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Before I Moved to Orkney
I'm standing knee-deep in a snowdrift, hugging a tree and crying. The tall spruce I'm embracing has long served as a scared guardian, bearing silent witness to ten turbulent years of my family's life. His name is Romulus. He and his brother tree, (predictably called) Remus, who stands, patient in the snow, awaiting his hug, have been present while I and my four children have lived our lives here. The place where I am going is a wild and startlingly beautiful land, but it has very few trees. In tree-time ten years is a mere breath; in human time my children have married, gone off to school, gone off to war, come home and gone away again, while I worked and worked and worked.
The tears are back. I suspect that I'm making myself cry on purpose now, almost enjoying the pathetic scene I'm creating for myself. Sometimes I think I'm a little strange, but it's not every day that I marry a foreigner, ditch everything that I've ever known and run off to live on a Scottish island. My new husband, whom I've married just days ago in my dad's living room with my family around me, has returned to Orkney, where he's waiting for me to join him.
As of today I no longer live in my house, my young family's sanctuary from their abusive father. I wander around inside the house one last time, checking for anything left behind, obsessively tidying a little more. Finally, I have to admit that I'm finished. I walk outside to the porch where I've spent so many hours rocking in my Amish rocker, gazing lovingly into the woods across the road, listening to the peepers in the swamp, feeling safe.
I start to close the front door and hesitate. I've locked it from the inside and my keys lie on the kitchen counter top. Once I shut this door I can't get back in, ever. I take a breath and close it softly, patting the handle as if it were a faithful dog.
I'm locked out. There's no going back. I don't want to go back, not really. I'm eager to go forward but even this is out of my hands. Some faceless bureaucrat in an office in Sheffield (wherever that is) will decide our future. We can only wait to discover our fate once I finish the visa application.
I fold my arms and glare at the driveway, already choked again with great drifts of snow. My shoulders sag, remembering how I sweated and strained for hours, hopelessly clearing the drive again and again, flinging the heavy snow on top of the ever-heightening banks like some arctic Sisyphus. A few hours later I watched the international moving truck pull away and crunch down the country road carrying the few precious things that I couldn't part with. They were on their way across the Atlantic.
I'm crying again, hoping that the new owners of my house don't come by while I'm having hysterics. Here, finally, at the tail end of this exciting and troubling year, my empty house looks as bereft and lonesome as an inanimate object can look, no longer hopping with kids, dogs, cats, birds, sheep ... all gone. Kids to their own lives, pets re-homed (I still cry about this), houseplants, too. All of my belongings are scattered in one way or another except for a single suitcase containing a few clothes and the papers I'll need for the massive visa application.
A strange thought strikes me: when I move to Orkney, I will effectively have no past. Nobody knows me there. I will be a blank. A few people are starting to know me as Tom's surprise American wife, but they won't know I have four children who are so wonderful that it makes me tear up just to think about them, that I'm a pretty good piano player, that my family runs the local grocery store where everybody shops, that I played sousaphone in the high school marching band and had a crush on my band teacher, that I love the smell of maple sap boiling its way into syrup in the brittle, early days of spring, that I wander in the woods and imagine fantasy stories into being. They won't know that I'm a writer, that I love animals and talk to trees - and to myself when no one's looking - that my brothers and I used to scrap with each other like fighting roosters but have never once had a cross word since our parents' divorce when we were teenagers. They won't remember my dad.
I'm getting cold. I start the borrowed car. (Mine has gone to Virginia to begin a new life with my daughter.) I'm staying with my stepmom, Lonnie, sleeping in my childhood bedroom, which is a surreal experience in itself. We can't help but compare this to the last time we stayed together: a hotel room in Erie, Pennsylvania, where Dad was taken after he collapsed while playing tennis. Lon and I waited for days, watching for signs of returning life, rubbing his feet, talking to him and to each other. Family came and went. Lonnie and I padded about the hospital like ghosts, finding less and less to say, waking with a little less hope every morning. Dad never woke up, so we had to let him go.
Lonnie and I have been crying together a lot these past few days, saying things we'd never said before, any possibility of awkwardness wiped away by our shared grief, both then and now.
But it's time. There is no way to go but forward. It's done, and it's irrevocable. I have no right to be here any more. I smile sadly at Romulus and Remus, shift the car into reverse and wave to them one last time. Lonnie's car slithers out of my snow-choked driveway and I drive away, leaving my empty house behind.