Back from sunny St. Paul, where we went to a nice wedding and got to see a lot of old friends, hung out with the Sofawolf guys, and got badly lost in an area that I used to know like the back of my hand.
Which probably proves something about not being able to go home again.
It’s kinda funny, really. You pick your road and it diverges rapidly from all the others you might have taken—or at least, there’s very dense undergrowth, so even if you’re running parallel, you don’t know it—but every now and then you hit a gap and you get to see down one of those roads for a minute or two.
There was a brief moment, after my divorce, when I almost moved back to St. Paul. Had the logistics not been nightmarish (and I did have friends who would probably have been happy to put me up for a night or two, but my best friend lived in a 300 square foot apartment, so…er…problematic.) I might have done so. I was desperately in need of familiarity right then, and wandering up and down Grand Avenue, seeing the shops I remembered and the ratty apartment buildings and the Vietnamese restaurant that they kept closing for health violations—those were familiar. Five years ago, they would have been even more familiar.
Had I done so, I suspect that I would not have moved again. I would be from St. Paul. That would be HOME, and I’d be a gardener with a growing season lasting about two weeks and a large collection of snow shovels.
For a minute there, I can almost see myself through the gap in the hedge.
I go out there now, and it’s a place I used to live. I feel a great affection and am delighted at all the old landmarks again, but it’s not home. Nothing whacks me in the head or the gut and demands to know where I’ve been.
Then again, by that measure, I’m not entirely sure if anywhere is really home. I hear people rhapsodize about homes and homelands and all that stuff, and I am not entirely sure I’ve ever felt that way about anything. (I feel a certain affection for my computer desktop, but I don’t think that counts.)
Is it genetic? I come from a long line of people who move all over the place. We were immigrants and then we wandered around the country once we got here. Whether we were criminals attempting to evade the law or merely cheerfully adaptable is up for debate, but either way, itchy feet may be in the blood. Upbringing? I think four years was the longest we lived anywhere before I moved out to college. (At nine-years-and-some-change, St. Paul was the longest I’ve lived anywhere.) When people ask where I’m from, I require several sentences to answer. Is there some window in your childhood where you imprint on a place? I feel something in the Arizona desert that seems deeper and heavier than anywhere else. On the other hand, as soon as I cross into North Carolina and see the rest-stop right on the Virginia line, there is a lot of cheering and I feel a bit of a weight lift. Is that what it feels like to be home?
Don’t get me wrong, I can make myself “at home” in a lot of places. I’ve moved umpteen times and settled in and figured out where the grocery store is and gotten used to the color of the walls and the vagaries of the heating system. But I’ve done it so often that it’s a bit like having an arm out of the socket—once you can pop it in and out at will, it really isn’t in there very firmly anymore. Once I move on, I rarely miss the old place specifically very much.
Following my divorce, I spent a stretch wanting to go home and not having anywhere that I could pin down as being home. It wasn’t any one thing I missed, it was just being from SOMEWHERE. I eventually settled on “the last place I lived” because it had a certain immediacy, and also somebody who’d let me sleep in their guest bedroom for a month. And it worked out well, obviously, and I have a hard time imagining moving out of North Carolina again, despite all those lawmakers determined to make us into the laughingstock of the country.
Kevin’s theory is that I am just responding to the proximity of my garden, and that home is where my garden is. There may be a certain amount of truth to that. He himself has a very concrete home. He’s from North Carolina. There is loblolly pine pollen in his bloodstream. I envy that a little. I always wondered if there would be a place I would someday walk into—a city, maybe, or a country, or a landscape—and go “Dude. Right here. This is home. How ’bout that?” Hasn’t happened yet. There are places I’m glad to live, but nothing where I suddenly want to dig in my heels and say “You will pry me out of here when I am dead, and not before.”
On the other hand, I’ve got this garden right here. so maybe I’m as home as I get. I get the sneaking feeling sometimes that I live here now, and this may be where I’m from. Unless Kevin drops dead tomorrow and I get a sudden mad urge to move to the desert, it seems likely that this is where I’ll want to stay. Which is fine by me.
So anyway it was nice to go back to St. Paul. And also educational. Nearly a decade. Someplace I used to live.