By Elizabeth Buckner
Sometime around the end of April I found myself beginning to panic. I was just finishing up my first year as a middle school special education teacher in Seattle when I was called into my principal’s office and told that my position was being collapsed due to a lack of funding.
The previous August, I had moved more than 2,000 miles cross-country to begin a new chapter in my life, and I was not prepared to start over again less than nine months later.
I shook my partner awake one night soon after receiving the disappointing news, tears welling, and asked in a small voice if we should move back to Michigan. I had been in Seattle for months. But I had barely made any friends; my lease was up soon; my job was unexpectedly ending — what reason did I have to stay?
The only furniture we had in our studio apartment was a bed, a desk from Ikea that we had been using as a kitchen table and two folding chairs. Vowing not to spend too much money on furniture or decorations, we had pulled a small bookshelf out of the dumpster to add to our meager collection. We told ourselves that this was only a temporary living situation. And now, with the end of my job looming and a notice that our lease was ending in June, it became obvious just how temporary it was.
I could leave whenever I wanted now. I could go home without losing much of anything. In hesitating to plant myself too firmly in Seattle, I had allowed myself to be too flexible, able to abandon my new city easily.
“‘You have so much time to go home. I wish I had lived in Seattle when I was your age. Stick it out. You will find something. You will be scooped up so quick you won’t even see it coming.’”
But there were a lot of reasons that made going back to Michigan a failure in my eyes.
So many people had cheered me on. They had thrown going away parties, told me how proud they were of me to be moving across the country. Lots of my friends would gush to me about how envious they were of my life in the mountains and by the Puget Sound. Now, I felt sick thinking of the people to whom I would have to explain my return.
My parents had been adamant about my staying in the state when I finished my certification program, citing my drained savings account, the cost of living elsewhere and the dangers of big cities. My mom was sending me Michigan job postings less than a week before my move.
Going back meant that I was someone who couldn’t handle life across the country. Going back meant that my parents were right all along.
Besides, my friend group back home had started to dwindle in the nine months I had been living in Washington. I wasn’t the first to move out of Michigan, but I felt like my move had somehow influenced the friends who were younger than I am. Many moved shortly after I did, so even if I returned, there wouldn’t be much to go back to.
During the nine months I’d lived in Seattle, I would always give vague answers to anyone who asked about my life, trying to seem more casual than I felt.
“It’s up in the air” I would hear myself say when people asked about my job or my apartment.
“I’m still looking” I would smile when people asked if I had found any good friends.
I made excuse after excuse, holing myself up in my dark studio apartment with someone just as flexible and waited out my lease. I shouldn’t get too comfortable. I shouldn’t get too attached. I shouldn’t go out during the workweek.
Eventually I felt myself sway like a tower of Jenga blocks. I had made such an effort not to root myself down that I was now struggling to stay upright.
At the end of May, a month before our lease was up, I forced myself to go see a house that was for rent, hoping that finding a place to live might encourage me to also find a job. When the house was given to another group, I confessed to my coworkers the next week at happy hour that Seattle had defeated me.
“I want to hang up my pictures,” I admitted. “I want to put my tomato plant somewhere other than the windowsill. I want a bed frame and a couch and a coffee table.”
My coworkers stared back at me with sympathy. I was the only one without a house or a husband or an adult air. I was the only one in such flux.
Then, one colleague leaned in across our drinks and said with aplomb, “You have so much time to go home. I wish I had lived in Seattle when I was your age. Stick it out. You will find something. You will be scooped up so quick you won’t even see it coming.”
That same night on my drive home, my partner called and told me there was a one-bedroom apartment for rent up the street. He’d already talked to the landlord, and we could see it that night. I sighed at the news of this small victory as I hung up the phone.
I could already feel new roots beginning to form under my feet.
Elizabeth Buckner is a bath enthusiast, poet and middle school special education teacher who currently resides in Seattle.