I love the prompts that Cee gives. They force me to go back through some of my photos and find photos. And behind many of the photos are stories.
This one takes me back to the fall of 1998.
It’s October of 1998. Just about 6 after Daegan was born, I am sent by my company across the country to Denver for a week-long training. Sage remains home with Daegan. Her mom, Kiteweather, is there to help out, visiting us on an extended visit from the Missouri Ozarks where she lives simply in a tiny chicken coop on land shared with several other women.
My time in Denver is mixed. On the one hand, it is a lovely break. I don’t have to cook any meals or shop for groceries. No babies are waking up at 3:00 AM wide awake and wanting to hang out for an hour or two. In many senses this is a vacation. On the other hand, though, I miss Daegan. I am literally missing the latest 16% of his life!
When I get home, I can tell he missed me too. While I immediately go to pick him up, he’s having none of it and starts to cry. This is a long way from when I saw his first smile just before I left. Apparently he really liked dancing to Kool and the Gang.
It takes several days for us to resume our stride. We are now on good terms again and have resumed our evening walks through the neighbourhood with him in the sling and now with a hat and sweater. The weather’s getting colder.
One night I get home and Sage’s mom goes out for a smoke in the back yard. I take Daegan in the sling with me and sit upwind of her so the smoke doesn’t bother him. I end up talking about my dreams for the future.
“One day, in five years or so, I want to buy a little land, maybe build a small cabin on it. I won’t need to work so much because we will be “living small” – without electricity or running water. Keeping our needs low would mean I wouldn’t have to work. Daegan and I could walk in the woods together, have a garden and cook the food we grow.”
Kite takes a long puff on her cigarette, holds it in for a bit, her eyes narrowing in thought. She exhales and speaks.
“Why are you waiting five years?”
This is so obvious I wonder why she’s even asking. We may have no credit card debt but we also have hardly any savings beyond a little saved for retirement. The most obvious thing, though, sat at the other end of the back yard: a car with four and a half years of payments left on it. How would I buy land? How could I live simply if I was paying $400/month in car payments and insurance?
I tell her all of this and she simply says: “Why not move to Missouri. You have community there. We will help you.”
“What about the car?”
“Can’t you just bring it back to the bank?”
Kiteweather calls the woman Daegan is named after and comes back with a plan. Daegan just bought a house on 40 acres for her to live in and care for her aging mom and dad. We were welcome to build a space for ourselves on that land.
A second phone call happens, and Dolphin, a friend of Sage’s mom who is like an aunt to us arranges to borrow a van and promises to be up to help us move. She arrives a few days later.
The next day I call the bank and say “I can’t pay for this car. I need to bring it back.” They told me it would be a huge black mark on my credit rating but at this point I didn’t see myself using credit any time soon. I scheduled an appointment with the bank to drop the car off and give them the keys. Dolphin drives us home. It is the first time since I was 16 in which I have not owned my own car. It feels very strange.
I hand in my resignation at work, giving a month’s notice. Everyone asks where I’m going to work next. I tell them “Nowhere.” and let them in on my plan. I will move to a small Missouri town, have a small computer repair business and pick up whatever odd jobs I can but primarily focus on being an at-home dad. With no rent, electric bill, water bill, or heating bill, we only needed to pay for food and money for gas in the car we were allowed to share. Half of my colleagues think I’m crazy, 75% of them are jealous and excited to hear how it goes. One of my colleagues would write me a few weeks after I left to say “When you left I realized that I was almost at retirement age and didn’t need to stay here. I could have the life I want. My last day is Friday.”
Preparations to move begin. We would live in a 30 foot RV for a month while we figured things out. Our final home, whatever it would be, wouldn’t be any bigger than that so we needed to get rid of a lot of things in our three bedroom, 1,400 square foot rowhouse. We would do it in several steps:
First we have a “Free Yard Sale” – we invite our neighbours over and said “Except for the computer, these books or my cookware, take what you like.” They seem uncomfortable but walk out with a few things. We still have a ton of things left, though.
Next we call the Salvation Army and tell them what we have. They come and take several pieces of furniture, our television, stereo and VCR. Another charity comes by and takes nearly everything else.
We pack what’s left, some cassettes and CDs, our books and photo albums, and a few items of sentimental value in to twelve boxes. The books we send at book rate by US Postal Service, and UPS takes the rest. We’ll see them again when we get to Missouri.
Finally, we need to get rid of our refrigerator. We call a refrigerator repair company and tell them we have a perfectly good fridge, can they come and take it for free? They happily send over a guy named “Gooze” who single-handedly muscles the fridge on to a cart and then out the door, down the porch steps and in to his car.
The house is so empty it echoes now. There are a few boxes in the living room that will be traveling in the van – our cookware that we needed until our last day, and our computer, six cat carriers for the 8 cats (some get along well enough to share a big one), and our computer.
The next morning we wake up on our futon. We take off the bedclothes and tape it in to a roll. The next time we will see it is when we unload it from the van in Missouri. We take our backpacks, a suitcase with a few clothes, and head for the van. We sit in the back and Dolphin hands us two big bowls covered in plastic. “I made you some veggie sushi for the trip last night after you went to bed.” It is enough food to last us for the two day train trip we have ahead of us.
We step out in to the cold morning, hug Kite and Dolphin goodbye and board the bus that will take us to the train that will carry us to our new, and unknown life.