I arrived in Anchorage on a spring day in the late 1980s and spent that first summer itching mosquito bites, stumbling across glaciers and huddling in leaky tents. When the winter darkness folded around me like a shroud, I hopped a plane for Arizona and swore I'd never return.
But love can be fickle and sometimes a place chooses you and you have little say, even as your teeth chatter and your fingers go numb. Even then, your eyes stare in beauty and your heart beats fierce and before long, you don't even have to call it home because it's become a piece of you.
That's what happened to me. And while Anchorage felt like home, I never was sure if it was the right home, especially after I had my son. I raised him as a single mother, in a hard-scrabble existence, with my family thousands of miles away. Sometimes late at night, as I paced the house, worried about bills or my job or the dog's limp, I wondered if I should pack our things and move back East.
But I stayed. I stayed because the long summer nights and the silver twilight and the way the moon hung over Cook Inlet winter evenings, so fat and full and large. Mostly, I stayed because of the people, because Anchorage is a place where neighbors still help neighbors, people don't openly discriminate and cultures and languages weave and blend. While we all have our differences, we all have our similarities too, and we allow each other the freedom of being ourselves, our own flawed and ordinary and beautiful selves.
I didn't realize how vital this was until my son was young and we traveled back to western Pennsylvania to visit family. Walking around the supermarket, he looked around anxiously.
"Something's wrong," he kept saying.
It hit him as we stood in a very busy checkout line.
"Mom, mom, I know what it is," he said, loudly and excitedly. "Everyone here is white."
People glared, but I stood straight and tall because I knew then that living in Anchorage was the best thing I could have given my son, and myself. That living among such diversity, such a richness of language and faces and traditions was a luxury, a gift, one that rivaled the wildness of the landscape and the beauty and the wonder of all of us living together in this one obstinate and alluring and surprising place we call home.
Cinthia Ritchie is a freelance writer and author. She blogs about writing, books and Alaska life at www.cinthiaritchie.com