How I Moved to Northampton

A year has past since my second heart attack and I’ve been in Northampton with my partner DK for six months now. The journey here ended up being bizarre and unworldly. Living in San Francisco and working with people that had family in Asia, I had an inkling in February that there was a pandemic in China. My office was next to the break room so I overheard co-worker’s phone conversations home about the sick and dying piling up in hospitals due to a new disease. News was trickling out piecemeal. DK mailed me sanitizer, because by then it was being snatched up on all the stores in San Francisco. I spent one afternoon decanting it into smaller containers for travel and for my friends.

I’d been planning the move to live with DK for months. DK and I had rented an apartment in Northampton in the beginning of February, and my daughter, Katie, and her partner, Kirk were flying in from Ohio to help me move. Kirk is a country boy, a home cook, and a foodie. He had never flown and spent the three months before the Grand Adventure researching restaurants in San Francisco. The plan was that I would take a week off before they arrived to say good-bye to San Francisco, they would come on Monday and spend a few glorious days eating their way through the city, we would load a Penske truck on Friday, then Katie and Kirk would drive my belongings across county to Massachusetts. My 15-year-old Maine Coon cat, Lulu and I would board a plane, fly to Windsor Locks, Connecticut, get picked up by DK at the airport, go to our new apartment, and see Katie and Kirk in a few days. Of course, this was not how it went down.

In the end, the store that I worked for put off hiring someone to replace me until the last minute, so I couldn’t flâneur my way through Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Garden, pecan roll in one hand and a coffee in the other. Instead, I spent my last free week in my basement office training my replacement. As I took the F streetcar home one last time, I spied a busker playing his violin on Market Street. It seems a fitting goodbye to the city that I’d loved for so many years.

My last day at work was March 13th and San Francisco went into pandemic shut-down on Monday the 16th. Katie and Kirk changed their flight to arrive on Monday instead of Tuesday and we frantically moved everything back, fearful that we might not be able to rent moving trucks if we waited. I was fortunate that one of my oldest friends held my hand throughout the entire pandemic-moving mishegas. We had no idea how the pandemic would pan out, how long it would last, and what the new restrictions would be. In hindsight, we were sweetly naive.

Lulu and I changed our flight to Thursday instead of Friday, worried that flights would become limited or even disallowed. Then our flight was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak in one of the air controller towers in our layover city, Chicago. Fortunately, we were able to book a later flight. With the help of my friends, we hurriedly loaded the moving truck to the eerie silence of emptying city streets. Katie, Kirk, and I took one last drive through the city, ending at Ocean Beach. We drove past my beloved Botanical Garden where I’d done so much writing and daydreaming, but by then it was already locked up, with one lone visitor standing at the green metal gates, clenching the bars and looking forlornly inside.

On Thursday afternoon, Lulu and I raced to off SFO, Katie driving. I took one last selfie at SFO, looking and feeling stunned.

Despite her age and shyness, Lulu was a champ. Occasionally, there would be the tiniest, squeaky meow from her carrier causing people at the airport to startle, but that was it for the entire eight hour trip. It seemed that Lulu was born for adventure.

Lulu and I arrived in Northampton in the middle of the night on Friday, March 20th and Northampton went into pandemic lockdown on Monday the 23rd. Lulu was excited on Friday morning, never having spied upon squirrels or seen snow before. Katie and Kirk arrived a few days later, having valiantly driven 3,000+ miles in the middle of what turned out to be a global pandemic and coming into Northampton in the middle of the last snow storm of the season.

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It still feels unreal; leaving San Francisco, the pandemic and  lockdown, finally being with DK, and living in Northampton. Moving in the first days of the pandemic has been traumatic; both San Francisco and Northampton feel dreamlike, neither their true selves, but ghost-like cities. Both here and not here. And then there’s our political and cultural upheaval, which has only gotten more intense with each passing day, each passing hour.

Lulu has been the constant in my life, helping me adjust to so much change. I adore her joyous enjoyment of small town life; fresh air redolent with the scent of chipmunks and pine trees, early morning birdsong, and basking in the love of two mommies.

More to come….

About Avery Cassell

Avery Cassell is a queer butch San Francisco writer, poet, cartoonist, and artist who grew up in Iran.
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