My family moved to Anchorage, Alaska, when I was just two years old. Both of my parents were Texas natives who had never lived anywhere else. My father had interviewed, long distance, for a job as a programmer at an Alaskan bank, and closed the deal. They loaded all of our things—and me—into a green pickup truck, and we set out for our faraway new home.
My memories of Anchorage, at least for the first year or two, are just scattered fragments. I recall walking to the grocery store with Mom. I can still picture the blue couch we had, and the toy car I drove over its cushions. Our apartment was on an upper floor, with an outdoor staircase that, in retrospect, must have been risky during winter months. I don't know how long we lived in this apartment, but I think it's where we lived when my sister was born the following year.
My sharpest memories are of the trailer park we lived in later, and the children who lived there, too. Next door was a family with two kids: A daughter, Hope, and her little brother, Rocky. I remember receiving a walkie-talkie set for Christmas one year, and picking up the sounds of Hope and Rocky on their own walkie-talkies next door. I can still vividly picture Rocky, who was my age: A black racing jacket, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, bright red hair that was spiky on top and hung mullet-like over his neck. Rocky was my first fight, though I don't recall anything about the altercation, only that it happened. We weren't friends. I moaned about the unfairness of life when, as the sun still hung in the sky at 11 p.m., at midnight, Rocky was still outdoors playing and shouting while I had to lie in bed and to go sleep.
Alaska was a magical place to a little boy. We skated the frozen surface of Potter's Marsh, or leapt on ice floes at Portage Glacier. We ate stacks of pancakes at the Long Rifle Lodge, surrounded by taxidermied bears and mountain goats, while looking down at the Matanuska Glacier. We'd sit on rocks at Beluga Point and shout when we saw white whales breach the surface. As we drove back to the city, we'd crane our necks up at the sheer rock walls beside the highway, marveling at the waterfalls and at the Dall sheep that somehow scaled those cliffs. Dad and I climbed Flattop Mountain together. We sometimes drove through Turnagain Pass, where the highway was flanked on either side by walls of snow that seemed as tall as eighteen-wheelers, where a rest stop's public bathroom had to be carved out of the snow for people to use. We drove to Homer, the "End of the Road," and I wasted an entire roll of film taking photos of the clusters of bald eagles gathered on the beaches. Many nights we'd stand in our snowy front yard and watch the Northern Lights ripple through the sky. (Years later, we'd convince my aunt that, if you whistled loudly enough, the aurora would come to you.)
We returned to Texas six years after leaving, but Alaska never left any of our thoughts. We stayed in Texas for eight or so years, then buckled, and moved back in time for my junior year of high school. I moved away a couple of years later for college, then back a year after that, then away again a year or so later, after marrying the wrong person. When I left Alaska that last time, I didn't know I wouldn't be back for more than twenty years. I still haven't been.
Each year for the last many, many years, I've taken a writing trip in the fall. I'll find a quiet place by the water, or in the mountains, and for a week or so, I'll do little else but work on a novel, read a lot, and watch a lot of bad movies. In 2020, the pandemic snuffed out my writing trip; in 2021, it's done the same. "When you get to go again," Felicia suggested last year, "you should take more time than usual, and go someplace really special."
First place I thought of was Alaska. Maybe I'll get back there yet.
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