Monday, September 12, 2016

Homecoming and Hopecoming

I was sitting at Jovie's preschool orientation last week and I wanted to disappear. I wanted my face to not by my face. To somehow melt off into some nondescript other. Someone else. I wanted to take up as little space as possible.

Last year at preschool orientation I was friendly. I was open to conversation. I waved to parents I knew and sort of knew. I smiled widely and often. Confidence bred from familiarity and comfort. 

It is unnerving being in a new place. Even if it's a place I'm kind of familiar with. A new old place.

Peanut Butter, our cat, sequestered herself in her cat carrier in the laundry room, which reeks of other animal smells. I poked my head in periodically and invited her into the rest of the house and she just stared. "I'm good here."

And I got it. Being in a new place (or a new old place) can make you want to crawl into the smallest space with the most familiar smells and wait out the apocalypse. 

During our first few days in Virginia leaving the house to run to the store or visit the school felt like gargantuan, exhausting tasks. Nothing was rote anymore. Nothing looked familiar. Even those universal places like Target weren't quite right. Bizarro world places where things aren't where you expect them to be. 

But we're creating new pathways trip by trip. 

The walk to school is marked by two hills and the house with the wind chimes in the tree and the house with the lambs ear plants near the sidewalk that the girls must pet each time we go by. There's the man with the cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hat. The gorgeous, impossibly tan and fit gym teach greeting the kids with perfectly curled hair. 

The dark-haired children hopping off the bus in their jewel-colored dresses from where? India? Pakistan? They're much farther from home than me.

The route to preschool takes me through a neighborhood that looks so much like the one I grew up in I half expect to see younger versions of my sister and I on our bikes racing to the pool. 

It's such strange de ja vu returning as an adult to place you grew up. Or, at least a least a place near where you grew up. How could I have forgotten about the crunchy black crickets jumping around the crabgrass and in the kitchen? Or, Anita's? Where you can get the most delicious breakfast burritos ever. The crab grass here sends up long, skinny fronds I remember tickling my legs during gym class. The dark brown hinges on the doors to Lily's elementary school are identical to the one's at my elementary school -- I was always afraid they'd pinch me.

Life feels foggy right now. 

Last Sunday, after moving all day Saturday, I returned to York to pick up the fish. It's just this little 10 gallon aquarium, but the logistics involved with moving it were almost as hive-inducing as fitting the entirety of our lives into the back of a U-Haul.

You have to catch the fish and put them into a portable container, reserve as much of their water as you can so you don't shock them in their new setup, keep the filter wet, empty the rest of the aquarium water, transport all that into the car and reset everything back up in our new house in a two-hour window (what happens to the fish after two hours? No idea? Implosion maybe?). Refilling the tank in Virginia stirred up all sorts of debris and waste from the bottom of the tank. The fish looked like they were swimming in a snow globe. Well ... a fish poo snow globe anyway. 

And that's kind of how it's felt around here a little bit. I mean, not that I'm swimming through actual fish poo -- but moving has stirred up all kinds of physical and mental debris and trying to wade through it is trying and tiring. The stuff in the tank settled back into the gravel -- and the water is clear again. And I know that will happen here, eventually. 

In the meantime, I feel a bit stunned wandering around here. Disoriented -- like I've just left a dark building into the blinding noon sun. I can't see quite right and my brain and body are slower, like they're swimming through syrup. The sounds inside the house and outside the house -- all the chirps and motors and dins and buzzes and beeps and hums -- they're all different. 

And I've lived here before. I mean, I lived near here. It was more than a decade ago, but still.

Driving back from visiting my sisters the other day (returning to Virginia means returning to all my sisters. And my little brother. Not without its perks.) I was thinking about moving. How I had hadn't anticipated this feeling of otherness in a place I used to know so well. Had it really changed all that much? Or had I? As with most things in life, it's probably both things.

I admit I'm a huge wimp when it comes to major life changes. I mean, I'll do the thing, but not with a lot of hemming, hawing, whining, crying, foot dragging, etc. (This is obviously not news to anyone who's been reading this blog recently). And this is returning to a place that, eight years ago, I was actively trying to return to!

I know. I know. Ridiculous.

How do people survive bigger moves? Moves to totally new places? 

Last week on the preschool playground, I was chatting with Elizabeth, who moved here six or seven years ago from Puerto Rico. She spoke English well, but she said it can still be tiring, constantly having to translate and assimilate while simultaneously pining for the life she had -- hoping to share part of her heritage with her son. 

What drives someone to not only leave their town or their state, but also leave their whole country behind? Arrive in a place where it's not just a matter of figuring out the layout at a new grocery store, but navigating entire cultures and new languages. 

Chasing new opportunities? Escaping unbearable situations? Something in between?

It strikes me as a really brave thing to do.  

What does that say about our country -- this melting pot -- that so many people willingly give up what's familiar for something so foreign?

I often get too focused on what's wrong about this place. Because, let's face it, as a country, we're kind of a mess right now. We're fearful of our neighbors, while feeling desperate for community. We've replaced dialogues with self-righteous monologues. We're so focused on black versus white that we no longer see gray.

We make the average eighth-grade boy look like reasonable, sane person.

Yet, despite all the flaws, people from all over the world still want to come here. To build a life among this lunacy.

And my best guess for the question of why is simple. 


Our raging, rageful adolescent hormones notwithstanding, we still offer hope. 

And that's enough for them to swim through their own metaphorical snow globes of fish poo. 

Coming here is still a worthwhile endeavor.

I realize I'm a long way from where I started. Back when I was trying to disappear among the parents at preschool or bunker down in a cat carrier in our smelly laundry room. 

That's usually what happens when I get to thinking about things. The road from Point A to Point B is filled with detours through poo-filled aquariums and bypasses near my sister's house and U-turns around the state of the country.

Here's how you survive a move. You do the heavy lifting. You allow the dust to settle. You You leave the house and you hope that the next time you return, it becomes home.

And you know eventually it will.

Because that's the great thing about moving here. 


It's part of our identity as a country. And so it's part of mine. 

The Virginian turned Pennsylvanian turned Virginian again.

Ever the hopeful American.

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