My final summer in Milwaukee was my best. Or at least I tried to make it so. With a fortune-changing relocation to NYC on my personal horizon, I attempted to do all the things that make Wisconsin summers so memorable. June, July, and August are especially alive in Milwaukee, thanks to the countless activities that beckon people out of their homes: fairs, festivals, wooded trails, beaches, lakes, sporting events, and any other reason to have a cold beer in hand. After all, we endure seven months of agonizing cold and sunless depression that we make it our sole mission to account for every minute of summer.
Normally I’d try to find some time in the summer for rest and relaxation. Not this summer. No, I wanted to seize every possible moment. I tubed down rivers. I visited family near Green Bay. I camped (and I hate camping). I had bonfires (if you’ve never been to Wisconsin, you’ll find that sitting fireside with classic Wisconsin amber beer and s’mores is a favorite of many). I tailgated and attended Brewers games. I went to the beach. I went with my girlfriend at the time to see my favorite view of Milwaukee; there is a little-known beach tucked away just south of the city, where beach goers can host small bonfires along the shore of Lake Michigan and can bask in the glow of the city lights at dusk.
Still, finding 100-percent pleasure and enjoyment in those summertime activities was stunted thanks to the anxiety I had over moving to NYC. I knew that this would be my last Wisconsin summer (for awhile anyway), partaking in activities that have long been staples of my favorite season. And as the months sped by (why don’t autumn and winter months ever seem to speed by?), I began making preparations to move. I secured moving quotes. I began searching online for rental properties (that in itself was an eye-opening experience, as the only thing I had ever known were rental prices in Wisconsin). I researched NYC subway and train routes. I looked for any signs of Wisconsin in NYC, like stores and restaurants in which I could find comfort.
By the end of August, the onset of reality was getting uncomfortably close. This was going to happen. Sleepless nights, tossing and turning over my decision. I could still back out. I could change my mind. It’s not too late. But no, this will be good for you. This will challenge and mature you in ways for which you’ll always be grateful. You’ve heard stories of people embarking on world journeys, fearful at the outset but gratified at the conclusion for what their experiences taught them about life, love, and happiness.
With the end of August arrives subtle reminders that autumn and another grueling winter are not too far away. Some leaves begin changing way too early. Harvest-themed merchandise begins appearing on store shelves. Kids begin their back-to-school preparations. Boats are pulled from the water, while summer homes get boarded for another blast of arctic air. Vacation towns and beaches empty. And my personal favorite: Octoberfest and pumpkin beers begin their annual pilgrimage to local liquor stores. There’s always a bit of melancholy in those rites of passage, only fitting that my personal change should coincide with the melancholic change of seasons.
Around that time is when my sister hosted a farewell party for me. While my extended family doesn’t get together as much as when I was younger, I looked forward to seeing many of them for what would be the last time before the holidays. (I was already anticipating and making plans for my retreat at Thanksgiving and Christmas; I even began looking into flight costs and itineraries for November and December, thinking that would give me something to look forward to.) And then no one came, with the exception of my grandmother, her friend, and one aunt. If it hadn’t been for my sister and brother-in-law’s friends, the party would’ve been just another summer’s eve.
It was sad. I felt pathetic. Surely it was a sign I was doing what was right. Yet I wasn’t going to let it stop me. I ended up having a great time. The following day, however, was dreadful. I said my goodbyes to my sister and her husband. I wouldn’t yet say my final farewell to my mom, as she would make the trek to Milwaukee in a week to help me pack and prepare for the moving van’s arrival. I hugged my niece goodbye. Although she didn’t know what was happening (she was only one year old), I told her, “I’ll see you at Thanksgiving, OK?” She didn’t even know about this Thanksgiving of which I spoke but responded anyway, “Yeah.” I fought back the tears, and I’m sure I failed miserably. I wanted to load them all in the car and take them with me. I felt defeated, yet motivated by my desire to experience something new, something different, something I deserved.
And then I drove off. An entire summer and event-filled weekend over and gone in an instant. All the excitement disappearing with the dust my car tires kicked up along my sister’s dirt-caked country road. And as I peered into my rearview mirror, another sun setting peacefully over the wooded horizon, I knew I was on my own.