Life is all about changes: some we want, others we don’t.
My husband and I are facing one of those unwanted changes. Oh, it’s nothing terrible, really! But we will be moving farther north, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. The 90 mile round trip to Sem’s hemodialysis unit four times a week is unsustainable. Not just financially in terms of diesel and wear and tear on the car, but in time spent on the road and at the hospital. We live too far away for me to go home while Sem is at dialysis; as a result, we both spend about five hours at the hospital for each session, plus the 45 minute drive each way. Our fountain pen business is at a standstill and the cat hardly recognizes us these days. At least she’s got the ever-growing dust bunny population to keep her company!
The main reason for the move, though, is that the road between our village and the hospital is treacherous, and it’s the only road we can take. Indulge me if you will, and Google “Berriedale Braes” – have a look at some of the YouTube videos, too, and you will see why the thought of driving to and from dialysis throughout the winter months has me losing sleep. I am given to understand that it is one of the most dangerous sections of road in Britain.
Have you had a look? That’s the worst bit but there’s also “The Ord” to contend with, plus 40 further miles of hills, clifftop driving, and twisty bends of all cambers between us and dialysis, not to mention (okay I will) the homeward journey is now done in complete darkness, with the turning of the year.
So reluctantly and with regret, we have to move. We love our “wee hoose” in our quiet village, with our many rosebushes and the cat’s firmly-established territory, and having a friend or two close by. Sem has lived here for almost 20 years, and never thought he’d leave. But to stay here, so far from dialysis, is neither safe nor practical. Even in good weather, accidents or big freight vehicles getting hung up at the Braes cause road closures. More ominous still, the other day the roadworks guys were repainting the snow gates which get closed when The Ord or the Berriedale Braes become impassable. Seeing a fresh coat of that eye-watering orange paint go on made my stomach clench a bit, let me tell you. To quote a popular series… Winter is coming.
We don’t know if we’ll be able to move in time before the weather turns – winter can come as early as October here, and as much as I don’t want to leave I am anxious to be safely up north before the snow and ice make an appearance. Getting snowed- or iced-in on either side of the snow gates, of which there are more than just one set, is too real a possibility. Neither side is one we’d want to be stuck on: if stuck at home, Sem wouldn’t be able to have his life-sustaining treatment, and if stranded up north, we’d be away from home, where all of Sem’s medications live (there are many!), and where there’s a cat (who is not always in the house when we leave) needing care, feeding and insulin.
Neither of us knows anyone up in that part of the north, though Sem will likely find common ground with folks faster than I will. These Highlanders have very few degrees of separation between them, and if they don’t know each other specifically, they will likely know some random family member or other. Even at dialysis, Sem discovered someone he slightly knew a long time ago. There’s a fellow patient on the same “shift” who, it turns out, is the brother of a man who lived in our village, but that’s not the end of the connection. Sem realized that this man used to come out to their farm now and then. “I remember seeing him when I was young,” Sem said to me last week. “He used to come and work on our tractor if my father couldn’t get it to work. Donald could fix anything!” Sem knows one of the dialysis nurses, too, from their grade school days. He is the same age as one of her brothers, and remembers her from “back in the day” too. They recognized each other immediately when Sem started going to dialysis up north. Since she controls the other end of a very pointy needle it’s a good thing he didn’t dip her pigtails into any inkwells, eh?
So while Sem has no actual friends up north anymore, he knows families from the area where he grew up, not far from where we hope to move. He’s sort of looking forward to starting again, and sees it as an adventure. Strangely, I am more apprehensive about this small 45 mile shift than I was about leaving the US to come to Scotland. That’s partly because when I moved here, Sem was already firmly established in the village and knew just about everyone. I had the benefit of his experience since he knew who was genuine and who was likely to cause trouble. We won’t have that knowledge when we move, and will have to start from scratch.
It’s also a difficult thing for me from a social outlook because it has taken me all this time – eight years – to become a sort of fixture in our village on my own merit. I don’t have any close friends here but I know a lot of folks now, and there’s always someone to have a chat with when I’m down in the village. They are wary of “incomers,” having seen so many come and go over time but at eight years in, they realized that I was here to stay and thus they had started opening up to me a little bit. I feel like I’ve lost them before I’d hardly even gotten started… and now I’ve got to start again!
Life takes twists and turns as abruptly as the Berriedale Braes, and we have no choice but to follow the path to where it leads, so I’m trying to be brave about it. I know it will be a challenge but it’s the right thing – really the only thing – to do. I think that once we’ve actually moved, I can look at things as more of an adventure. This time around I’ll still be a stranger, but in a not-so-strange land anymore.
Another way to look at it is that soon (oh please hopefully soon!) I will have new sights to show you, and a whole fresh “cast of characters” to introduce you to as well, though I’ve still got a few villagers’ stories up my sleeve. There are a lot of things that have to happen first, but – as I keep reminding myself during every dark, windy, rainy, foggy, twisty white-knuckle drive home – we will get there in the end. Life will, with any luck, settle into something less transient and more stable once again, and then new escapades can begin.
At least, that’s the hope!