April 14, 2007
11 pm Alaska Standard Time
The Muzak version of "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman pipes over the loudspeaker as I plop down with an audible whoof in a chair at Gate N1.
I'm in the North Terminal of the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska. It's now 11 pm and I notice it is a lot darker here already than it would be in Nome right now. There is a large, wide-antlered moose head hanging above the door. It stares at me and I swear it is saying something along the lines of They'd never do this in the Lower 48.
I'm on my way to a second job interview in Varna, Illinois. It will be my first time back in the Lower 48 since we left for Nome in August 2005, and my first time back to Illinois since...well, I don't know when it was but it was my sister Sarah's wedding. I'm coming home.
Knock on wood, but one way or another, my family and I are moving back to Illinois this summer. This job would just help to solidify the exact area to move to, just half an hour north or Peoria. Plus, I like the way this districct talked during the phone interview. Literature and a real, established curriculum highlight the personable staff that talked with me. I want this job.
I enjoyed Nome and my position there. The curriculum director was actually begging me to sign my new contract. But another year in Nome would have made it three years in Alaska. Three years would turn into twenty, just like that. A teacher needs only seven years to be vested in the retirement program and, at 34 years old now, I couldn't throw away that time. After vesting, I would have stayed, year after year, just to build my retirement base. I've seen it happen to other teachers. I talk to teachers and sense the feeling of being trapped, much like the eyes of that moose still staring at me.
I've done it though. I've taught in rural Alaska and lived with the locals for almost two years. This was not some vacation or cruise where you come in for the Iditarod and leave. I've lived through the cycling of the seasons, much like Thoreau at Walden Pond.
However, I'm an English teacher and there's not a single bookstore to wander through. There are no drive-thru fast food joints. There are no roads to take us to different towns. I didn't grow up here, so I miss these things from the Lower 48.
Now I think the moose is telling me something else. Good luck, he seems to whisper. Go back home or you'll end up like me.