I left the Navajo Nation at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 26th, and left Arizona for good at 6:15 that evening.
I stepped off the plane in Milwaukee at midnight, came down the steps into baggage claim, walked into Adam’s arms, and began to cry.
It rained the next day. I drove Adam to school and then took Nala for a long walk along the bluffs above the lakeshore. I took a lot of time to just smell the air. It smelled like earth, and water, and leaves and bark, extra oxygen, lower altitudes, autumn, hope.
I continue to be surprised each time I step out the door to walk the dog. It’s like I’ve been misplaced for a long time, and have just been found and dusted off. We walked along the river yesterday morning, and let Nala off the leash to go bounding through the tall grasses and overgrown forest. She was gone at one point for about ten minutes, and Adam went crashing around further up the trail to try to spot her. I sat on a concrete bench and tried to really see where I was. I tried to see the different greens in every tree. To listen to the wind through deciduous leaves, and prairie grasses, and river weeds and water over rocks. It felt like I’d never been there before; it was all alien and new.
It’s strange, because now, at 4 a.m., as I sit here writing, my husband asleep in the next room (it takes a jackhammer and a chinese gong to wake this man up, I swear), the dog watching the cats, the cats drinking the leftover milk from my cereal bowl, I try to remember how I felt sitting by the riverbank yesterday, and all I can see are red rocks and sand and all I can smell are the pinon trees. And all I can hear is the wind hissing across the desert floor.
I wake up almost every night now, usually between 3 and 4 in the morning, and it takes me a few seconds to remember where I am. I’m not sure if I’m back at Nora’s house, finishing my last month in Kayenta. Or if I’m back in my trailer, and there are three stray dogs snoring in the living room, and I have six months to go. Or if I’m on another damn airplane, trying to stay sane via small visits and quick trips.
Sometimes I wake up and Adam has curled himself around me, one arm wrapped around my shoulders and the other anchored to my waist, as if to prevent me from floating away again. These are the best hours of the dark, because I know where I am when sleep escapes, and I know I’m safe.
It hasn’t sunk in that I’m here, for good. When I plan to do things, I still add a footnote: Tomorrow, I should balance the checkbook (before I have to go back again). I should make some food in the Crockpot (so Adam has something to eat when I have to go back again). We should take Nala to the vet for a checkup (so I don’t worry when I have to go back again).
I think part of what makes this so disorienting is that I don’t have anything to do. For the first time in a LONG time. When I moved from Madison to Milwaukee in 2002, I had to start college. When I moved from Milwaukee to Arizona in 2006, I had to start work. Now I’m back…but I don’t have a job lined up. I have no outstanding obligations except the normal, boring, daily stuff of life — bills, groceries, rent — stuff that requires a paycheck to manage. But there’s no rush. I have another paycheck from the PHS coming. And I have no doubt I can get a job within 2 weeks when I work at it. So I have half a month to do……nothing.
I try to stay busy with the small stuff, because that keeps me from dwelling. Yesterday we exchanged some duplicate wedding gifts for other useful kitchen stuff, and bought a few things for the apartment (towel hangers, soap dishes, exciting things like that). We went out for Chinese food to celebrate the one-year-anniversary of our official engagement. Came home, walked the dog, talked about life on a nuclear submarine and how bad the food is (one of Adam’s life experiences, not mine). Went to bed.
Awake at 3 a.m. Too tired to do the small stuff, not tired enough to sleep, and this is the bad time, because now I do dwell. I feel like a colossal failure. I have failed the Navajo People, I have failed my country, I have failed my college and I have failed myself. I separated from the US Public Health Service because it felt too painful to do anything else. I couldn’t do it anymore.
David has taken on Goliath, and Goliath has kicked his ass.
So here I am, adrift.