Home for Christmas

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Some people see moving as a chance for rebirth. I’ve always believed it to be more like purgatory. When rumbling along in a moving van, I don’t feel hopeful. I feel displaced and leaden, as if the weight of all of the things I’ve acquired and stuffed haphazardly into a rented truck are resting squarely upon my back as I scramble to find them a more permanent home. 
 
Such feelings don’t make for cheerful holiday travel.
 
Even with Christmas looming, my boyfriend Will and I had to get out of New York City. I had quit my job as the editor of a women’s beauty, fashion and lifestyle website. Since Will and I weren’t just another pair of 20-something Williamsburg trust-funders, staying in New York wasn’t an option — we needed my salary to make our $1,600 rent.
 
Plus, we were simply a bit beat down by the whole experience. The subway rides, the crappy bosses and the 2 a.m. weeknight dinners at the all-night Mexican restaurant down the block left us deflated. We needed solace, which we sought in the form of a move to Portland, Ore. 
 
Upon arrival, our first order of business would be to spend Christmas morning with my family, all of whom Will would be meeting for the first time. Christmas day would also mark my official liberation from the website. Until then, I would have to update the site each day from the road. To me, our arrival in Portland would signal freedom — the perfect, eggnog-laden end to the stress the city had placed on our relationship. 
 
We set out to leave Brooklyn on an icy late December day. I pulled on my gloves and kissed Will goodbye as he directed the movers. As I stepped into the hall, I scampered down the stairs to avoid Kilo, the pitbull who was always left to roam the building by Carlos, the drug dealer upstairs. 
 
Despite the ice on the sidewalks and the early hour, the old Puerto Rican men who usually gathered on our stoop were already congregating, their salsa music blaring from a source I was never able to pinpoint. I could hear the horn section all the way to the donut shop, where I picked up a celebratory meal. 
 
Will and I sat on boxes in our then-empty bedroom, watching the movers careening down the slick sidewalk with our furniture in hand. As we ate, we listened to the salsa music piercing the crisp air as it met the squawking of hundreds of chickens, which were being toted from a poultry truck delivering them to the processing facility next door. We enjoyed the last peaceful moment we would know for the trip. 
 
Before we had even put the Manhattan skyline in our mirrors, we became all too familiar with a certain horrifying skidding, a feeling of the van dancing and skating along a frosty road. As it turned out, the interstate Ice Capades would become the norm for all 3,000 miles of our trek. 
 
At first, there was a bit of novelty in it. We’d easily transition from white-knuckled dash grabbing to happily listening to This American Life. We would drive up to one of those monstrous truck stops, laughing as we suited up so we could dash into the store as wind chills of 15 below stung the exposed skin on our faces. We’d grab coffee and head to the wireless hotspot, where I’d pull out my laptop and update that website. 
 
We weren’t more than a few hours into our trip when ominous weather predictions began to hound us. Forecasts on the van radio combined with chatter amongst our fellow travelers all pointed to one unavoidable fate: The worst storm of the season would be burying the entire top half of the country in snow. We were driving right into it. 
 
As we drove through Ohio, the wind started to whip the tail end of the van into a back and forth sway. The snow blurred the dividing lines on the road. Sometime after midnight, we finally reached Bowling Green, where we nervously slid through empty intersections on the way to stay with relatives. Even once we cuddled inside, we couldn’t sleep. Compared to the Brooklyn cacophony that typically lulled us to slumber, the wintry silence was disconcerting.
 
Armed with a batch of homemade coffee cake and a $50 bill that Will’s uncle slipped him in a handshake, we set off again the next morning. A few miles outside of town, the windshield wiper fluid froze, leaving us to peer out of the glass through a building layer of sediment from the sand and salt crews placed on the interstate. We soon understood why no one but truckers was on the roads.
 
One by one, our family members began to call our cell phones. Had we seen the forecast? Did we have snow chains? Couldn’t we find a comfy hotel to ride out the storm? 
 
We couldn’t. Weathermen across the country only promised a deeper freeze as Christmas approached. Soon the interstates would be shut down. And we would be stuck in that dreaded purgatory, presumably in some hotel with all of our belongings refrigerating nicely in a moving truck outside.
 
