By Melinda Munson
I grew up six blocks from the bad part of town. My family briefly lived in subsidized housing, but when my grandfather’s dementia worsened and he was placed in a nursing home, my parents managed the down payment on his 100-year-old home by squeezing their three kids into the downstairs while a great aunt rented the top floor.
All the siblings slept in the front room — the parlor, a fancy living room that every New England home contains. Guests had to walk past the bunk beds and wade through Star Wars toys to get to the living room and kitchen.
I was sad to leave behind our apartment in “the projects” because they had a YMCA youth group that often held screaming contests (I always won), and most nights someone would light the dumpster on fire, which would result in eerily beautiful reflections flitting across my walls to lull me to sleep.
Our new house had peeling white paint and two apple trees whose fruit was good for nothing except as rotting projectiles to throw at my sister. Thankfully, there was an absence of cockroaches which was something we struggled with in government housing, no matter how many times we swept or mopped.
I still went to school with my friends from the YMCA club. Later, there was a gang fight, a knifing — and the death of a highschool student in the school hallways — so by the time I turned 14, we weren’t allowed to carry backpacks or wear jackets. The years they barely heated the school because of a budget crisis were bleak.
I was used to drug dealers, men who thought it was funny to flash their private parts on Ball Street and hitting the deck when a car engine backfired.
Suffice it to say, I am accustomed to city living. After the East Coast, I resided in Seattle, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Small town life has only been a tiny portion of my existence.
Skagway has felt like a blessing, a nestling of my spirit between the mountains, the exact location my bones belong. A place I can raise my children that feels like a story book, the opposite of what I experienced in my adolescent years.
Even so, when the Canadian border opened to vaccinated U.S. residents, I was elated. I was going to Whitehorse. For the first time in 17 months, I was going to travel miles and miles of road, at a speed faster than 25 mph, to a place that has fast food, WalMart AND dairy products — something Skagway was sorely lacking at the time.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Whitehorse (population 25,000) shaking from the drive. Sixty miles per hour is intense. And sweet, Pete! That round-a-bout! I got to the WalMart parking lot and froze. So many cars driving in and out. How do I keep track of them all?
Canada is a tricky place. Just enough like the U.S. to make your brain think you know what’s going on then — GOTCHA!
I used to think the word “washroom” was adorable but on this trip I was just annoyed. And what brand of toilet paper should I pick? There were 11 kinds, I didn’t recognize any of them. There were more people in this store than I’d seen in a year. Yes, lady, I was putting 10 dozen eggs in my cart. Try and stop me.
This was the closest I’ve ever come to a panic attack, plus the frightening realization that despite all my life experiences, and one trip to Russia and another to India, I’ve forgotten how to function as an adult outside of Skagway.
Gretchen drove my car home that day, back to the borough where everyone knows my name and potato chips are consistently in short supply.
I believe the antidote to my discomfort is to take multiple short excursions, with a friend, until I feel like my old self. I’m calling it therapy so my husband is more inclined to provide solo care for the kids. Busy this weekend? My bag is packed. I can pay for gas. And I’ve got eggs. Lots and lots of eggs.