Teach Me How to Say Goodbye

I’m moving again. This is not real news. I’ve tweeted about it. I’ve hinted at it. I’ve known it was a certainty since January.

I’m leaving Alaska


Oh, it feels so good to say that, can I say it again? I’m leaving Alaska. My beloved Alaska. Alaska, Alaska, Alaska–taunting me with its cold and dark and 3000 miles from California since I was a teen, luring me in with an acceptance to an MFA program with full funding and the opportunity to teach. And if I’m totally honest, sealing the deal with the power of ~love~ (for real) and a relationship that was utterly worth pursuing.

But I’m in a three-year graduate program. I’ve been here for a year and a half. So I’m dropping out. No. I’m taking a leave of absence and I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back, which my brain translates as I’m dropping out, because a part of me HAS to tell myself I’m LEAVING and I’ll be OKAY. This is all familiar. I left high school at sixteen. I transferred colleges after single semesters before I landed at CC for good. Taking a bow from (a) school is not new territory but it’s nonetheless frustrating to leave something unfinished. This program has its faults, yes, oh yes, but it’s been a place to be, led me to my love of teaching, connected me with some incredible, beautiful friends. And, bonus, I spent a wild, first semester NOT revising NOTHING LEFT TO BURN but writing anxious, perhaps too personal creative nonfiction that was really, really necessary (plus, one of those essays will be published this summer at an online mag that has sweetened my heart for so long–stayed tuned).  


But Alaska. Alaska is beautiful and strange and challenging and evidently not good for my brain. My mental health has always been a particular thing to manage. My physical health even more so. And Alaska, or probably Fairbanks in particular, is not the best at health care.

When I needed a psychiatrist more than I ever have in my life, I was turned away by all six in town because of overload. I sobbed on the phone. I screamed. A receptionist suggested the ER. Another said this–my poor mental health, the lack of help–is just a part of living in Interior Alaska. Right.

I’ve lost days to my mind in fugue state. I’ve tried explaining the light up here before, I know, how it buries itself into your brain. The speed of the seasons’ changes. How you can’t slow down, and sometimes you can’t get up. Alaska–the extremes, the distance from help (and probably the inevitably of what was waiting in my mid-twenties that has nothing to do with Alaska at all)–aggravated what was previously a problem I could shrug off as not okay but manageable to potentially life threatening.

I’m not doing a really good job at explaining.


Basically: my health has changed, both the physical and the mental. Last spring, my brain felt broken. This fall, I was afraid. Afraid of myself, of my body, my mind–its slips and cracks. Of what would happen if I didn’t get help. So, I’m finally getting help and I’m finally getting out.

Also there’s still that Lyme disease thing that I kind of decided to pretend wasn’t real after a year of antibiotic hell. And I bleed 3 weeks of the month–a sign I need get back in with my hematologist and there is no hematologist here. And I hurt, everything hurts, and maybe that’s a symptom of the mental gunk or maybe that’s my body telling me that something is again not working, that the doctors I’ve ignored in the past were right, that the symptoms I’ve deemed as everyday whatever annoyances are something more .

I don’t want to consider my pain an everyday matter. I want my somewhat-stable health back.

Really, there are so many–too many–reasons to leave (cost of living, a relationship, proximity to family where health always is fragile, streamlining focus, etc etc etc). I’d be a fool to try and stay.

My heart will always ache for Alaska. Is that too cheesy? I don’t care. I’ve met people who have changed me, loved me, who I will cherish always. I’ve endured and taught and hiked and sobbed under beds and froze my eyelashes walking to call at -40 degrees and played with writing in new ways. Fairbanks is a city in which I fell in love, where I learned I would be a published author, where I reminded students that they are writers, where I taught a college course of my own design. A place where I’ve been reminded that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to leave when you need to leave, to take care of yourself. Prioritize yourself. It seems I need this reminder all the time.


I hope to return, to visit, to see the southern parts I haven’t yet explored. Alaska is wild and gigantic and oh do I love the quiet, the winters, the dim and hush and heaps of snow. I also hope to finish my MFA eventually, either here from afar or with a physical return–maybe–if either of those options are at some point possible, I wish they could be possible. Or I might seek an MFA elsewhere, because, though I know all the more an MFA isn’t necessary for me, it’s something I want to complete, something that intrigues. And really? Teaching college-level is gold. Everyone said freshmen comp would be torture and, yeah, sometimes it is, but it’s the best job I’ve had. Can I just write and teach, please (minus the grading)?

So, another 3000 mile roadtrip awaits in May. Through the Yukon into British Columbia, back down the West Coast. A month at my parents’ house in California. And then. Well. Utah–a place I never thought I’d move to but a state that has always been a home and will offer me a house and a place to see the doctors I so need to see and recover from these incredible past 15 months and visit my grandpa regularly because he’ll finally be so near and write, write, write The Next Book and edit NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and maybe start sorting out my ultimate grad school intentions (technically, I’ll still be a student here at UAF–only on leave) and prep (job search) for what will maybe be a move up to Washington (though I already was offered a teaching gig up there, but hey… Utah is happening!).

I do love moving. I do. How many moves has this blog seen me through?


I must say this: I’m so happy I came to Alaska. I’m so happy I flew up the day after sending the I Must Defer email because, hell, non-refundable ticket. I’m so grateful I met the people I did during that two-day visit. So happy I decided to cut the deferral short and move up only 4 months later, even if it’s ending with me leaving the program early (though this isn’t really the end, is it?). That I pushed and pushed and pushed. That I was vulnerable. And I’m so lucky to have such incredible people in my life who have been patient and supportive and so understanding of all of this run around, trial, and hope on my end.

This place is in some ways magic but, right now, I’m ready to go. And I’m trying to say goodbye. It’s hard. I tend to look at the floor and isolate more leading up to a move. If you’re someone in Alaska and I do this, I’m sorry. I love you. I promise, I’m trying to say goodbye.