Story last updated at 9/25/2013 - 1:36 pm
My computer mouse hovers over the 'send' button. The subject line of the email blast says it all:
"It's official - I'm moving to Alaska!"
Within minutes, a dozen congratulatory texts and emails arrive from friends and family. After seven years and four trips to America's last frontier, I finally land a job and a place to live. A dream is about to come true. Where do I begin? By celebrating the moment.
I hit a sandwich shop near my hotel in downtown Juneau and order a turkey and cheese. A dirty homeless person is harassing the young clerk who is on the edge of tears. I intervene. The bum leaves. In sympathy, I tip the kid $20. After sandwich, I bounce to a bar, imbibe three whiskeys over ice, play pull tabs and win $195 on a $20 investment. Karma.
The next morning as my plane heads home, I look out my window and see the little landlocked village of 30,500, soon to be my new home. I also see the vastness of the Juneau Icefield, the blue glaciers it spawns and the spiked nunataks sticking out like mountain goats' horns. Stunningly beautiful.
Midnight, Indianapolis airport. My cold 1998 Mustang is covered in frost in the creepy endless airport parking lot. I am anxious to get to my parents' house to kiss my dog Janis Joplin Pink Floyd Duffy. Joplin is the grandchild I never gave my parents, and they have irreparably spoiled her in my absence. I missed her. Twenty-six muttly pounds of schnauzer, Australian shepherd and maybe aardvark combined into fluffy love.
Next morning we head back home, to Nashville, to prepare for the move in two weeks. Dozens of thoughts swirl like a tornado in my head. I call moving companies and request estimates. $6,100. I sign the contract and give them my credit card. All is approved. But the more possessions I can jettison, the cheaper my move will be. It's time to purge.
Eleven years of dusty boxes of stuff I vowed to go through one day now lie in front of me. A decade of bank statements and old checks transubstantiate into gray ash in my fireplace. Joplin enjoys the fire. It warms her aging muscles. Should I keep high school and college yearbooks? I keep the latter, trash the former. Sold my new washer and dryer today. Gave my wrought iron park bench and whiskey barrel full of pansies to a furniture-challenged twenty-something neighbor. It feels good to purge.
Two weeks later four movers arrive at 9 a.m., on a beautiful, sunny southern October day. Maple leaves outside my apartment are ablaze in autumn fabulosity. All my windows and doors are open to welcome the zephyrs of change into my home. Skynyrd's "Freebird" plays on the radio. Six hours later, everything I own in the universe is in boxes on skids headed for a barge in Tacoma, Wash. I hand the keys to the apartment manager and say goodbye to my home of 11 years. I loved Nashville. It was a great place for a musician like me. I will miss it.
I spend the following week at my parents' home in Indiana to give the movers a head start. It will take four to six weeks for my stuff to arrive in Juneau. My kind Dad buys my Mustang four new tires as a going-away present. "You'll need 'em where you're headed" he says with love. It's Halloween night, and my family throws me a going-away party complete with a bonfire and Alaska-themed food; baked Alaska, chocolate 'moose', salmon dip.
The next morning the real journey begins. As I hug the Hoosier parents goodbye, my notoriously Catholic mother sprinkles holy water from Lourdes, France onto me and my Mustang. "I'm MELTING! I'm MELTING!" I joke. She knows I'm agnostic. Joplin hops joyously into the car, smiling. We head northwest. The autumn leaves could not be more vibrant shades of scarlet, tangerine and crème brulee.
Twenty hours later, my car sits dead on the shoulder of Interstate 90 near Kimball, South Dakota as the sun barely glows neon blue on the edge of sunrise. I call 911. A wrecker comes. The driver is holding a large chunk of concrete. "Here's what you hit, or what's left of it." A ribbon of oil trails behind my car. Not good.
