Saturday, June 1, 2013

Pondering Home, Part 2

Saturday night, Central Florida. The rain is coming in poetically soothing torrents, which I can enjoy now safely home. I just got home from a glorious massage, one that I redeemed after hoarding gift cards from holidays past. I even slipped through the adjacent Starbucks, and the combination of the two luxuries reminds me of the easy joys of past expendable income.

Caffeinated and relaxed, I'm in a happy haze and I wanted to go back to the theme that keeps gently nudging me, hungry for acknowledgement and attention.


What it has meant, and what it can mean. What is given, and what is built. Structure and substance, emotion and ethereal.

Some of this is familiar, and I've written on it before. But since this is my online therapy, I'm going to work through it again, gently pushing through the hanging vines of the topic as they drape across my path.

The first nine years of my life were spent in a small ranch home in a tidy, post WWII neighborhood. While I have plentiful memories from that time- riding my bike on only the designated streets, playing in the backyard and the uncomfortable lumber pile between the shed and the patio, the neighborhood park, slumber parties, strange science experiments, the talking curtains (um, don't ask), I have to say that there is no real emotional tie to this home. We have driven by it a few times in the last 20 years, but it's more a specter, a setting to a play that no longer has much importance in my life.

Then we moved to the beautiful historic home, the one that was next to a cemetery. The place I walked home to when I experienced my first taste of freedom after school. The place that I would sneak into my mom's dresser and put on her makeup when she was at nursing school, or look at my dad's dirty magazines tucked into his closet. A place of good and bad memories, but primarily the place where my parent's marriage ended. I appreciate the architectural qualities of the house so much more as an adult, but again I only have wisps of memories here. Probably the best one was in my room, a grand space with huge closets. But the most remarkable thing about it was the memory of my little brother and I gazing out the frost-clad windows on a frigid winter night and watching the stoplight at the top of the hill change, the rhythm safe and familiar as it colored the jagged glass with red, green, and yellow prisms. We sat in that same room and sang Amy Grant songs together. These are probably the best memories I have with my little brother. But as I think of them, too quickly the other ones come rushing in: the Thanksgiving that we spent spinning in helicopters to the "Footloose" soundtrack by ourselves as our parents were upstairs fighting, until my brother tripped and crashed his skull into the corner of the piano bench and blood was everywhere. The time my father went on a rafting trip and my mother went into a rage that sent rocking chairs flying across the living room and lots of broken glass. My father said I begged him to never leave again after that trip. But he did, and the divorce and darkness came. Soon enough, there was a strange new stepdad to get used to, and then a move to a new home, a classic suburban box. There were so many more houses ten. The apartment, the trailer, the houses I lived with my dad. The places where I started new schools and welcomed new sisters. So many other places.

But I'm getting off track. I don't want to talk about the homes that mean nothing to me now. I want to write about the safe places, the places of good memories and peace. Because I think as I explore those memories, I find some of the answers that I need to recreate the good homes again.

My grandparents moved close to us when I was in that first house. We could walk the 10 blocks or so and be happily at their house, a simple, small bi-level. That's the home that I go to so often in my memories. To family holidays. To safe times when I would bake with my grandma or file my grandpa's nails after he had a stroke and couldn't do it himself. The place where even though I was an overweight child, my frail grandmother would share her tiny Rondo ice cream bars with me. The place my grandpa would work on his roses, his tomatoes, his zucchini. The twin bed where I would sleep, the little room with the CB radio that I would play on. I often think about trying to go back, to see what it looks like inside.

Here it is, a little piece of my memories:

And then, suddenly, I was a college student. Two years in a dorm apartment left me with some strange roommate memories and a dear friend who was my maid of honor. And then I tried playing house with my fiance, first in an dodgy old apartment where we had sheets as curtains, then in a tiny old row house in Northern Kentucky that I loved, then hated, then loved again. In between, I had some time on my own and a sweet apartment in a huge old home and a townhome. I'm sure I already talked about those places, those wisps of memories that swirl like smoke when I try to grasp them too hard.

The other safe place is The Farm, and my ole Kentucky home. It's been in my step family for many decades and has been a major part of my life since I was 11. My dad, stepmom, and sisters are the caretakers now that my step-grandparents have passed. It's a place of peace for me, a place that I always imagine that I can return to no matter how bad life gets. Zombie apocalypse? That's where I'll be.

The interesting thing about moving to completely new places is how it subtly shifts you, changes little edges and pieces of your soul until you no longer fit quite the same way into the old places you once called home. Each move we have made has made me grow. Each move has hurt- sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. There is excitement of new places to explore, and the soft little agonies of saying goodbye to the places and people you have loved. And then there is that settling in, that comfort that comes from having friends and family close by that you can call on, or knowing exactly where to go when you need something.

