Tomorrow I am going home. I haven't been home in many, many years. This trip feels like the first trip home I will be taking as an adult. There is no "homeplace" anymore. My aunt still owns my grandmother's house, but right now no one lives in it. My aunt and uncle don't live in the house I remember anymore. Our family's home in Charlotte has been sold many times in the twenty-seven years since we lived there. No one from the family attends Masonboro Baptist Church anymore (my dad's old church), and no one from the family attends Christ Lutheran Church anymore (my mother's church).
I understand Christ Lutheran has become a mega-church now. I remember a small chapel surrounded by cherry trees that always produced the most holy cherry blossoms every spring. I remember a kind pastor, Jacob Lackey, who only recently passed away. He helped my mother through 1979, a year I imagine was one of the most difficult ones of her life. I remember the enthusiasm my mother had for teaching Bible school classes. She loved the Bible stories, and she was a wonderful reader, so she could enthrall even the most hyperactive seven year old with her rendition of Noah's Ark. I remember the song ... "The animals, the animals, they came in by two-sy two-sies..." We'd go to Bible school in the summer, probably around this time of year, in the mornings, and then go to the pool in the afternoons in Matthews. Keith and I are staying in a hotel near that pool, and near our old house.
I wish the trip were both longer and over. I know I am going back a stranger, both to my family and to my place. I think, though we'll see when we get there, that for the first time I'm not going back hoping to find something. It feels more like going back to acknowledge something -- to acknowledge the foundation of my life. Am I capable of going back without attachment to wanting things to be different?
My dad and I went back two years after we moved to North Carolina. It was the only trip we took alone together. I remember standing in a field, all sorts of tiny bugs circling around me. I had my back to him because I didn't want him to see my crying over something as unexplainable as the earth. I felt that same reaction when I went to New York earlier this summer. Something in the dampness, the scurrying of all creatures great and small in the trees, along the creeks, within the blades of grass, still touches something primal in me. My land. My small part of the earth that my cells still recognize as being the first climate of this incarnation.
I want to go home as an adult. I want to go home without the shadow of being Glenn Jr's oldest. I want to be both a visible and invisible ghost in the places I used to know. If I see anything left of me there, I want to gather her up, wrap her carefully in a cotton blanket (because godknows it's gonna be hot), and bring her back to Prescott with me.
July 24, 1976 was the date my dad had his heart attack. This week, thirty-two years ago, was the week my sister and I were sent to Wilmington while everyone tried to figure out if dad was going to live or die. I'll be staying with my aunt, his sister, just like I did then, only I stayed in a house they owned three houses ago, and I didn't really know then what was going on. I can't claim that I know what's going on now, except this time I know I can't go home again. There is no home. There's not even a home in Phoenix. The house the four of us lived in has been sold. Everywhere I stay with family I am a guest. My "room" does not exist except in my own house in Prescott. Perhaps that's as it should be. If I'd have had a place to go back to, with a bed I remembered, posters on the walls, cassettes stacked beside an old tape player, I might never have moved forward, so attached am I to staying in one place. Better, perhaps, that there was no option for that. I'm going to see my best childhood friend in Charlotte. Our lives have taken very different paths. She's a single mother with three boys. We talked on the phone last week like I never moved away.
I went to Phoenix on Saturday for my family birthday dinner, and in the morning I stopped to see my two friends, Mike and Arvin, whom I have known since 1986. Arvin made the comment that no matter who comes into our lives at this point, no one will ever know us in the way that we know each other. It's true. I can tell people about my friendships in North Carolina, or about these two men and what we have meant to each other, but I can't go back to being 12 or 21 or anywhere in between. I am left with the idea of piecing together a home from the remnants of different homes and remnants of different people I've been.
This time, I don't feel like I'm going back looking for myself. I feel like I will walk up and down Springfield Drive with both love and detached curiosity. (A great way to approach writing, by the way!) I hope I can see the neighborhood as it is without the rose colored glasses. I hope I can see it without wanting it to be something else. I've met the ghost of my father on every trip back since he died. I'm not expecting to meet him there anymore. I don't think he needs to be there waiting for me. I think he knows now that I am OK and he can complete his arc without wondering what's going to happen to me. I don't know who I'll meet hanging in the trees or walking down the streets. Maybe the ghosts of the south are silent for me now. Maybe they'll give me permission to listen to the ghosts of the west. Or maybe not. Ghosts are quite possessive! No doubt I'll come back with stories. No doubt I'll come home with something that haunts me still. No doubt I'll come back having eaten too much pork and watermelon.
Huh. Hear what has happened? Prescott has become home. I'm planting roots here. Maybe I'll bring back a little sand from Wrightsville Beach to pack around them. Maybe I'll bring back an acorn. I am a visitor now, in a place that was once as familiar as my own body. It may well be another fifteen years before I get back to NC again. It's a long way, and the plane won't take me where I'd really like to go, so Charlotte and Wilmington become places that used to be mine. I can go back and look, but I can't touch anymore. They're not reaching back to me.
So, I'll have some sweet tea and damn fine tomatoes and corn on the cob and I'll come back to Arizona and keep working on my novel, and keep working on opening my body and my heart, and I'll try to merge my southern girl with my southwest girl and see what ghosts show up for me then. Blended families are the way of things anyway, aren't they?
Have a good week, ya'll.