Moving Days

Moving is just like life—one stumbling step after another, always hoping to find what makes you happy

None of us wanted to move. We liked it in Seattle, and had been there for 7 years—just enough time for it to feel like home. We had lots of friends there too, and a nice house, that we had paid only $21,000 for. What we didn't have was a reliable way of making a living. Or I should say, what I didn't have was a reliable way of making a living. The girls (Gabrielle and Jessica) were too young to be concerned about such things. And Cathy, my wife of 12 years at that time, never seemed capable of real employment, even though we had both graduated from the same college with the same degree. It was up to me, in the old traditional way, to bring home the (kosher) bacon—and, with Cathy being Cathy, also to fry it up and serve it.

Anyway, my one-year contract with the Kentridge school system had ended, and I was looking for a new teaching gig, which was hard to come by that year. Which year? Let's say 1982, as that would be accurate. An offer finally came through, not long before the term would begin. I breathed a sigh of relief, but only a half-sigh, really more of a gasp. Problem was, the job was in Oregon. We would have to pull up our tent stakes (again) and move. None of us wanted that. And none of us made a bit of difference, because, a job was a job and we all had to eat. And so I took the position, in a small town unimaginatively named Banks.

We had been there only once before when I interviewed for the job, and had then only seen the main street of Banks, which consisted of what all small-town Main Streets consist of—not very much: the post office, a hardware store, a restaurant (The Brown Derby) and Jim's grocery store. (Jim's sons would be in my classes.) Originally from Philadelphia, I didn't know what to make of this sort of rural place. Cathy said she thought it was fine. Her own background was more small-town oriented and she always seemed slightly dazed by the big cities we had lived in.

So we moved. Four pissed-off people in a pickup truck towing a U-Haul. The girls hated their new schools: Banks Elementary for Gabrielle and Banks Middle School for Jessica. All in the same square acre as Banks High School, where I was the new English teacher/drama director/girls' basketball coach. The girls were teased mercilessly because they were the new kids in a place where new kids were almost unheard of.

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I was under the impression that a teacher should live in the community where he or she taught. Once the school year began, I quickly learned that almost all of my fellow instructors lived elsewhere; quite a few of them made the 25-mile commute daily from Portland. It only took 40 minutes, they said, and looked at me with a twisted smile when I told them I'd settled my family into a rented farmhouse out at the end of Jack Road. Way out. It wasn't so bad, I told them, with a shrug.

The girls liked that we had acres and acres of land to roam around in. They couldn't wait to get home from school each day. We tried to play out the rural fantasy thing. We planted a late garden and got some chickens ... which I should have protected better. But that's a story for another day. (Poor fucking chickens.)

And teaching at the high school was OK. I mean, it was better than hauling sheetrock around in a pickup truck. I didn't truly like teaching, but knew how to do it well enough so that nobody complained. More and more, though, I realized that I had to sublimate all my real feelings and passions. I wasn't doing any of my own writing anymore and didn't have any friends with whom I could discuss books or films or ideas.

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Instead, I turned to running. The long daily runs (5 to 10 miles) hammered my brain into submission, leaving me feeling uplifted from the endorphins and knocked out enough to get to sleep without thinking too much about the rest of my disappointing life and the fact that I didn't like my wife very much. I know she felt the same, though neither of us said so. She didn't even have running to escape into.

Instead, my wife plugged her energy and time into the Foursquare Church. Heal thyself, sister. It was the kind of place where people came back to Christ, whatever that meant, but that's what Cathy told me was happening to her, she was being re-born. "Good," I said. "Maybe you'll be a little smarter this time around." She looked at me with a look that said, "I would wish you dead if I weren't such a good Christian."

"Do what you want," I told her. "But keep the girls out of it." We'd made a deal, I reminded her, when we decided to have kids that we wouldn't raise them in any particular religious tradition. I figured the girls could decide for themselves what they were when the time was right. Still, even though I was a mostly non-observant Jew, I wanted the girls to experience Chanukah and Passover and Jewish food; and Cathy pushed Santa Claus and Christmas trees (despite my half-hearted objection) and Easter candy bribes. The girls liked all of it.

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I soon discovered that Cathy was taking the kids to church and telling them not to let me know. But they did, because the place was so nutty that they had to tell somebody. "Why do those people in Mommy's church keep yelling and screaming and jumping up and down? They're scary," Gabrielle confided.

I got right in Cathy's face. "What do you think you're doing? We had an agreement."

"Sometimes things change," she said.

"You're damn right they do and they're gonna change a lot more unless you keep those girls away from your crazy-ass shit."

"Don't talk about my church like that."

"Don't make me take the girls and leave," I said.

Things calmed down after that, though I knew it would just be a matter of time until some other nuttiness overtook her—especially living out there in the backwoods, where craziness seemed to thrive. I decided we had to get out. After that first year in Banks, we moved down the road about 10 miles, to the "big" town of Forest Grove. Jessie was about to start high school. She said, "I need to stay in one place for all four years. You guys owe me that." Cathy and I agreed.

Our lives did improve in Forest Grove. The high school was a good fit for Jess and she immediately went out for the cross-country team and quickly established herself as the best female runner on the team. I could tell that was really good for her self-esteem, especially after the devastating year at Banks. And the girls were both making friends in this bigger town; it was also home to Pacific University, so it had a more diverse population and felt more welcoming to people like us. Even Cathy went out and found a job with a landscaping company and quit harping about Jesus.

It turned into one of those periods of life where I sat back, did my thing and let time pass. We were there for four years and I had a job and a family and things were sort of OK. Shut up and get along, I told myself. Maybe down the road a way, there's a different path—and maybe not. Maybe this is all there is.

Now, jump ahead four years. Jessica graduates from high school in 1988. She's gone from being a star athlete and daddy's little girl to being a troubled adolescent and mad as hell at her father. But she's going off to the University of Oregon and just as well, because we all need a break from each other, and now that we've fulfilled the pledge to stay in one place it's time to move on. Gabrielle is starting high school, and like her sister before her has decided that she needs to change her environment. She's a sensitive and artistic kid and decides that St. Mary's, an all-girls high school, would be a good fit for her. I agree and, by this time, have taken a new job at Jesuit High School and moved us into Portland. I enjoyed being a Jewish teacher in a Catholic school. It made me stand up and claim my Jewishness, which had been lying fallow since, oh, probably my damn bar mitzvah.

And so all was relatively OK, until I returned home one day from a jog, saw my wife out tending to the yard, and told her, without preamble or much thought, "I gotta leave. This isn't good for either of us."

"I knew this was coming," she said. So we talked (more than we had for the past 18 years) and came up with a plan about how we'd do it, and how we'd break it to Gabrielle, and somehow I felt closer to Cathy then than maybe ever before. Can't tell you the whole story about what happened after that. It was just one stumbling step after another.

"What do you want out of your life?" my shrink asked me, as I was trying to adjust to my new singledom.

"Fuck if I know," I said.

He looked displeased, so I thought about it some more and told him the only thing that came to me. "I just want to have some peace of mind." Waited, then added, "And to find out where I belong."

So we talked about that a lot—and still do. Cathy moved to West Virginia and became a minister in a church that serves the LGBTQ community. Good for her. The girls, they turned out great: smart, funny and kind. I'm doing pretty well myself. Well, sort of. There is one thing I've figured out. Moving will only get you to the next location. It won't stop you from bringing yourself along.