into me oversharing about my recollections of my childhood, or the events of last spring, or my theories about some inconsequential piece of it all. My siblings are very patient, but I sense that they dread these conversations. And yet I can’t help having them. What I want, when I am knee-deep in these conversations, is for someone to tell me the truth. I am desperate for it. And that’s the problem: there is no truth in families. There can never be truth, just different perspectives on some event or occurrence, remembered differently by all parties, colored by personality and circumstance and memory. I have known this, and yet I know it more acutely now than I did last year.
What I might need instead is not the truth but faith in what I believe, a confidence in my own perspective. This requires a kind of bravery I don’t know that I have. But maybe I can develop it, or at least I can give my siblings a break from listening to me.
When Tony and I moved away from Missoula, Montana I felt like my heart was breaking. We had friends there, and a nice life, but it wasn’t that. My heart broke because I loved the mountain air, and the pine trees, and I loved looking at the mountains. When we lived in Missoula I worked at the University of Montana in a terrible entry-level fundraising job. A lot of that job has stuck with me, though little looms larger in my mind than my bosses’ boss, who was a bad person and a worse misogynist. He once told my coworker that he didn’t allow his decades-younger girlfriend to use the bathroom in his house, that he made her go to the gas station a half mile away.
On nice work days I would eat my lunch at a little wooden picnic table near the campus tennis courts. From there I could look out into the deep green Rattlesnake River Valley, lined by mountains. I would sit there, eating my sandwich, wearing my thrifted business casual clothes, with a $400 monthly student loan bill waiting for me at home in the apartment we could barely afford and think, “I am so lucky.” I had it once, then, just like my mother-in-law: the ability to see money problems as inconsequential to a greater luck. The mountains helped.
We can’t afford to live in Missoula, and we can’t afford to live in the Pacific Northwest, but a few years ago some friends of ours from Tony’s graduate program moved to Spokane, Washington. Spokane is far eastern Washington, right near the border with Idaho, just three hours’ drive from Missoula. When we lived in Missoula, Spokane had a kind of sad sack reputation. Tony and I went to Spokane a few times back then, mostly to fly out of its airport. We always liked it, but we also thought we were hillbillies who couldn’t tell whether things were good or not.
Last fall we went and visited our friends in Spokane. We had a lovely time seeing them again after many years, and meeting their children, and introducing them to our daughter. We confirmed that Spokane is a wonderful city, and that we weren’t dumb to think so all those years ago. There is a beautiful waterfall that runs through downtown Spokane, and less than 20 minutes away there is an incredible state park with pine trees and trails. There are farmer’s markets and nice old houses and decent schools and mountain views, less spectacular than in Missoula but still. There is a real possibility of a state-run single-payer healthcare program getting on the ballot next year, and Washington state has stopped allowing plastic bags in grocery stores, and it feels like a place where we could live happily for a while.
I will never call myself an outdoorsy person because I think there are real stakes to claiming such a title. I have never done an extended backpacking trip, I have not camped for more than three nights in a row, I don’t know how to use a compass. But I do find peace in being outside.
In the height of the pandemic lockdown, when everything was closed, Tony and I would go hiking with our daughter. We could go days back then without seeing other people. The trails should have been crowded—a low-risk outdoor activity!—but usually we were the only ones out. Hiking in those conditions made me feel like we were the only people left on earth and, with the trees in the sunshine, it didn’t matter at all. I was thinking a lot back then about what I did and didn’t want. I remember deciding on one hike that the only good thing in the world was this: being outside with my family. And while I’m sure that isn’t wholly true I am still, two years later, hard-pressed to think of anything else that might come close. When I say good I don’t just mean enjoyable, but also untainted, something that doesn’t require me to exploit someone or to be exploited, something holy. So, I am not outdoorsy, but I do need nature.
If we moved to Kansas City we would come back to the Ozarks to access nature, but if we move to Spokane we will be able to drive ten minutes and experience more wilderness than we could within an hour’s drive from Springfield. Maybe that will mean something to us. I will find out, because we are moving to Spokane in two weeks. Our house is full of boxes. I am alternately scared and excited. I am approaching the move as if it is not some grand pronouncement or final farewell, but instead something closer to a sabbatical. This will be the fourth time I have moved away from Springfield, and I am no longer so naïve as to think this will be my last time living here. I like the idea of being away for a while again, though, to gain perspective, maybe, or to help me think of something else good.
One night last summer we drove out to my uncle’s farmhouse. We had one of those giant paper lanterns that you can buy at fireworks stands. It must’ve been around the Fourth of July, although I don’t remember for sure. The back of the lantern package instructed us to make a wish as the lantern blew away. Tony and I lit the lantern while our daughter watched. We let it go and it immediately got stuck in a tree. There were an agonizing few seconds in which we thought we’d have to call the fire department. Then the wind blew and the lantern dislodged and we watched it float up and up into the sky. I wished to be brave about where we would move. I didn’t wish for happiness in our move, or clarity, or anything so meaningless as success. I wished only for bravery.