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Just Because You Can

From: Colorado Review
Volume 40, Number 3, Fall/Winter 2013
pp. 48-64 | 10.1353/col.2013.0068

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Nadine’s mother guffawed when she called to tell her of her plans. “You’re going where?” she exclaimed. “To do what, exactly?”

“Greenland,” Nadine replied. “Self-discovery.”

“Oh, come on now. Who even knows where that is?

“I do, for one,” Nadine said. So what if she’d gotten it confused with Iceland at first? People were always confusing those two. It was one of history’s great jokes: the Norsemen in their little wooden ships, looking around, crestfallen.

Her mother made a fizzy noise, expelling air and consternation. “Now I know you’re hurting from this breakup, dear, but you’ll get through it. Pull yourself through. I mean, just think if I’d run off to the North Pole when your father left me.”

She pictured her mother, ruddy-cheeked and grim, stamping the snow off her feet at the entrance to an igloo. “Just think,” she said.

Her mother was quiet for a moment. “I never liked him, you know. Always bringing up movies no one else even heard of.”

It was after Evan broke up with her that Nadine found out he had cheated. Twice. More than twice. Two different women could mean any number of times. “I thought you should know,” his bandmate had said when he called to deliver the news. He and Evan had never quite gotten along—Evan’s singing was too nasal, he’d once told her in the sticky-floored kitchen of a post-gig party, and though privately she’d agreed with him, she had not admitted it, because by then she had learned which opinions to keep quiet when it came to her boyfriend’s artistic endeavors—and so she thought the bandmate was probably just exacting vengeance over some disagreement unrelated to herself.

She’d hung up on him. But then she called back. “Should I know that?” she asked. Once it was uttered she realized the question was pointless: she knew, she believed. It was a different world for her now, one where she might not wash her hair quite often enough, one where she’d have to take up smoking in order to keep from eating marshmallow cream straight out of the jar.

That world beckoned, but she rejected it, hurrah! She had other options. She could do something extreme; she could be reckless with money; she could go to the ends of the earth in order to find herself. One should find oneself, and why not in Greenland? There one might be the honest inner self—not the harsh or uneven or wallowing self, not the one who watched bad television in nauseating quantities, who had never gotten around to adopting a charitable habit, who had always suspected she would send her mother straight to a nursing home or fob her off on her sister whenever the time came around—there the truly delightful self might be, crouching under a rock or climbing into a kayak to brave the open waters with a wooden paddle and a clean mind. One might even come across her lying face-up on an ice floe, making snow angels and laughing up at a cold blue sky.

Nadine bought a plane ticket, requested a week and a half of vacation, and spent the last few days before her departure reorganizing her desk at the admissions office of the small Lutheran college outside St. Paul where she worked.

“Your computer should face northwest,” her coworker told her. Her coworker had read a book about office feng shui. “And you should hang a picture of a mountain on the wall behind you for strength.”

“I’ll take a photo while I’m gone. A mountain photo. Do they have mountains in Greenland?”

“I doubt they have anything but mountains in Greenland.”

Nadine pictured thatched cabins and lichen-covered rocks. Rainbows. Double rainbows. Clouds that looked like they had things hidden inside them: castles and school buses and great blue whales. It was while she was rearranging the study-abroad display by the entrance to the office that she realized that she had, in fact, been picturing Iceland.

A week later she was in Uummannaq, on the western coast of...

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