Leaving Evansville was the best thing I ever did.
Until I came back.
I arrived in 1987, fleeing a managerial job in Atlanta that no more suited me than being a deep-sea diver. Unlike any other place I’ve lived, this stretch of the Ohio River Valley became my true home. The river, lush medley of vegetation, and people who became my friends — all embraced me like a grandmother’s quilt. Many beautiful connections, the tendrils of a sweet-flowered vine, made this the one place that could beckon me back.
I didn’t realize this until years later after moving to the Arizona desert.
By the late 1990s, my life in Evansville had fallen into a chasm. From my journal: “This rut is so deep, I might as well start hanging pictures on the walls.” Long divorced and making a living as a freelance writer yet increasingly troubled that my life’s purpose (whatever that might be) was going unfulfilled, I could not envision any significant change happening here. Where could I go?
The desire for capital-C Change, no matter how deeply felt, often has to take a back seat to current reality. So my desire and I waited patiently, trusting that grace would illuminate the right path. And it did, taking us to Tucson just before the millennium. Sitting on the plane waiting for takeoff, I wasn’t sure of returning to Evansville even for a visit.
Leaving did indeed lead to changes — some sought, some not. They wove themselves into the tapestry of my detour, the pieces often stitched together by threads of grace.
Ken came into my life in 2000, and we married in a beautiful desert garden in March 2003. Nine months later to the day, a hit-and-run driver left him with a traumatic brain injury. After enduring the terror and turmoil of the following months, we are fortunate he recovered as well as he did. And, in yet another quirky turn that graced our lives, his accident led me to my life’s purpose.
An injury to the magnificent, mysterious brain can upset the familiar story of a life in ways no other injury or illness can. This is true for survivors and, as I can attest, families alike. After journaling for years, I believed this practice would offer people with brain injury and their caregivers a way of gaining some mastery over their upended lives.
Another stroke of grace enabled me to create and present a long-running workshop for survivors in Tucson, which evolved into “After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story,” a journaling workbook I co-wrote for people with brain injury. The workshop participants, including Ken, wrote with fierce honesty that inspired me deeply. They discovered healing insights, and sometimes tears and laughter. They shared their words with the group – the only people who could truly understand. (For example, if you do not have a brain injury, do not say to someone who does, “Yeah, I forget things, too.” Because you don’t. Not the way they do.)
The people in the workshops often said how much they appreciated me working with them. None of their therapies had supported exploration of their post-injury lives in the ways journaling did. I became a certified journal facilitator working primarily with people with brain injury and caregivers. No work has ever felt so satisfying, nor let me feel so useful and of service to others.
Even so, something still unsettled me. It kept crooking its finger at me, beckoning.
With about a million inhabitants, Metro Tucson is surrounded by four mountain ranges and a high desert that can be gloriously beautiful. There is no humidity or snow to speak of. Yet for me, born a Midwesterner, it was an alien place. There are two seasons: HOT and not-so-hot. River beds remain hardtack-dry except just after a heavy rain. Rather than grass, sand and gravel cover the landscape, even the yards. Much of the vegetation — spindly trees and bushes, plus various cacti — will stab you with nasty thorns, and rattlesnakes often lurk beneath.
So several years ago I suggested to Ken that maybe we could move to Evansville when he retired. Having lived only in California and Arizona, he was nevertheless eager to escape the desert (besides, he loves me). So we visited and bought some land. When we arrived this past August, immediately I felt embraced and welcomed in ways Tucson had never provided. So far, Ken loves it here, too (although it will be interesting to see how he feels after shoveling snow).
Arizona proved a most worthwhile and grace-filled detour. But after a dozen years, I’m back in Southwestern Indiana for good. We’re watching our new house go up. We won’t be snowbirds, either. We are home.