One of the hardest things about moving to rural Alaska is the distance between me and my family and friends back home. On a typical day, it’s not so bad; the wonders of modern technology allow for phone calls and e-mail to reach me on a routine basis, and the occasional Facetime or Skype call even lets me see people. There are times, though, when I can feel the distance, and all the technology in the world doesn’t replace the fact that I desperately wish I was there instead of here.
Right now is one of those times.
It was just over two years ago that I sat down for an internship interview with the Initiative for Transgender Leadership, a local trans-rights group. The interview committee consisted of two of the group’s founders, Artie and Hatter. I didn’t know it at the time, but both would become dear friends and integral parts of my support network.
On more than one occasion, Hatter was kind enough to host get-togethers and meetings for ITL at her place, making everyone feel welcome. From the outset, she made it clear that any of us could come to her for help with anything, project related or not. She gave helpful feedback on my final presentation, and made a point of telling my family what a great job I’d done. Once the peer mentorship program was up and running, she once again opened her door to everyone for the first weekend of meetings. She and the other founders put a lot of faith in the program participants, making a point of letting us run the show. At least two of them were at every meeting, offering moral support and resources on request. When I had a personal crisis midway through the course and felt like I needed to leave, Hatter generously gave her time to talk with me about what I was going through. In the course of the conversation, she helped me see how much I meant to the group and vice versa, something that I sorely needed. Several months later, after I gave my speech at the final presentation, Hatter enveloped me in a hug that said more than words ever could.
Aside from my work with ITL, Hatter continued to be a cheerleader for me in my continuing search for a teaching job. When I told her about the job here in Alaska, she congratulated me with another hug, and reminded me that no matter where I go, I always have her friendship. She has been an avid follower of both Facebook photos and this blog since I arrived and began routine posts.
Earlier this week, I got an e-mail whose subject line read, “A Message from Hatter”. It contained a link to a video, which showed Hatter in a hospital bed. In a calm, measured voice, she explained that she has terminal cancer, and I felt the world drop out from under me. I watched the video the whole way through, tears streaming down my face, trying to process what was being said. I remember being vaguely upset that she didn’t mention anything to me before I left, since she’d first been diagnosed in June. That upset went away rather quickly; not only had things not been this bad when she was first diagnosed, but it’s also her choice what to share and with whom. More vexing was and is the fact that there is no timeline. I don’t know that I’ll ever get the chance to see her in person again. I’m also put off by the fact that I’m so far away. Even if I was home, I don’t know how much help I could be. Hatter and her family seem to have things pretty well in hand as far as care goes. But I would have the option of being able to see her as much as she would allow. I would also have access to my own support network as I process this information. I did call my parents and had a long conversation with them after I finished the video, but talking on the phone is not the same as talking face-to-face, especially when you could really use a hug. Also, while I have some people here that I can talk to, it’s hard to explain just how much Hatter means to me and why. She’s one of the people in my life who have always accepted me, never judged, never been afraid to tell me what I need to hear, and stood by me no matter what.
I’ve been in touch with Hatter since I got the news, and we’re supposed to talk on the phone later this weekend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can see one another in person when I go home for the holidays. No matter what happens, I hope to get a chance to tell her just how much she will always be a part of me.