“Free at last.” Joyce sings out as she breezes into her almost empty apartment. She sails her purse and shoes across the room and spins into a spontaneous dance. Her cell phone rings– the land-line has been disconnected – “Jamie, how great to hear from you. I just got in – the day has finally arrived. I feel so light, as if I am floating. Work has seemed so wearing these last few weeks. Thanks again for letting me forward my mail to you. I intend to check in regularly to get my bills; I’ll send you checks once a week – promise. Oh, I’m so excited; it feels as if my life, my real life, is about to begin. Tomorrow morning I finish selling my car to Steve, after which he takes me to the airport ... Alaska here I come. Watch out world, Joyce is on her way.” She laughs delightedly.
Jamie laughs too, “It’s great you’re so happy. I’ve never heard you sound like this. I do hope everything works out for you – of course, you can always come back if it isn’t what you want.”
“Not a chance, I’ll just move on to another new place – maybe New Zealand or Africa. I intend to experience new things, not relive the old. From now on, my life’s going to be one continuous adventure.
Again Jamie chuckles, thinking how young Joyce sounds; still, she can’t help feeling pessimistic – no one just picks up and starts a new life, from scratch. “At least promise to stay in touch and keep us abreast of your new life. We love you, you know. Besides, we’ll miss you like crazy – no one keeps us involved the way you do. Have a good trip and call us. Also, please think about coming back, if it doesn’t work out.”
“I’ll stay in touch, my bills have to be paid, you know. Don’t you dare slow down or stop doing things, I forbid it. Tell everyone else bye for me – I don’t want to spend my evening on the phone, rehashing my choices.”
Joyce mentally checked off her to-do list: apartment is sublet, furniture sold or given to friends or in storage, kitchen is cleaned, cabinets have only staples, refrigerator is empty and clean, floors are vacuumed and the paint has been washed down. On a personal level her suitcases are packed, goodbyes have been said, reservations are made. “I’m all set for the flight tomorrow.” Tonight is a time for me to party and dance, she thinks, but it’s also a time to be alone. She looks around, for a radio, but there is none. It’s still time to dance, she decides. Humming softly, she begins to spin through the rooms, her singing gets louder as she rotates and dips and laughs aloud. “I did it, I’m really, really going. Perhaps I’ll dance the night away – no point sleeping my last night in Chicago.”
For a few moments, she considers meeting friends for a night on the town, but swiftly rejects that idea. She doesn’t want to listen to her friends trying to talk her out of leaving – she knows they consider her crazy – a short fiftyish, overweight, out-of-shape, graying woman who seemingly overnight quits her job, gets rid of her possessions, severs her connections and departs for a place she’s never been before. Alaska, of all places – She can almost hear their voices saying “why would someone go someplace so cold and remote and ... and uncivilized. Why aren’t you happy here? OK, get a new job if you prefer, but don’t go to the ends of the earth.” She remembers their words as she reviews their arguments, “A sane person doesn’t go off without a job or place to stay or even a friend to provide support.”
Joyce laughs; when they had put it that way she remembered thinking that she probably is either crazy or about to fulfill a lifelong dream.
- - - - - - - - -
It isn’t until she is in the hotel shuttle that Joyce’s enthusiasm builds still higher. She has really done it – here she is in Ketchikan ALASKA! - heading for her new life. Her head keeps twisting around – trying to take everything in at once. When the car passes ‘Married Man’s Trail’, she laughs aloud, in sheer delight at the strangeness of this place. She laughs again when she steps into the hotel lobby and is greeted by name.
“Have we met? How do you know me?”
“That’s easy, we sent the shuttle to get you didn’t we? You’ll get used to it – this is a very informal place – everyone knows everybody else – and all their secrets. Welcome.”
Between the smiles and general good will Joyce did feel right at home. Peculiar or not, this was where she has chosen to be. In her room, she starts to pull out her cell phone, then stops herself. “That was my old way of life”, she reminds herself, “there’s no need to check in with anyone any longer. I’m free as a bear (amused at her use of the Alaskan idiom). No need to answer to anyone. Forget unpacking, I’m going adventuring.”
She runs down the two flights of stairs – notices that the 5 story hotel doesn’t have an elevator and grins – no socially correct, handicapped accessible regulations here. Not that she is opposed to handicapped access – just to rules and regs.
As if reading her mind the manager says, “We’re too small and too busy for many regulations. Besides, most of us are free spirits who hate being told what we have to do. After a few weeks, you’ll fit right in – as if you’ve always lived here.”
Joyce smiled again. “You are reading my mind.”
“Not quite, but you will see how well you fit, soon. - When do you board the ship?”
“Tomorrow, around 11. You know who I am, but I don’t know your name.
“Donna Wilder, manager, desk clerk and jack-of-all trades, at your service. I’m a native, born and bred right here. My husband’s family built this place, but they’re all gone now, so I keep it going.
“Since you have today free, why don’t you walk to the dock and get on the ferry. It doesn’t matter where you head; the ferry is the most common, cheapest transportation here and you should experience it before getting on that fancy ship. Here, I’ll draw you a map – only 6 or 7 streets so you can’t get lost, ‘sides anyone will direct you – just ask.”
Walking the streets, Joyce can feel the smile on her face. She has smiled more during the last few hours, than she had in the past few years. Her eyes grow wide looking at the funny descriptive street names. Her laugh bursts out when she finds ‘Rock in the Middle’ street – sure enough there is a boulder where the middle of the street should have been – the street just curves around it. As she looks up, a few drops of rain splash on her face. It is very cloudy. “Funny”, she thinks, “I could have sworn the sun was shining brightly.” The guidebook had indicated that Ketchikan is usually cloudy, with frequent rain. Her mood must have triggered her sense of good weather, but she realizes that she doesn’t care – it can pour cats and dogs and she’ll still have a good time. She is washable, isn’t she? The rain will just add to the ambience.