My nine years growing up in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, left me with countless experiences I often long to relive. I can’t recall a dull moment in that gorgeous city I will forever call home, not with the frequent outings to Brewer Park with my grandfather to watch America’s favorite past-time in the summer sun or the lazy afternoons spent wandering the eclectic downtown shops. A loving family to call my own, a three-story Colonial in the gated Brook Falls Estates, and plenty of adoring friends added up to a nearly perfect and covetable childhood.
At nine years old, I was not well acquainted with unhappiness or disappointment, loneliness or frustration. I was much too young and engaged for those mature emotions. Little did I know that drastic changes were in my forecast, changes that molded me into the teenager I am today. About two weeks into my fourth grade year at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, my father pulled up to the student pick-up curb in my mother’s brand new, royal blue minivan, fresh off the sales lot.
My dad, a warm-hearted, handsome man with a full head of salt and pepper colored hair and a button nose, worked as a clinical psychologist in a county mental health complex in downtown Milwaukee. He seemed to connect to his patients effortlessly and went above and beyond to help each person manage their illness. After I deftly climbed over the grey fabric seats, settled into the back and made small talk about our day at school or work, my father vaguely announced, “Now Cars, there’s been a bit of a change. Once we get home, the family will talk.
It’s nothing to be concerned about though. ” I found out that would be quite the opposite. My entire family, Ian, an introverted twenty year old drummer in a band; Leigh, an sociable freshman; Marley, an opinionated beauty; and Noal, my energetic four year old brother, sat around the living room tensely, the anxiety in the air nearly palpable. My mother, with her waterfall of black hair down her shoulders, perched herself on the distressed leather ottoman and stared distractedly at the watercolor paintings hung on the wall.
After setting my school bag down, I made my way over to her, plopped down onto the lush carpet and rested my chin on her knee. “We ought to just get this over with, Jeff. The sooner, the better,” she uttered to my father. “Right. Okay,” he began, “this has been a very hard decision, one your mother and I have put much thought into. I have been offered a new job, to revamp a federal clinic… in Billings, Montana. ” I quit listening at that point; I simply refused to hear anything more. There was no point disputing the decision, it had been made.
Numbness crept through my skull, diluted my bloodstream and made breathing seem a Herculean task. My new reality hit me harder than a semi-truck and I, over several months’ time, came to terms with the fact that I was the sole person who had the ability to endure trading my enviable life for an uncertain start in a place I had never even been. No one else could help me the way I could help myself. I developed a cold, hardened exterior that refused to reveal even the slightest hint of any emotion, for fear of making the move even more draining.
Despair became a sea, and I had taught myself how to swim. The process, thankfully, proved to be a relatively quick one. Our real estate agent, a bubbly friend of the family’s, sold our white Colonial, with sunny yellow and cerise tulips bursting out of the front garden, in two month’s time. A moving company efficiently wrapped my mother’s blown-glass vases and abstract oil paintings in bubble wrap, and packed the remainder of our belongings in fresh cardboard boxes.
I treated my last day of school in Milwaukee as I would any other day, not thinking about my departure and saying hurried goodbyes to friends before walking home. Even as a nine year old child, I realized I was leaving everything I knew, and grew up knowing, behind in the dust. I did not cry as we backed out of our gravel driveway that brisk December morning in our minivan packed to the brim with necessary items for the twenty-two hour drive to our new house. I did not cry as we slowly drove out of the gated community we would never call home again.
I bawled like an infant driving through the metropolis one final time though. I was raised loving every single aspect of Milwaukee, from the dense, overwhelming smell of yeast that washes over you like a wave as you pass the brewing companies on the freeway to the view of the neverending Lake Michigan, a foul-smelling body of water that gets less beautiful the closer you get, to the priceless Cezanne and Van Gogh works framed in the world renowned Milwaukee Art Museum.
I adored it all, as any bona fide Milwaukee citizen would, and I was certain Billings, Montana would hold none of those things. Embracing change became the only way to move forward, and after several months of waiting for the inevitable, I was equipped for any curveball that might be thrown my way.