Wherever Is Your Heart I Call Home
We're finally on the road.
I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Missoula, Montana. This morning I drove here like a bat out of hell from the booming metropolis of Kellogg, Idaho—trying to make it to a major-ish city in time to teach my Zoom class1—with a sick wife and an active dog and an over-full car. There have been so many tasks and deadlines and stressors that I have hardly had a minute to process the fact that being here means I’m no longer in Seattle. That the city my wife and I have called home for the last nine years is no longer so.
Goodbyes make me panic. It hardly seems fair that you have to try to sum up the entirety of anything in a final conversation, a final hug, before you get in the car like it’s any old parting and then drive off to something new. How can one conversation, held lingering in a doorway or a driveway, possibly do all that? So I don’t do well at goodbyes, even after all this practice.
This has been a steady week of “lasts” and they are taking a serious emotional toll. Last time in my classroom, last moment in our apartment, last quiet cup in the best coffeeshop in America,2 last meals at our favorite restaurants. Weirdly I got the most emotional at the lasts involving my dog, who has no concept of such. Last time at the daycare where they love her almost as much as we do. Last time playing with her best friend, at least for a while. Last time driving me crazy pulling to get to the same neighborhood corners and yards as always, where the bunnies and the good trash reside.
I had imagined that I would have time to write all my friends letters and cards to tell them how much they mean to me, in all the specific ways that make each of them special. And then life happened, and I’ve written none of those letters, and here I am on the road with nine years of life in Seattle in my rearview. Luckily many of those people read this publication, and while this is a sorry way to write a love letter to all of them at once, it will have to do for now.
Over the past ten days a small army of people helped us pack our entire lives into one cargo box and one car, made sure we were fed and housed, made sure our dog was walked and entertained, made sure the piles of our stuff that couldn’t fit anywhere was delivered to Goodwill. I won’t ask “What did we do to deserve all this?” because everyone is deserving of love. But love like this is still staggering in its scope and makes me feel lucky to be alive.
And now we’re on the road and that love will sustain us even as it necessarily changes shape in the years to come as we learn to call a new city home. For most of my life I have lacked the geographic identity that so many other people seem to have. A sense of place, of belonging. (I was listening to John Prine’s “Paradise” in the car earlier and I realized that if I had ashes I don’t know where I’d even want them scattered.) I never felt one way or the other about my hometown of Fayetteville, New York until I left it to go to college in Ohio; I spent my four years in the Buckeye State being defiantly proud of having come from somewhere else and sneering at the cultural and linguistic oddities of the Midwest. I bounced from there to the Marshall Islands and then to Seattle when I was just shy of 23 years old.
But I’ve never really felt like I was from Seattle, either. (Pretty much none of my friends are, either. It seems like everyone I found community with here was from somewhere else.) Even when they introduced me that way on Jeopardy! it still didn’t quite feel right. I already wonder how I’ll describe it, in Detroit, when people ask me where I’m from. “Uhhh well Syracuse originally but we’ve been living in Seattle for a while before this” doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but naming either city by itself feels like it would paint a picture for the other person that is wildly incomplete. It’s cool to have such a normal, healthy brain.
That brain has been louder and more tangled up inside these past few days than I can really ever remember it being. But the further I drive the fewer obligations I will have, the fewer logistical things I will need to worry about. And once all those weights have been whipped off my shoulders by the wind on the highway, I might be able to process and grieve and smile and get excited for what’s next the way I ought to.
Thanks, as always, for reading. I’ll hopefully talk to you next week.
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No one is on time, as usual, so I have time to write all this down.
Lighthouse Roasters, on 43rd and Phinney.