Tag Archives: Midwest


Peace Arch

Peace Arch

This weekend, Z and I went to British Columbia to celebrate, belatedly, our 4th anniversary, which we had to spend apart last month.

Z has a freshly minted Canadian visa burning a hole in his pocket, and he’s never been north of the 49th parallel in North America, so it seemed like the best place to celebrate. (Also, I like to think we were celebrating the occasion of my 50th blog  post with a little international travel.) It wasn’t my first trip there; a conference in Vancouver almost a decade ago was my first introduction to this part of the world, even before I met Seattle, so I was anxious to see it again now that we’re neighbors.


Because I grew up smack in the middle of the country in a town situated on the National Road and I-70, it often felt as if there was nothing but wide-open space and an open road that led to other more exciting kinds of lives. Since moving to Seattle, I’ve sometimes felt the pinch of this geography. It’s not exactly that I want to run anywhere, but the close(ish) proximity of the Pacific to the west and the Canadian border to the north, has, at times, made me feel hemmed in. I have elaborate apocalyptic fantasies that I blame on being raised during the End Times crazed 1970s, so while we were sitting in line at the Peace Arch waiting to cross into Canada, my brain got a little overactive, thinking about how our twenty minute wait would be hours and hours if we ever had to run away from home because of some sort of Red Dawn style invasion or Zombie attack or what have you. And that “Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity” etched across the top didn’t soothe me so much as make me imagine ways in which this would become a mockery in some dark future, not unlike that scene of the decimated and mostly submerged Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes.


Is there a word for being simultaneously creeped out and fascinated by something? Someone should invent one if there isn’t. (And if there is one, someone should tell me. I can’t figure out how to google such a query.) Aside from end-of-the-world concerns, I’m also weirdly drawn to and repulsed by those places in our lives that are neither here nor there: airplanes in mid flight, waiting rooms when someone is in surgery, the place where the sea and land meet, the gloaming. It’s magical and kind of terrifying. What is that no man’s land, that is neither one thing nor another?


While we sat in line waiting to cross into Canada, where were we exactly? We were, I think, still technically on US soil, yet the houses we were looking at beyond an inconsequential fence seemed to be in Canada. The yards looked Canadian, if that’s possible. And if we got out of our car and walked in the roadside park, where exactly were we? Would anyone want to tackle us to the ground for stepping over some line we shouldn’t?


Also, I felt really geeky that at this friendliest of borders, the adrenaline rush I was feeling was tantamount to moving between East and West Berlin before the wall came down. When we finally made it to the border patrol agent and he asked us a few questions about how we knew each other and what our plans were, in my mind the whole trip had grown into some caper we were trying to get away with. All we really wanted to do was get to our hotel in New Westminster, eat some food, see some sights in Vancouver, relax, and after two days, return to Seattle in time to see the Seahawks playoff game from the comfort of our own sofa. Yet as the questions got fired at me, I felt more and more like we were smuggling  someone across the border in our trunk. Also, because Z doesn’t yet have a green card, I often worry that someone with a badge will decide we aren’t legitimately married and make us live apart. (Why I thought a Canadian border agent was the person to do this, I don’t know.)


The guy looked at Z’s documents and asked a few more questions about why he’s here and not in Zimbabwe, and Z, being Z, answered with authority and reminded me of Obi Wan Kenobi when he does that Jedi mind trick on the storm troopers and says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” and the storm troopers sort of shrug their shoulders and give up the hunt for R2-D2 and C-3PO. Z is amazing. Meanwhile, even if I seemed calm, inside I felt as if I had baggies of heroin stashed in unmentionable places, and I hoped he wouldn’t notice the sweat on my brow.


Something snapped inside me though when the agent asked why we had a rental car instead of our own. I can’t say why it annoyed me so much except our lack of car here sometimes gets under my skin. I miss Hilda, my beloved CR-V that is parked in my parents’ drive-way currently covered in snow, waiting for my return, and I love the ease with which you can drive places back in Indiana. So it was kind of a sore spot, frankly. I was pleasant, as is my Midwestern training, but for some reason, I wanted to say, “Screw you. We’re going back to Bellingham where we’re wanted and no one questions our life choices.”


In retrospect, I wish I’d acted morally superior about carbon emissions and how we don’t own a car because we love the planet more than most people.  (Though just between us, the reason we don’t own a car is because parking in our neighborhood is $4 an hour, traffic is tedious, and Z walks to work.) Anyhow, he seemed to believe me and waved us on.  Never mind my body cavities filled with imaginary drugs or the imaginary Peruvian in our trunk, trying to get into the country illegally.

Who Are You and Why Are You So Reluctant?


When I was a pre-teen in Indiana, I read an article about then TV Heartthrob Dirk Benedict, who said his ideal woman was one who could throw some things into a backpack and spend three weeks with him in the desert without worrying about her hair. I was certain I could do this, despite the evidence in front of me: I hate heat, I’m a pack rat who has never learned the less-is-more rule of packing, and I’m allergic to the outdoors. The only quality I really had going for me, then or now, that would have met his needs was not caring about my hair. I’ve got that one nailed down.

So, I did things like sign up for Girl Scouts, an experience that was mostly torturous. I loved collecting badges and following a code, but I wasn’t crazy about my troop mates, had gastrointestinal distress whenever we had an overnight, and generally looked completely wrong in the uniform. After two months in Troop 91, I should have known it wasn’t for me, but instead, I wanted to add Girl Scout Camp to my list of accomplishments (and also, there was an awesome camping badge), so I signed up for a miserable six days at Camp Wapi Kamigi, where I was damp, homesick, cynical, and just wanted to be home with my mother, watching Dallas.

I still sign myself up for things and then spend the first day and a half crying because I’m homesick and hate it. What’s worse, I have no idea why I do it. For my first forty years, my adventures were mainly of the Girl Scout camp variety and I lived as low-regret as possible. I didn’t marry. I never left my hometown. I took trips to “safe” places for short durations. A lot of my clothes were black.

And then I met the Zimbabwean, and despite all my very best feminist training, I changed everything. For a man. He’s a good one, though to be with him, I had to move to the Pacific Northwest, and I’m now earning (metaphorical) badges in City Life, in giving-up-everything-I-know-for-something-new, in cross-cultural marriage, in travel, in quitting my eighteen year college teaching job for the question mark of a year off writing, and in a lot of stuff I haven’t even figured out yet. While he hasn’t dragged me to the desert yet with only a backpack, he has introduced me to Zimbabwe and a continent I thought I’d only ever see in Out of Africa. He’s introduced me to other things too: being content in a moment, eating an occasional green vegetable, and the value of a well-honked horn in Seattle’s ridiculous traffic. (It seems so impolite. We sometimes still argue about this one.)

What I write here is true, the best I can remember it. Unless it really annoys you. That stuff is all a big lie, meant only for entertainment purposes.