When I left Florida, it was sunny and warm and green. Knowing I was returning to WI in March, I shopped at a local thrift store and found a thick, fleece-lined jacket with a hood. I refused to put it on until I hit winter again.
That happened in Iowa. That state is mostly flat as hell, and the wind can get furious, whipping across the harvested cornfields. There’s nothing to stop it once it gets going, and as always, when driving north, I hit bad weather. I’m convinced it’s a curse or a sign I should remain in Florida. The weather people on the radio were saying it was a blizzard and advised everyone to get off the roads. I did so at the first opportunity, pulling over at a restaurant to get something to eat.
I was reminded every minute I was back in the land of ice and snow, and I wondered what had possessed me to return. Then I remembered C’s threat to kill me and was determined not to let it get to me. I’d lived through this crap before. I could do it again.
I got a room in a motel. Unfortunately, the door faced west. The view was prairie as far as I could see. Not one tree! Every time I went out, I was frozen in seconds from the howling, icy wind. The heavy jacket I wore didn’t do anything for my face, hands, and feet.
I managed to get the overnight bag into the room, but it was literally too cold to rescue the ficus and oranges. Both froze that night.
I wondered if I was insane, willingly coming back to weather so damn cold and vicious, I couldn’t get a couple things out of the car without my fingers falling off. I would ask myself that a lot over the next twelve years.
The last few hours on the road, from Madison to River Falls, nearly broke my spirit. It was dark, it was snowing, the roads were shit, I was exhausted, and it was winter. I longed for my nice little trailer with the fenced yard and the giant snake plants on either side of the driveway. I missed my picnic table and porch and the warm weather. I even missed the kids, but I sure as hell didn’t miss C or his redneck father, S.
It was late when I arrived. After dark and snowing, and cold cold cold. But when my friends opened the door, and smiled, and drew me inside with hugs and warm welcomes, I knew I was home.
This is what I came back to.
As it happens, my friends were building a new, bigger house on their twenty acres, and I was offered a room in the basement for as long as I needed it. I joked several times that I was the first one to live there.
I settled back in and caught up with old friends, including R, who still lived there at that time. It took a couple months to find work and rent a place. I chose to live in Maiden Rock, a small town about half an hour from my temporary quarters. I’d always loved the small river towns, and this was one of my favorites. It had several good restaurants, a store that sold Amish stuff, beautiful old brick houses, and a couple terrific bars. As I write that, I can see it in my mind, and I miss it. If I could stand the damn winters, I’d move back there today, because working at home would allow me to live there.
I never got tired of the Mississippi, the back roads, or the view from my deck. I lived in a house that had been split into three apartments, and I was on the top floor next to a young couple with a small child. They had a tendency to bang the kitchen cabinets but otherwise were pretty quiet. The owner’s mother lived downstairs. I grew to like her quite a lot, probably because we were closer in age than I was to the “kids.”
I worked in Red Wing at first, and when that job ended (it was a contract position), I got a job as a waitperson at the Pickle Factory in Lake Pepin. The place was situated right on the river, but I disliked the work, and I wasn’t getting paid enough. The owner and I agreed I should move on. 😉
The next job was the worst one I ever had: McDonald’s. I was trained in Baldwin. Loved the manager, enjoyed my fellow wage slaves, but they transferred me to Red Wing, and I despised that manager and her second-in-command. I was being trained to move up, but I knew within a few weeks, I’d never make it. I’d go to work feeling sick, and the closer I got, the more nauseous I became.
After that, I worked at a casino. Handling a hundred thousand dollars a night was pretty great, but the slightest infraction got you fired. Eventually, that’s what happened, and it wasn’t even my fault. My supervisor told me to do something she shouldn’t have, and that was it. The guy who escorted me out agreed I got a raw deal.
Two years after I moved to Florida, I found myself in the same position I’d been in then: couldn’t find a job to save my soul.
I was getting really tired of living life on the financial edge. I remember crying myself to sleep a lot for a few weeks; I’d realized I had to leave an area I’d come to love, but I didn’t yet know where I was going. One thing for sure: no way would I impose on D again. He and his wife had done their bit. I was on my own.