So we looked for the next internet hotspot. Snow or not, deadlines had to be made. 
 
We went on this way, gliding into truck stops and fighting over whether Will was driving too fast be safe — and then not fast enough to outrun the weather — for two days. When we finally reached our Wyoming hotel the third night, we were sick of the snow and each other, none of which could be escaped. 
 
We did the only thing we could think to do: find a place to get a drink. I watched Will wash a sloppy buffalo burger down with a beer. As a Christmas party raged in an adjacent room, he started to break off from the “Portland or bust” bandwagon. Maybe it was exhaustion or the fact that he’d driven every slippery mile of the trip (upon his insistence), but he was ready to duck into our hotel room for a few days to wait it out. 
 
I couldn’t bear to watch him eat another buffalo burger tomorrow. We were moving on at daylight.
 
The new day brought 12 more hours of slip and slide freeway action. Thankfully, the interstates were so desolate that few noticed our clumsy waltz between lanes. We only talked as a matter of necessity — which lane looked less treacherous, what exits seemed less ice covered and so on.
 
By the time we stopped at a McDonald’s that evening so that I could work and Will could check the latest interstate closures, we hardly wanted to sit in the same booth. It was then that Will said it: He wouldn’t go any farther. Soon, customers as far away as the indoor play place were looking our way, observing the loitering couple who hit up the golden arches for computing and combat and didn’t even have the decency to order a Big Mac.
 
By that point, we had been through so much together. Only three months after we met , I was offered the job in New York City. I took Will to dinner and told him I couldn’t pass up the possibility of what the city held for me. I said I was leaving no matter what, but I really wanted him there. I never thought he’d say yes. 
 
As it tends to do, New York tested our young relationship in the most unfortunate ways. 
 
Between the chicken deliveries, the salsa music and the people on the sidewalk who desperately yelled upstairs to Carlos for a late-night fix, Will rarely slept through the night. I, on the other hand, slept furiously every chance I had. I had never been so exhausted.
 
In the waking life, Will and I rarely saw each other—unless he dropped by my work after hours. He’d pull up a chair and read while I worked late at night. On Sundays, he’d watch football in my coworker’s cubicle. We spent more hours together in those adjacent cubicles than we did in our apartment, it seemed. 
 
Through all of that, we made it. And here we were about to call it quits in a McDonald’s because of a damn snowstorm.
 
We knew the interstates leading to Portland would be shut down. We just didn’t know how soon. If we forged through the night in Snowpocalypse-type conditions, we might make it before the road home was no longer an option. If we stayed, there was no telling how long we’d be holed up in a hotel room with the charges on our moving van accumulating like so many snowflakes, I argued.
 
But we’d also be warm and, you know, alive, he said.
 
Before storming to the bathroom, I told Will I was leaving with or without him for the second time. As I stood cross-armed near the changing table inside, I thought this time, he had much less reason to say yes. 
 
We didn’t talk for hundreds of miles. Hours later, we had to concede. A truck stop 30 minutes outside of Portland was as far as we could go. Trucks without chains weren’t allowed any farther on the interstate. 
 
As we emerged from that moving van, Will grabbed my hand, and we joined stranded truckers inside. I put my head on Will’s shoulder as we watched a snowdrift build behind a window. When we saw my brother-in-law’s car pull in, we trudged back to the van and unloaded our clothes and as many presents as we could fit into the sedan. We left everything else behind.
 
My mom was waiting at home to meet us. She greeted Will with a hug and thanked him for bringing me home, assuring him that in my family, he was already loved. When we pulled into my sister’s driveway for Christmas brunch, Will walked straight into her kitchen and manned the waffle maker. The kids tore into the presents we’d toted through all those states, the boxes still cold from the trip. 
 
In the end, that was the worst winter storm Portland had seen in 100 years, a fact that left us stuck in my mom’s guest bedroom for weeks. In the silent nights to which we once again grew accustomed, Will and I snuggled in bed, watched movies and searched ads for our new place — one without chickens. And when the ice finally thawed, we moved on again, stronger than ever.

Comments

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