Mustang is eight feet in the air, on the lift. "Five-inch gash in your oil pan. All your oil leaked out. Other systems damaged. Gonna have to pull the engine" says the mechanic blandly. I blame the damn holy water. The insurance company agrees to total it. It was a good car. Rest in peace, or pieces. I notice a weather crawl on the TV in the shop. Two words catch my eyes; "blizzard watch."
A dozen phone calls reveal that no rental agencies will rent a car one-way through Canada to Alaska. My destiny becomes clear; we have to fly to Juneau. But the nearest airport is 130 miles east in Sioux Falls. I book the flights to depart in two days. I dread flying my dog in a cargo bay. It will traumatize her.
I call a church across the street and explain my situation. I offer anyone $100 to take my dog and me to Sioux Falls tomorrow morning. Next morning a friendly man in his 60s named John shows up with a dusty Chevy S-10. The blizzard watch is now a warning. Time is accelerated. We make it to Sioux Falls in three hours. In the UPS store I ship the remainder of clothes that were in my car to Juneau. I buy a carrier for Joplin. John and I have lunch and I hand him the money in appreciation as promised.
Next morning, the blizzard hits, but only skirts Sioux Falls. Four inches of snow are on the ground and more is coming. The cab slides all the way to the airport. I put Joplin into her carrier and hand her to a ticketing agent with an attitude. "You'll need to retrieve her in Seattle. Airlines don't transfer live cargo. Then you can transfer her to Alaska Airlines," he says. I feel horrible, as if I've just put my only child in a plastic box. I make my way to security when I notice my flight to Denver is delayed by three hours due to the storm. The stress that has built this last week bubbles to the surface. Tears are extremely rare for me, but I cry. I'm afraid for my little scared dog sitting for hours on a cold tarmac or in a cargo hold.
"Are you okay, sir?" asks the kind TSA agent. "Not really. Rough week." I whisper. "I hope things get better for you" she says sincerely as she hands me my passport.
Once in Denver my connection to Seattle is delayed by more than an hour. My anxiety continues to swell. Hours later, in Seattle, I retrieve my dog. The baggage handler drops her carrier carelessly and unapologetically. I erupt, "That's my DOG you just DROPPED, @#%&HEAD!!" He mumbles something stupid. My fists clench. People back away. I leash my dog and wisely walk away.
Joplin and I share a turkey and swiss wrap together for lunch. Eight hours later, I put her back into her carrier, along with my purple sleeping bag for comfort and hand her to an agent.
I am finally on the plane that will take me to Juneau when the pilot announces "Ladies and gentlemen, Juneau is fogged in. You are welcome to disembark. We will give updates every 30 minutes." I can think of nothing but my dog. The fog lifts two hours later.
My plane lands in Juneau, Alaska at 11:30 p.m., Nov. 7, 2008. The cab drops us off at my new apartment. I turn a brass key in the door to my new home, a virtually empty one-bedroom apartment. I expected angels to fly out. Instead, there was silence. The landlady arranged some loaner furniture; a small TV, a green velvet 1970's chair, a desk, a bookcase and a small, blanketless bed. On the counter are bagels and a jar of peanut butter. In the fridge are six-packs of Alaskan beer, bottled water and diet sodas. I open a can of dog food for Joplin and a beer for me. As she eats, I scatter bonies all over the apartment for her to joyously discover, something I've done in our previous four homes. I collapse into the green 1970's chair and just suck in the moment I've waited seven years for. Joplin jumps onto my lap. The beer tastes sublime. It's so quiet here.
I lay the purple sleeping bag on the naked bed. The zipper still has Joplin's teeth marks from when she chewed it as a puppy. I will keep this forever. Joplin jumps on the bed and we both snuggle with a sublime exhaustion and realization that we are finally, finally home.
Without dreams, you can't have dreams come true.
I hope the next dream comes a little easier. If not, I hope it makes a decent story too.
T.J. Duffy is an aspiring writer with three novels in the works. He has lived in and around Juneau and Alaska for millions and millions of years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.