Hubby's post-doc comes to an end at the end of July. When we moved here, there were indications that the job would grow into something more, something permanent. It didn't. So he has scrambled and interviewed and been a little crushed when certain things didn't come through.

Two months ago, he found out that there was an opening at our alma mater in the honors program, which we both absolutely loved. And it sent us in to a tizzy. It would be a chance to return to the college and unique program we loved. I could be close to the rest of my family again- my children would get to have a meaningful relationship with them. Immediately, I set about looking at the best schools in the area and taking online virtual tours of homes. My sisters and I texted like crazy, plotting and planning.

But at the same time, I was confused. Most of my close friends have moved on from the area, scattered about the country. And while I long for some of the places of my past, both of us struggled with the fact that a large part of us doesn't fit there anymore. I longed to return to the Farm and my family... but didn't long to return for all of the other things. Florida has changed me. This decade has changed me. The place that was so hard to leave 10 years ago is not the same, and neither am I. In a perfect world, I would magically lift the Farm and my family and transplant them here.

In the end, the position closed before he could apply. The universe had spoken. But it certainly kicked up a lot of thought and exploration in me, and I believe there are still some cobwebs that I need to work through there. Ah, the leisure of introspection. Even now, as I sit out in the lanai in this rainy night, the boys are curious why I won't just sit and watch TV with them (ugh- the TV struggle. That's another post).

So, back to the search for home...

Hubby has an offer to work at a university about 45-60 minutes from here (depending on which campus branch he'll teach at). It's not a great job. Certainly not what you dream of as you work your way through (or pay for someone to work their way through) a doctorate program. But perhaps it can be great- so many factors influence that result.

We both ache to be settled. To be someplace where we feel that we belong, that we can built a future. Professionally, spiritually, emotionally. I have found myself drawing back a lot with each move. It's hard to plant roots when you know that they will be yanked up soon enough.

We now have to decide- do we stay in this area and let him do the killer commute that eats time and money from an already small pot of it? Do we move to the coast to be close to the new job, once again uprooting our son? Who knows how permanent the job is? But that is a silly question- indeed, the trip of life is filled with no such guarantee.

It's not the coast I would have chosen, and I'm having a hard time searching for good schools and safe homes in an area known more for Spring Break parties. But again, all that research neglects the intangibles, the heart and soul of a place that only reveals itself as you are immersed in it for a time. My son is currently in one of those "10" schools. It's a safe place, a good school. There is certainly nothing wrong with it, and he could get a good education. But it lacks a bit of soul, and I think how ironic that I- a former teacher who spurned the school rating system- have almost bought into the system. There is something to be gleaned from statistics, for sure, but I don't believe that my son's sole (and soul) outcome is based on that dicey numerical assignment. The problem is, however, that it's hard to take a school for a trial drive.

All this thinking has led me back to an interesting conclusion that is both startling and completely obvious. The place that is most "home" to me right now is Tallahassee. Sure, it fits a little snug. There are places where I feel like I've outgrown it. But at the same time, I've sacrificed a lot to hang on to the house we own there. Subconsciously, that is because I felt that it was a safe haven I could return to if I needed it. There are some bitter memories there, for sure- a few snarky co-workers, a very unfair dismissal, a few times that I was taken advantage of that still sting. But so many good memories, and good friends, are still there. Life was simpler there- we lived simply, below our means, and had the time and money to explore and connect.

A few weeks ago, when I was really thinking about this conclusion, I started carefully exploring the possibility of returning. There were a few leads that seemed promising, but "scratch beneath the surface, and it's fool's gold" (thanks, Indigo Girls). And when I say promising, I actually meant for me, my career. I was thinking that perhaps I would jump back in the driver's seat instead of trying to drive from the backseat trunk tied to the front bumper, hehe.

Right now it seems that hubby's offer will dominate. We'll be getting the official offer in the mail this week. And maybe if I went back to Tally, I would find that it doesn't fit as much as I thought, that I've morphed more than I knew.

And then again, maybe... just maybe... maybe it's time to buy that old RV and just take to the roads.

1 comment:

  1. Selfishly, I would love you back here - but I know it may not happen anytime soon or ever. After all that work and all that time invested, Hubby should have a chance to fly with you hanging on to his coat tails. That may not be the right role for you, but you won't know until it really happens (internships and school work are not the real thing).

    Your kids will flourish wherever YOU flourish. My son counted it up the other day - at the end of 8th grade, he's been in 7 schools! And we haven't been moving around that much - always in the same 20 miles. It's just that the schools haven't fit him well but we've made adjustments and he's finding his way. They do that, sometimes because of and sometimes in spite of your efforts.

    Home will be where you make it. Friends too.

    I love you, my friend. Even if you wind up far away.