A very dear friend asked how I liked my new place.
“It’s like I’m on vacation,” I wrote back. “But underneath it all seems wrong. I’m a little afraid. It’s like the vacation will end soon, and I have no home to return to.”
“Give it time,” he messaged back. “I’ve come to believe home is now.”
Home is now? What the hell does that mean? I bristled, feeling tender and somewhat dismissed by his words. But I’ve learned a thing or two. Some tricks. I breathed in love and breathed out fear. I thought how the words would sound in my ears, if he were right here: I felt a wave of kindness, and relaxed into the warmth of it. Nope. They still stung a little, those words, stung deep in my heart. And yet, they stayed with me for weeks, like a burr stuck to my pant leg.
Home is now. I couldn’t shake the phrase. Home is now. I gave it time. The words stopped stinging.
Home is such a loaded word for me, laced with longing and fed by a raging torrent of old griefs bottled up inside. Home is explosive, a trigger word, and my friend knew that about me. Home reminds me of the gaping hole in my heart that is exposed when I try to relax sometimes but cannot. It’s the empty place inside, the void I’ve talked through with therapists and moved through with yoga teachers and breathed through in meditation. Home reminds me of the mortar that’s missing in my foundation, that I’ve tried to tuckpoint by reading book after book about healing and trauma, tried to drown with another glass of wine.
Home is the word one yoga teacher liked to use in final relaxation, saying in a sweet calm voice to settle in and find a memory of a time you felt safe and home—relax there, she said. But I had to pretend-relax, because a flooding of panic started up, gushing unexpectedly, like it does. I am (usually) good at pretending to be calm, I learned very early and practiced often.
And as my heart raced in the dim light of the studio, I heard a chorus of old voices, judging voices. “The only thing wrong is YOU,” the voices insist. “You’re being dramatic. It’s all your imagination.”
The flooding inevitably washes drowning girl out into the open, and plain old a-little-lost-anxiety rises up into a nightly tide of bad dreams. She won’t let me sleep, waking me insistently with her thrashing, screaming like a gull in a squall.
In the dim five o’clock light I thought of my friend’s words, of non-judgment, of kindness—I thought of all my friends, how they hold me when I most need holding. Selfishly, I tired of drowning girl’s relentless need of me. I felt fearful everyone else would tire of me, as I tired of her. I was plain tired that night, honestly.
But I have my tricks now, I do. I breathed in love and breathed out fear and I threw her the first line that came. “Home is now,” I told her, in that same tone my mother would use when she’d hand me a cherry dum-dum pop and tell me to hush up. “Home is now,” I repeated, softer, and felt her relax a little, felt her heart, my heart, our heart, slow to a steady rhythm. The birds outside sang and we fell sleep for an hour.
“Home is now,” I recited later, as I walked my new neighborhood feeling drizzle on my skin.
“Home is now,” I repeated the next day, while passing my new coffee shop, my new library, my new favorite pizza place with that amazing kale salad. I repeated it while I did yoga, and while I washed the dishes. Sometimes during the repeating of this new mantra, drowning girl would break through, protesting, thrashing. “Yes, I hear you. Home is now,” I said.
I said it again as I entered the cool green tunnel of the woods near my house last night. The woods always lull her into calm. She watches for the deer to come, and this dusky evening they appeared like ghosts from the past, here one moment, gone the next, a pair of slender yearlings, big-eyed and watchful. Drowning girl watched them watching us, her eyes wide the way only a seven-year-old’s can be.
Later, scrolling through the news, I felt her paddling around about uncertainties and realities—about health care, about the environment, about hate, about people getting sick, losing people you love—about dying. Hard things happen, every damn day. Good things happen, too. I try to make her see the good things as well. Everyday I walk with her, show her the rusting buildings that look like castles against the blue sky and weeds finding places to grow in the middle of a parking lot. I stop to smell lavender and lemon balm, to smile at babies in strollers. I try to prove her how beautiful it all is, this home, this now.
She’s stubborn, drowning girl is. She swims in sucking pull of the past, looking for home. When? she asks me, over and over. When will we be able to relax? When will we be home? I take her to yoga, to meetings. I take her everywhere now. I left her alone too long.
