It began with a migraine. But we didn’t know it was a migraine. So maybe it began before that. With a phone call. Kris and I were both getting ready for work – he in his office, me dragging my feet due to the fact that it was Friday and I was ready to be done with my work for the week. But my cell rang (I could hear the muffled ring from wherever the hell it was downstairs), and then Kris’ cell. And finally his office phone. Twice. The second time he answered. It was the school nurse. Something was going on with the exchange student and she was going to call an ambulance unless we could get there asap. I said I’d do it – we were hosting a girl and with medical stuff we try to keep me with the girls and Kris with the boys.
When I got to school my heart sunk. She’d lost vision in her right eye, was weak on her right side. Her speech was weird. Garbled and slurry. Not the bright, articulate kid we’d had for over a month. The nurse didn’t have to say it, “Is she having a stroke?” I asked quietly once kiddo was in the car with the door closed.
“It looks like it.”
It wasn’t a stroke. It was the most terrifying day of my life – the ride to the children’s hospital the longest drive ever despite being so close. The immediate, “Is that because her English isn’t good?” when she was asked her birthday and said something involving January, seven and second. She may have mentioned purple. Her birthday is in September. And doesn’t involve a seven or a second. Her English was perfect – best upon arrival of the three we’ve hosted.
I texted Kris, making sure to act like everything was fine when I was sitting in the room with this terrified girl, secretly praying the CAT scan would happen any minute – I wasn’t going to be able to hold it together much longer. He texted back, “Nancy, is she having a stroke?” I answered, “Can you get to the hospital?” And he did. He knew I thought it was. Intake did. The doctors did.
At the end of the day it was a migraine – though a specific and rare type – that didn’t cause brain damage despite what it looked like. It resulted in MANY trips to the ER (just in case she actually was having a stroke we were ordered to bring her in every time), lots of meds, doctor’s appointments and MRI appointments. Trips to neurologists and neurosurgeons. Harried phone calls to her parents. Watching her to make sure that any time the first symptom, a watery eye, popped up she started on the cocktail of meds that would prevent it. Sometimes. Other times, like the night of her homecoming dance, she spent in the ER. Her dress crumpled on the chair, a steady iv drip of morphine and a slew of other narcotics to help control the pain marking time with each slow drip.
We did what we could and we did it well, but it invoked larger questions. Like what if something serious happened? We have no family here to help out – my mom is 12 hours away, Kris’ family 10. And, the converse question when you have aging parents: what if something happened to one of them? Would we be able to get there soon enough?
And finally the question was in both of our brains, whispered before falling asleep. Passed quietly in the car after dropping her off at events knowing that no matter how good she looked, it could happen at any second. The question was always there: should we be closer to home?
The answer was clear. We’ve been in Michigan for nearly eight years. We love it. I have my dream job (more on this later). We have amazing friends. We like our house although we’d rather be right downtown. We can afford a nice life – and have gotten spoiled with good restaurants and great excuses to travel… “We have an exchange student! We have to show him America!”. But we knew what we had to do. And the plan was that we would do it this summer. Summer 2015. After the crush of the end of the school year, when my job gets quiet after the insanity that is Spring Break through mid-June. When selling a house is even easier than it already is in Ann Arbor. When we would have time and daylight to do any yard work that needed to be done, to pack, to head east. We didn’t know the exchange student would move out way sooner than planned. But when she did it didn’t make sense to put off the inevitable any longer.
My name is Nancy Koziol. I’ve always been something of a writer. From scribbling stories on the pages of mostly empty legal pads my mom would bring home for me, to poetry classes and creative writing seminars, I’ve been putting words on paper my whole life. But, like many who enjoy this, I don’t always have the time I want. I NaNo in November and that’s great, but I am left hurt at the end of the month, wondering just what I could accomplish if I had that much writing time every day. Every month. But I work 10-12 hour days on the days I’m lucky (except when I schedule a two hour writing block every day in November first thing in the morning and stick to it religiously). And on the weekends I want to hang out with Kris. It’s hard, but writing is a priority. It’s what I always wanted to do.
I’ve applied for a one-year leave of absence from my job, commencing April 3. The house goes on the market March 1. Kris will continue working for the same employer, going to the office instead of telecommuting like he does here. I’ll expand what little freelancing I do but mostly focus on fiction for the year I’m off. We’ll be about an hour from most of his family, a little farther from mine but in a place we know, love, and can afford. We’ll have the same income we did when we first moved in together… and that’s quite a bit less than we have coming in now. But we’ll be near those we feel compelled to be near to, and god knows the two of us were happy in that cramped apartment in Bennington all those years ago. God also knows the restaurant scene in Bennington sucks (sorry, kids) so we’ll go back to cooking more.
This blog is where I’ll chronicle the year I intend to spend in Converse or my hiking boots. When I’m not indoors. Barefoot. Reconnecting with the writer in me, reconnecting with the family I never see, and working toward finishing my manuscript, securing an agent, and getting published. I hope you’ll follow my adventure, feel inspired, and share your own stories of moments when you made decisions that to most, are nothing less than crazy.