Oh, Hell!


That was Hedder’s first reaction a little over five years ago, when I told her that I’d gotten the full-time teaching position in Richland Center, Wisconsin that I’d interviewed for about two weeks earlier. I’d woken up a few moments earlier, checked my email on my phone, then checked it again, then checked it a third time, just because I was in utter disbelief about the job offer. I’d applied for over two hundred positions since moving in with Hedder the previous December, literally from New Brunswick to Hawaii, and despite getting videoconference interviews with a handful of them, I’d struck out everywhere. To be honest, I didn’t even think my interview for the Richland campus went all that well; I knew that I came off as competent and capable, but if I were to rate my own performance in that interview on a scale from zero to ten, I’d give it a seven at best, and I’d been turned down from several colleges where I knew that I’d aced the interview.

Despite the massive opportunities that awaited me in Wisconsin, the decision to move here wasn’t that easy. For one thing, I’d need to complete my move in less than two weeks, and I had few resources at my disposal following the debacles that unfolded after Mom’s passing in 2016 (and all the debacles that led up to it). I’d never even been to Wisconsin, much less studied curricular requirements for the university system, so most of the time I wasn’t preparing myself for the move would have to be spent getting myself up to speed there. More to the point, even if the part-time teaching I’d picked up in Colorado Springs and Aurora wasn’t going to pay me nearly as much, Colorado was at least starting to become familiar to me, and I had Hedder there to support me.

Leaving Hedder was definitely a big downside to moving to Wisconsin. In the eight months I’d lived with her up to that point, I could tell that she was working through a lot of issues, including what I suspected was an undiagnosed case of severe ADHD, which was affecting both her personal and professional lives in major ways. Like me, she was also dealing with the recent passing of her mother, and even if we were never as close as many people assumed that we were, we filled an important part in each other’s lives at what was a very challenging time for both of us.

In the end, the Richland campus moving heaven and earth to find me ridiculously affordable housing across the street from campus tilted the balance for me big-time, and even Hedder told me that there was no way I could refuse their offer. About a week after that, she saw me off to Wisconsin, and as I stood just inside her apartment for the last time, looking at the place that had been my home for close to nine months — my first home outside of Ohio — she said that I could always come back and visit later.

Of course, that never happened. It was around this time last year that I learned of Hedder being comatose as a result of multiple brain issues, which I strongly suspect were related to her catching COVID-19 in her work as a home health care aide. Her family terminated life support on the second of September last year, but I didn’t learn about it until a week later, and I’d moved here to Platteville in the interim, meaning that I moved here and taught my first week of classes before getting the word that I’d been dreading.

This is the first time I’m marking the anniversary of my decision to come to Wisconsin after Hedder’s passing, and as such, it’s hard to avoid wondering if I would have chosen to stay in Colorado if I’d known that I’d never get to see Hedder again. After I got help with housing, Hedder was pretty adamant that I needed to take the job offer in Richland Center, and so was pretty much everyone else I talked with. I’ve been able to get back on my feet here in Wisconsin, I’m finally living in a college town again, I’m making more than enough money to pay my bills at a job that I genuinely love, and apart from the lottery-like chances of me landing a massive advance for my next book, I don’t see myself leaving here any time soon. I don’t think I’ll ever call myself a Wisconsinite — I think I’m perpetually stuck in that “Michigander-at-heart-who-got-stuck-in-Toledo” mindset — but to the extent that I can call anyplace a home at this point in my life, Wisconsin is going to be my home for the foreseeable future.

There’s still a part of me that remembers that final hug (well, series of hugs) with Hedder, though. One of the things I worried about when it came to moving here was that I wouldn’t have another human being to hug when things got bad. The pandemic changed things about hugging, needless to say, but it’s hard to look back at that last hug with Hedder now and not wish that I’d held it for just a little bit longer, knowing that it would have to last us the rest of our lives. Coming to Wisconsin was the right choice for me, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a part of me that wishes I’d stayed with Hedder for those final years of her life, and as the first anniversary of her passing rapidly approaches, I suspect that those wishes are going to keep getting stronger.

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