Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nov 17: Going Home

The morning after the wedding , Sunday, I was up early to get back on the road less than 48 hours since I'd arrived. It takes a few hours to drive 675 miles, and I was going to lose an hour crossing time zones. And it was past time for me to leave.

Yes, you read it right, and, no, it's not Photoshopped. Free cookies with a fill-up.

I drove into town one last time for some corn gas. Usually I wash the gravel dust off my van at the car wash up the street from the liquor store, but not this time. I was running again this time, and I had a long drive ahead. I just wanted I-80 east under my wheels with my speedometer at at least 80. I didn't even scoop the loop one last time.

Now that the grocery store, dime stores, florist, hardware store, and bars are gone, uptown is a ghost town anyway. The chain grocery and discount stores that were built out on the highway where the high school was have taken most of the traffic from the square. Kids can't afford to drive around for hours like we used to, and they aren't allowed to park and socialize on the square, I've been told.

So even scooping the loop has lost its appeal. Although there are still some stores uptown, they don't draw a lot of business. The courthouse mostly keeps watch over an empty square, except when people gather for ice cream socials or the Fourth of July parade or the spill-over from the swap meet. But why should I care if the town's center is dying? Everything changes--even hometowns.

The courthouse sits in the middle of the square.

The drive home was long, but not endless. Suzy called to check in. She knew I was upset from the night before, and she's still afraid I won't ever come back. I've made that threat before, but I always make a guilt trip eventually, even if my visits are years apart and never very long. As I wrote in my last post, Elvira called and we talked a long time while she nursed and rocked Coraline. She cried with me over the past, even though it's not her past. Having a baby creates a sharp, harsh change in a woman's perspective about childhood stories and trauma. They become so personal.

From the time I left the wedding the night before, I'd felt a strong urge -- a need -- to go home. It's not the first time that's happened. I have this schizo multiple personality feeling of both belonging when I'm in Iowa and of being a foreigner who was never meant to live there. I grew up with that feeling. So I've always been attracted to going there, seeing my family --and I do love them very much; mess with one of them and see what happens-- maybe running into people I grew up with, but yet knowing I don't really fit in and they don't really know me any more. It's only home in the historical sense, and my real home is ..... I'm not sure. In the past, it was wherever I lived at the time, wherever the Air Force had deposited us.

This time, when I imagined the home I was running back to, I kept picturing my old house, the big rambling green tri-level with the purple door in the suburbs that I sold last summer, only two weeks after the realtor's sign went up. The one I lived in for 17 years, where I raised my family ... where my family broke up. The home of the past.

This isn't home any more.
I had to keep jarring myself back to the present, but it takes longer than a year for a new house to become a home. At least it does for me, and I have plenty of experience with moving. The house I live in now is 110 years old and it's lovely. I live here with great gratitude. But my intention has never been to stay here permanently. This house transitioned me out of the suburbs and into the city; it's part of my re-visioning and reworking of myself .... yet when I felt like running home, I wanted to run home. I just had to do a mental adjustment and remember that here is home now, and this is my choice.

I pulled into the city early in the evening. I made good time. I called and let people know I was safe. I got up Monday and went to school and taught. Elvira and Coraline came over that evening, and we spent the night all snuggled up on the couch, watching Supernatural. (Mmmmm. Dean.) But as I drove through my neighborhood each day, I still felt fragmented, not at home. I can fit in almost anyplace, but moving into the city has been an adjustment. It can be depressing: the poverty, the hopelessness, the rough, bumpy streets, the gates every two blocks that prevented high-speed chases and drive-by shootings in the 90's--and maybe still do. It's an adventure living here, but it's not home yet.

So when I needed to go to the bank and get groceries and wash the thick layer of gravel dust off my van, I found myself on the highway back to the suburb where I lived for 20 years. I went to my old car wash, and as the robot sprayed the rainbow of soapy water over my van, and I watched it run in filthy rivers over the windows, I felt like I was being washed too. I drove through my old bank, near my old house, and the teller called me by name as if she remembered me. She didn't, but it felt normal. I felt like me.

Then I went to the grocery store where I bought food I couldn't find in the Fairway in my hometown or at the smaller, meaner grocery store with iron bars in the windows nearer to where I live. No, I went to the big, new, deluxe suburban grocery store that even sells furniture.  It's clean and nice and kind of Stepford-like, but it's what I needed. I bought sliced rare roast beef, bourbon-glazed ham, baby Swiss, roasted tomatoes and red peppers, and enormous blue cheese-stuffed olives at the deli; fresh salmon fillet and swordfish loin (did you know swordfish is not endangered?) at the meat case; tiny pepino melons, organic carrots with fresh green tops, blueberry lavender salad dressing for some organic field greens, Dove raspberry and dark chocolate swirls and coconut M&Ms and a big box of Junior Mints; the Martha Stewart Halloween magazine and two others with pages just as glossy. As I walked down the aisles I was tempted to stop and shout, "I'm back! Did you miss me?" But that would be ridiculous. I felt like myself for the first time in .... I'm not sure how long, but at least five days. No, I'm not that suburban housewife any more, but she's still there in my backbone.

That grocery store wasn't home either though. Nor was the car wash or the bank. Hell, I never felt like an old hippie like me fit into that suburban life. But they represented a part of me that I needed to remember because sometimes I don't recognize myself, and going "home" this time changed who I thought I was. I needed to get in touch with the homeschool mom, the officer's wife, the Girl Scout leader, the church lady, the magazine writer ... the woman I was when I knew who I was. People I meet for the first time now will never know that part of me, no matter how well they get to know me, but I'm still that person inside. Transitioning is good and fun and I'm enjoying the adventure, but just for an afternoon, I needed to find my foundation again. I needed to remember who brought me to my current party. There was security and structure in being that suburban mother and wife. I came home needing to find security anywhere I could find it.

Yes, I promised an end to yesterday's story of the past, a resolution of sorts. And I have that. First I had to get home and remember who I became after I left Iowa all those years ago. I needed so much to get home and find something close to normal -- even though I know I can't really run away; it's all too complicated--family, love, mistakes, hurt. betrayal. But a story has an arc, a necessary course of action, a pace of its own. One last post tomorrow and then I'll get back to writing about sex and humor .... and sex.

Dean, I hope you like cookies.


  1. I've had that feeling of "I want to go home." and not having the slightest idea where home, is.

    I wish for something profound to say.

  2. Deb, some of us just live with that feeling. I think I was born with it.

  3. Rollo, I didn't go through anything like what you've written about. I know you DO understand.

  4. the woman I was when I knew who I was

    You are a Muse, Reticula.

  5. When I saw the last picture I completely forgot everything you wrote about. Sorry.

  6. Felicitas, I wish my students thought like you do!

  7. Facets of a person...phases of our lives... we just evolve and evolve and evolve.
    Home is anywhere you want it to be.

  8. One military wife to another, Sue. <3

  9. This made me cry - too close to home (pun intended.) Still crying. Of course for me. Yup sitting here in the bookshop, crap, someone just walked in...

  10. I'd apologize for making you cry, 'Zann, but I take that as a compliment. Thank you.

  11. As I write this, I am at a coffee shop visiting the town that was home to me for the first 30 years of my life. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly I feel at home. Mostly, it is the driving on familiar roads. I always know which way I am going here. For some reason, I have never truly gotten my directional bearings where I live now.

    I'm sure there is a great metaphor in there too, but I am talking about roads.

  12. Same with me, Diplomat. And here's something along the same lines: when I get close to Iowa and then cross over the border, I can smell it. No, not hogs, but I can smell the black earth, the rivers....I can't explain it but it smells like home.