I left at midday. The raven family in the spruce stand across the street sent me off with a guttural serenade heard through the open car windows. Ravens. My closest neighbors are ravens, their raucous cries background noise. My heart swells; all I’ve ever really wanted was proximity to wild creatures. Here I have it, in spades.
I left for another world, or so it seems. Florida is different in almost every way. Far enough south to mean a different day length and different sunrise time, I’m jarred from Day One, confused about day and night, and quite literally fumbling about in the dark.
I don’t fit in. I can pack sandals and tank tops, but somehow my clothes don’t look right in Florida. I am too untidy and wild in my appearance, my thoughts, my opinions, for this place. I step outside on the grass and am struck by how spongey it is. Even the grass isn’t wild here, but delivered and cut to fit.
Mom asks me what I remember from my childhood. I share more and more memories as they come up, all week long. I don’t know if they are genuine or manufactured. Remembering that I used to remember is a particular type of memory and when trauma is involved, I don’t completely trust my recollections. Maybe I remember, or maybe the memory is a brittle tableau that decades have hardened into a knickknack I can turn over between my fingers and state with confidence “there it is.” I tell Mom my memory of how my father’s death was revealed to me. She categorically denies that that’s how it went down. Dueling memories. I tell her it happened on a Thursday. The internet is a fantastic invention: we look it up. I was right. About the Thursday part. Does that mean I was right about the rest? Do we trust a five and a half year old’s memory or a ninety year old’s memory? Both seem suspect. Mom had a memory test administered when the visiting nurse came. She passed with flying colors. She then told me it was too easy. I offered to give her a harder one. Remember three words: amoeba, penguin, tire. But it was my memory test too – I had to remember to ask her to repeat the words at dinner that night. We both remembered.
Mom talks about the sense of rootlessness she experiences, tracing it back to the evacuation of London. She says that being taken away from her home and family as a child took away her sense of roots. I want her to say more, to explain and tell stories, to flesh that out and make it real for me. I don’t know if I feel that too, the death of my father and the trials of childhood adding up to a divorce from my hometown. I was seventeen when I left home, not ten, like my mother. Our experiences were different. But our emotional experience of rootlessness, or disconnection… is that similar?
I wonder about it. I ponder. Am I disconnected? From a sense of home and family? Are we all struggling with disconnection and rootlessness to varying degrees, or are some folks truly anchored in places and people they call home and family? A couple of years ago when Tom returned home from helping his daughter move to Georgia, I asked him about the area. “What’s it like?” I wondered, wanting to hear about ecosystems, wildlife, flora and fauna. “It’s just a place people live,” he replied with a bit of a shrug. I felt his answer viscerally, like a punch to the gut. I don’t think I’d survive living in “just a place people live.” In the past I’ve told Tom that I cannot move too far from the Hudson River – that no matter what, I need to be able to get to the river in less than a day’s drive. The river is real. It anchors me. I can’t live in a place that feels empty. I’m afraid that emptiness will infect me, swallow me, overwhelm me.
I can coach myself out of that feeling, much like I coached myself not to panic as I flew northward, up the eastern seaboard, amid bone-rattling turbulence. “The plane will not fall like a stone from the sky,” I told myself. It worked a little; I didn’t shed tears or throw up.
I tell myself I’m being dramatic, that I don’t really feel empty at all. My life is full. My husband is my family. My daughter is family. My step daughter and my step dog and my dogs are family. The ubiquitous ravens and porcupines are not exactly family, but community. Community is a close cousin to family, a set of relationships that fulfill a deep need to belong, to feel held and connected. To matter.
I attended an event last night, and felt held in community by a group of people. As a rule, I don’t do large social occasions well. I am awkward and uncomfortable and have no poker face at all. But by the end of the evening, when the goodbyes were shared, the hugs and kisses were so genuine and so warm, I drove home mulling over the contradiction. I guess I am not such a misfit after all. I guess I do have roots, even if some are kind of shallow. I do have a tribe, and when they tease me I know I am home. “You will always be my favorite pain in the ass,” he joked with one last hug, and I felt it. I am home.