Several people have asked me how we, as Chicagoans, came to live on an island in the Carolinas, both people I’ve met through this blog and friends who haven’t heard the account in its entirety. The answer to this, like the answer to most things, I sometimes suspect, is in essence a story. And so to answer that question, I’m going to tell our story. It’s not a short story, either, so this will just be part one of a story that will take several posts to tell.
Over the years of telling our story to people, I have come to realize a couple of things about where your mind and your heart need to be to do what we did. One, to do this, to move somewhere for the sake of the place itself, you should be a lover of place, but not a lover of a specific place to the point where you can’t fathom leaving that place where you, in many cases, began, or have spent the better part of your life. Some people, for whatever reason, were born or landed early in life where they were meant to live the rest of their lives. Their whole being, the who that they are, is embedded in one place, so leaving that place would be like severing a limb. The concept of a new place, therefore, needs to stir your soul without rupturing a lifeline. Two, your fear of not doing it, of not trying someplace completely new, must be greater than your fear of the possibility of hating where you end up, greater than your fear of landing flat on your face as a result of your own decisions. Because if you do this, if you move for place, and not for jobs or family or the like, that is indeed a possibility.
There came a point where I think we just decided that we wanted to do it more, this move to a new place simply for the sake of the place itself, than we wanted the safety nets of a well-built life. We didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives thinking, “Remember that dream we had?” or “what-ifing” ourselves into a regret-filled life. So eventually, we did it.
It’s difficult to declare when the story officially starts. Was it the first trip down to the Carolinas? Or the brief flirtation with mountain living that only made us think more about the ocean? Or the fledgling talks of the Seattle area, when we were first married? Or perhaps it was the honeymoon, those many years ago, when we sat on a beach in Maui and one of us said, “What if we just picked up everything and moved here?”
For the sake of having to begin somewhere, I’ll start with our honeymoon. We were married in the Midwest in the summer, and my husband had planned a surprise honeymoon trip. I knew he had little money at that point, having recently paid off a large sum of college debt as well as paying for my rings and various other wedding expenses, so when he told me to pack for warm weather, I thought maybe we’d end up driving to the East Coast somewhere and spend a relaxing week at a hotel a short drive from the ocean. A couple of days before we left, he told me that he had procured some plane tickets (where to, he still wouldn’t tell me) to shorten our drive by quite a bit. He did this to ensure I wouldn’t end up packing bags that couldn’t be checked in or carried conveniently on a plane. The “shorten the drive” line was largely designed to keep me guessing. To make a long story slightly shorter, we flew to Minneapolis, at which point LCB told me we could either stay with my aunt and uncle, who lived there, and shop at Mall of America, or we could board the next plane to Oahu.
We boarded the next plane to Oahu.
We spent a week in Hawaii right on the ocean, half in Oahu and half in Maui. We joked a couple of times at first about moving there, and then one night, on a beach in Maui, with a luau going on in the distance behind us, the conversation took a more serious tone.
“What if we just up and moved here?” was the gist of it. In that moment, we both realized the question didn’t need to be rhetorical. And we realized, in fact, that for us, it wasn’t. Once that thought was in our minds, and we both knew the other could conceivably be up for it, I don’t think it ever really left. It just went into hibernation for a while.
We came home to Chicago, and my husband busied himself with building his career while I was busy starting mine. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and began saving for a house. We also began living on a strict budget, which included, among other things, living on one salary at all times. If either of us lost our job, we wanted to be able to maintain our current lifestyle. We didn’t know it at the time, but those savings would one day help to make our island move possible. The following summer, we bought our first house, a post-war house with hideous colors that we both immediately loved, and continued to occupy ourselves with the business of living and working.
Slowly though, over time, a recurring theme kept emerging during our late night conversations, the ones we had on weekend nights spent sitting on the back deck looking up at the stars in the summer time, and the ones spent by the fireplace in winter. They started with a question LCB posed one night. The question essentially was, while we loved our life so much here, how did we know there wasn’t someplace even better for us out there? We had laughed over a couple of conversations we’d had with people who insisted their hometowns were the best places in the world to live, knowing both individuals had never lived anywhere else. At this point in life, we had each only lived in three or four states our whole lives, and there were whole regions just in our country alone that neither of us had ever lived in, not to mention the whole big world out there we hadn’t touched save as tourists. So the idea of a place possibly even better for us than Chicago continued to marinate.
And then one night, over beer and nachos at our kitchen table, we sat down and spread out a map.
Of the world.