The Upper Right

"How about Maine?" Mike asked

"That's in the upper right corner, right?"

"The what?  You mean is it in the Northeast, in New England?" He laughed

"Yeah, that's on the upper right when you look at the map, like we're on the lower left."

"You mean the Southwest, because Arizona is in the Southwest, not the lower left."

Even though we hadn't been on a car trip longer than an hour, we were seriously considering moving across the country together. We were both going to grad school, partly because I was finally finishing my bachelor's degree after many false starts and big gaps, and partly because we were both ready for a change--together-- which was a change in itself. Mike was considering lots of options and had sent for applications from universities all over the country. I saw brochures coming in the mail from the University of Michigan and Notre Dame. When we talked about grad school again, I said, "I don't want to live in the middle."

"The middle of what,"  he asked, "the country?"  He tried to get me to clarify, "What do you call the middle?  Because that sounds like it cuts out a lot of territory."

"Yeah---I 'm not a middle person, I'm an edges person."

"So, coastal, right?  That's what you mean by edges?"

I couldn't come up with any logical reasons for not wanting to live in the middle, but the idea of being so far away from the ocean made me a little anxious.  He laughed, because so far I had been utterly practical, laying out complete arguments whenever I had to make a decision, sometimes with lists of pros and cons, ad nauseum.  But he didn't look at me like I was crazy, and the next day he came back asking about Maine again.

"It's cold there, though, have you ever lived where it snowed?"

It was my turn to laugh.  "I've never even been where it snowed in my whole life," I answered.

But after almost a decade in the dry heat (you know, like an oven) of the desert, I was up for trying out cold, so when Mike got accepted to law school in Maine, I  started looking online for housing in Portland.  I didn't know for sure he was going to be my husband then, but one night, when I was on the phone with a prospective landlord, he came up close and whispered, "Just tell him your fiancee is going to law school at the university there, and we need a place walking distance from campus."  I blinked, thinking I had maybe missed the part where he asked me about getting married, but I relayed the information, like it wasn't a surprise to me, because, somehow, it wasn't.  We got the place, and when I finally graduated a few months later, we packed what we owned, which was mostly a lot of books, and we moved across the country, from the lower left to the upper right.

Because my dad had recently died, my mom and sister were up for a change also, so they moved too. A lot of people told us we were crazy to have them go with us, to go that far, to go back to school, to go at all. But somehow, as we crossed the country, maybe even as we were in the air, flying over the middle that I had rejected when we started talking about what the next step would be, we came together in a way we hadn't been together before.  I keep trying to write this so that won't sound like a bad greeting card---you know, the kind with the pastel sunsets screen printed on the front---but still, it comes out like that every time because I can only say that, since that flight, we are one.  We are one in the best way, because even in our unity, there is somehow room for both of us to be who we are. I know---I'm the first one to think this sounds sappy and ridiculous, but I have to write it, because it's true.

Not that it was all rainbows and puffy hearts once we got to Maine.  For starters, there was the poverty-tinged, anxiety-ridden existence of a two law student household.  I don't know how many people told us how crazy that was, because everybody knew somebody who made it through law school but lost their relationship.  We also handled pregnancy, birth, marriage, death, cancer, and extended family drama, though not necessarily in that order. Often, two or three at once, and still, we both got our law degrees and survived all of it, because it was just our life, every day, together.  The move was ten years ago. After seven years in the upper right, we moved back to the lower left, with our two Maine-born daughters. We brought my mom and sister back too . . . but that's a story for another day

Sometimes, back here in the desert, I miss the changing seasons, the blossoming shrubs, and the turning leaves that I learned to love up in that opposite corner of the country. When the temps are above a hundred degrees for weeks in a row here, I do miss that first sugary dusting of snow and even the dirty grey slush banks that build up at street corners until spring brings the final thaw. I started writing this thinking that it was about exploring the country and getting used to a new climate, but that all falls away every time I think about the move. The move to the upper right didn't make our relationship.  I know that.  We would have become the couple we are, I think, under any circumstances.  But making that big move, taking that big step, gave us the chance to take the deep breath, grab each other's hand, and jump together into our life.   And as Robert Frost (who also made his way across the country from California to New England) once said, " . . . that has made all the difference."