Eight days from today will mark the first anniversary of my departure from Toledo. Very early that morning, before the sun was even close to rising, a friend drove me from her house, where I’d been staying for a few months, to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to that airport — I’d gone there before with family members who were flying, and even to help pick up a traditional Japanese music ensemble that was hired to perform in the greater Toledo area for a couple of weeks (being a star pupil of your Japanese professor has its advantages) — but it was the first time I ever got on an airplane myself. I boarded a United flight just as the sun started rising, and I landed in Denver about three hours later to begin one of the scariest new chapters of my life.
That happened a little over a year after Mom passed away, and as with all the new experiences I’ve had to deal with since then, not being able to consult Mom for her wisdom and advice just made every moment of that day even more of an agonizing confusion. I’d be lying if I said that I’m not still feeling that way a lot of the time. Even though I feel Mom’s spirit with me every moment of every day, her guidance is one of the things I miss most about her. She never flew once in her life, and she probably would’ve been scared silly about me getting on a plane myself, but she would’ve understood why I needed to fly to Colorado at that point, leaving the city where I’d spent nearly all my life up until then. Even if she couldn’t give me any specific advice, she still would’ve found a way to help me feel better about what I was about to do, because that’s just the kind of person she was.
I’m not going to rehash everything I’ve been through in the fifty-one weeks that have passed since I left Toledo, because I’ve been doing that enough on here lately, but there is one aspect of these new experiences I’m having that I can’t ignore right now. Even in those darkest days after Mom’s passing, I had people in the Toledo area who were able to help me out in ways large and small. That first holiday season was the most painful I’ve ever experienced, but last year’s was at least a little easier to deal with. Still, even with my wonderful friends in Colorado around me, adjusting to my new life there took a lot out of me, and that December probably would have been just as painful if my senses hadn’t been numbed from dealing with so many new experiences all at once.
Now I’m living in Wisconsin, and I wish I could say that I’m feeling better about the holidays this year, but that’s not the case at all. I’ve made lots of new friends here, and I work with some wonderful students and colleagues, but as Thanksgiving was coming up, I realized that I just didn’t feel like marking the day in any real way. I never even bothered asking any of my friends if they had plans. I just kind of stayed in my apartment by myself all day, catching up on work and writing the first draft of my most recent blog. Being an introvert, and considering the problems that vegetarians like me often have at Thanksgiving gatherings, I figured that I could get through the day without any problems, but as the hours wore on that Thursday, I couldn’t stop noticing that I was feeling, for lack of a better word, lonely.
Staying here in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving hadn’t even been my first plan. I’d given serious thought to driving back to Toledo for the weekend, even if I didn’t get a chance to see my friends there. Part of me felt, for some reason, that I needed to get back to Toledo within a year of my last day there. Lots of factors contributed to why I didn’t make that trip, but I think the biggest was that I didn’t feel the same pull to get back to Toledo that I’d been feeling since that day last December when I boarded that flight to Denver. I still don’t feel like I need to get back to Toledo here, but the deeper I get into this year’s holiday season, the more I feel like I should get back to Toledo as quickly as I can.
My relationship with the city of Toledo has always been, to put it mildly, very troubled. I’ll still argue that there is far more bad than good to Toledo, but as the months have passed here, and as I’ve been telling my colleagues and students about the city I left behind nearly a year ago, the more I realize just how much I miss the things that are good about the city. More than just the comfort of being in a familiar place, where I know the best places for good pizza and peaceful walking like the back of my hand, I realize that for all the goodbyes I said to Toledo before I got on that flight, I never really meant any of them. I’ve always known that I’d have to go back to Toledo at some point (it wasn’t like I could fit my library in a couple of carry-on bags, so most of my books had to be left with a friend), but more than just the practicality of grabbing the stuff I left behind because I couldn’t take it with me on that flight, and the sentimentality of visiting my old haunts, I’m coming to realize that I miss Toledo itself, especially now that we’re in a time of the year when no one ever shuts up about traditions and family and togetherness and all that stuff.
This still isn’t the right time for me to go back to Toledo. My plan right now is to go back at least once this coming summer, maybe twice, so I can avoid holiday traffic and enjoy my favourite parks in full bloom, and not have to worry about any of my stuff freezing as I haul it back to Wisconsin with me. As the solstice draws closer, though, I realize that this holiday season is probably going to be just as lonely as the first one I passed without Mom, if not more so. As harrowing as that thought is, I know that it’s something I need to do, because there is literally nothing I can do to make this December any easier for me to get through. All I can hope for now is that I find the strength to get through my first holiday season in Wisconsin, and that maybe next year, if I can’t figure out anything to do here, it will feel like the right time for me to make a winter trip back to Toledo.