There is a narrow range of acceptable reasons to leave Alaska, and the rest are stupid, cowardly, and lame. Acceptable: a death in the family, an experimental medical treatment available only Outside. Unacceptable: weariness of winter, the "bad economy."
That's what you tell yourself, even though you know it's bullshit.
You set aside the acceptable reasons. Fine. But the unacceptable reasons for leaving trigger in you a unique reflex caused by nothing else. A disquieting brew of contempt, superiority, and self-doubt bubbles up. One that curdles quickly into resignation, which in turn yields a certain hardening of the heart and a turning away.
For in each of these decisions to leave is an implicit rejection and abandonment of you, and nothing scares you more than rejection and abandonment.
Viewed through this narcissistic lens, you see a reflection of your own heartiness or stupidity, you're not sure which. But you know the feeling. That familiar and uncomfortable stirring of insecurity. Because each of these choices is making some sort of statement about your life as well. The choices you've made. The things you can accept and handle. Whether they mean that you're brave or stupid.
Who needs them, is what you tell yourself each time, as if to validate your choice to remain rooted where you are.
You couldn't leave if you wanted to, though you suppose you could if you had to. You have a job (for now) and a house. You have kids with friends and attachments. You have a daily rhythm and a view and a seven-minute commute and the coveted, elusive "work-life balance."
All of which is the envy of every sucker driving in a rat-race on a freeway somewhere--the 95 or the 405 or whatever smog-choked artery is slowly clogging up with the plaque deposits of each driver's vanishing potential and narrowing range of life choices.
You post plenty of pictures on social media to reinforce this comforting narrative.
Even as you think this, you know it is wrong-headed, small thinking. It is beneath you. It's not about you, of course you know this.
You remember it when they come back to visit. Some of them say they miss Alaska, they would move back in a second if they could. To them you nod in sympathy, reaffirmed and soothed once more.
The others are more problematic. They seem determined to insult your decisions as if to validate their own. The schools are bad. The weather sucks. The people are petty and provincial. The beach is covered in mine-tailings. Shut uuuuuuup, you think, bristling. You sneer inside because they are living in the places (or the kinds of places) you've rejected with good reason, you insist.
You imagine in that moment a Rubik's Cube.
Twisting it, turning it, trying to get all the sides to align but never solving the puzzle. You know that's what it means to come to terms with the choices you've made. You spent your twenties clumsily and sometimes blindly making choices, your thirties living out their consequences, and now you're prepared to just put down the Rubik's Cube and accept your failure to solve the puzzle.
To put it on a shelf and just be okay with having orange, red, yellow, and blue, but not the white and green sides all lined up.
The same goes for the arrivals and departures of friends, both geographically and otherwise. You start to realize that people can suddenly come into your life for different reasons at different times, serve a limited purpose, and leave as quickly as they came. It's impossible to know when you first meet someone whether they will be a "forever" friend or just a "temporary" friend.
Which of course is a false distinction. Like the distinction between unacceptable and acceptable reasons to leave Alaska or anywhere else. There is no such thing. There is no acceptable/unacceptable dichotomy. No forever/temporary. It just is what it is. IIWII. (That's an acronym you use to abbreviate acceptance and resignation to the particular box that you are in and cannot realistically escape).
You suddenly remember that Edie Brickell song, Circle. The one whose lyrics you had printed in your high school yearbook and thought made you sound very deep at the time, but when you read them now you just roll your eyes at your angsty teenage self.
"Everything is temporary anyway."
The notes and Edie Brickell's lilting fairy-voice fill your head, summoned from the far-away recesses of whatever part of your brain stores such useless things, all these years later.
And you smile.