She wears me out with her questioning, the way any anxious seven-year-old would. But she’s stuck with me, and I with her. Slowly and with the help of practices and friends—my wise and warm amazing friends—I am learning to look at her with love, learning to tell her, kindly but oh-so firmly, that I understand when she is afraid. That it is okay. That I will not let her go through this life alone. I tell her I will always stay here with her, that she isn’t alone in the darkness of the past. No one will hurt her now that I’m here.
She’s home. And home is now, and now is—everything.
I’ll just keep saying it, until she believes it too.
Last Sunday I drove through a deluge to Bloomington, Indiana, to say goodbye to my older daughter. She’d finished her graduate program, and after the celebration that afternoon, I was going to help her pack up a uHaul van with all her worldly possessions. Her new life in a new state, hundreds of miles away, awaited. I felt happy and excited for her. New adventures, new influences, new experiences awaited her, and she was ready. I tried not to think how my days of driving over to hang out for a day, to have a swim and a bike ride with her, were over.
Driving along Indiana 46 through Nashville and Brown County, I was flooded with memories of the fall evening in 2009, when she and I made that drive together, for the very first time. It was raining buckets that night, too, raining so hard that I was unable to see more than a couple of feet in front of the car. I was unfamiliar with the hilly, twisty road. There was no place to pull off. I just kept going, creeping along at ten miles per hour during the worst of it, afraid to stop completely, afraid to go faster. My daughter, uninterested in the college tour I’d arranged, was silent next to me. She had no desire to go to INDIANA of all places. Funny how things work out.
Back then, I was struggling with my work/life balance and felt wobbly about many other things, too. One thing hasn’t changed. I still feel wobbly. But I’ve acquired a few tools to cope. One is that I accept the wobble without judgment. Or try to. Sometimes I still resist it. After all, teetering is scary and frequently results in pain. But is pain always bad? Maybe it is essential, like rain?
I wonder if seeds feel a stabbing ache deep in their hearts, right before they burst into bloom? Do the flowers in the garden that is mine—suddenly, inexplicably mine —do those flowers cry tears as they leave their snug underground root homes, and push into the bright, overwhelming world?
I wonder if the bird songs I hear this May morning are songs in tribute to an earlier time, a warm time in a safe, blue-egged world? Do we all sometimes yearn for what we have left behind?
Like the birds and the flowers, I am always pushing out of the past into new sunshine. After the first dark nights of spring—those ones where the nights are bitter and cold—I think after those are past, the songs and blooms open into new dimensions. The harmony of life is always rooted in the oldest times, in the home, the baseline—oh, but the melody! The melody—it is ever-changing, renewing, like the new birds hatching, like the new flowers blooming. The melody reflects the newest influences. How much sun, how much warmth, how much care and how much love we drink in, how much love we shine back.
My melody tastes smooth and green today, like the perfect ripe avocados I slice on my beans and rice. It tastes like strong espresso in the morning, tastes like a deep cleansing breath, tastes like my dark red root chakra, tastes like my heart opening up like a sun-drunk peony, yellow-pollen dusted. My melody smells like oatmeal bubbling on a gas stove, feels like being touched and feeling loved, like sinking into a steaming bath in a claw-foot tub. My melody sounds hushed, like the deepest shade of listening, shivers against me velvet-soft as a word heard in the dark, and held safe.
My harmony echoes the old beats, the cutting fear that smells of metal like blood and swelling August summer nights and darkness, sharp, salt-edged, a scream unheard. My harmony is dropped, not held, dropped like a penny in one of those spinning funnels at the fair. My harmony smells faintly of baby powder, Annie Greensprings, and the onions I chopped crying at Taco Bell, sweating in my brown polyester uniform. It smells of a hand clamped over my mouth, and also of kittens mewing and apple juice and laughter and marshy-fresh tide-pools in Biddeford. Of Carolina pines, of Gilbey’s gin with squirt lime, it smells like a grimace, a shuddery gulp, a shiver, and a tight hug.
Somehow, new songs are written,
even when you can’t see where you are driving
can’t see the where the edge of the road
falls away to cliff
new songs come together
out of old and new notes
bright and aching and alive
forever, and always, new songs.
Driving back from Bloomington,
rain pattered my Subaru’s roof
like a drumline, a sweet soothing rhythm
this road will never be the same,
without her smile at the end of it—
I wrote new songs in my head
driving alone down Route 46
thinking about what I left behind
one last time, one last time.