Home

Home is a funny concept for me right now.

Rick and I just moved out of the little Queenslander we called home for almost two years.  It was stressful to move out and into a spare room in our friend’s apartment, but we knew it would allow us to live a more liberated existence in our last days in Australia.  I have to admit that it’s hard to say goodbye to a place like that, where we lived together for the first time and decided to share our lives together.  It housed us in a transformative period and will always be the spot where we laughed at our free pink couches while snuggling together for warmth in the cold Australian mornings, or where we bought our first surfboards, our first joint insurance policies, and our first washing machine.  For me, it will always be associated with the immense growth I experienced as I truly let go of my past relationship and let Rick in, and for him it was the place where he decided to try a different path in life.  Of course, it will also always be the home where the 4 am sunrises woke us up and the bird’s relentless squawk was a soundtrack to our lives; where the spiders were the size of your hand and the possum invasions seemed constantly imminent.  It was an adventure, and we’ll definitely miss our little home.

But, now home is an evolving thing.  I say this as I sit on my parent’s couch in their great room, listening to Lake Michigan and the breeze through the trees.  The summer lushness, the smells of dirt and lake, and the fecundity of the ravines that surround me are home and probably always will be.  I missed these things down there, where the eucalypts dominate the nasal palate and the soil smells of foreignness.

Last night, my aunts threw a couple’s shower for Rick and me.  His parents flew in and all the faces and spirits that shaped my childhood showed up for a cocktail, a hug, and a chance to express their good wishes.  I can’t imagine feeling more loved than after a night like that.   I barely saw Rick – hell I barely even ate – all I did was soak in the exuberance of a gorgeous Midwestern summer’s evening, a bonfire, and the love of a community that has been there with me from before I could remember.  And when I’d catch his eye across the crowd, up to his neck in my relatives and family friends, I’d see the man that I will be spending the rest of my life with, looking strong, confident, engaged, and sexy as he recalled the names and histories of my convoluted family and charmed them as he has charmed me since the beginning.  I am so proud to be with him and excited for our future.

Being immersed in the community that made my home as I grew up, and sharing it with the man who will be my home going forward, I can’t help but think a lot about what home is to me.  For years I felt a bit unmoored, and it wasn’t until finding Rick and a sense of grounding that I realized it.  As we look forward to where we’ll go after we move home, I recognize, as I have slowly learned over the last two years, that home is your community plus your environment.  I’ve lived in some beautiful places and I’ve lived among friends, but without both there will always be something missing. Rick and I are weighing our options – whether to be city dwellers or do what we both are inclined to do and move off into the country somewhere.  Surrounded, as I was last night, I recall that people make a huge difference and that wherever we end up, we better have some people around us who we love.

The jetlag is gaining a hold on my brain and the flow of my words is beginning to gel up.  I better get to sleep.  Goodnight friends.  We can’t wait to make our home amongst you.

What is marriage?

Rick has already written his vows.  He knows what he intends to say, even if he still plans to finesse the wording.

Me?  I’m what we call a procrastinator.

To be fair, it’s June and our wedding is in October.  In my defense, much remains to take in on the subject of love before one professes it eternally.  I find my mental space evolving constantly from one filled with autumn leaves, white dresses, and music, to one more observant of the subtle rhythms and patterns that form a marriage.  I watch my parents, my friends, my coworkers, and observe the way they talk about marriage and the way the don’t talk about it.  I take note of the specialized functions that develop in a two-person distribution of labor.  I watch the veiled jabs and gentle support that dance together through a conversation between lovers.  I watch the ways that friends slowly disclose the intimacies that make their marriages work, and I watch Rick and myself as we navigate the road that will take us to these places.

But most recently, I have watched with a heavy heart as my grandfather has been torn from my grandmother by death.  I recognize that the experience of grief is a universal one that we can all expect to experience, but as I often do, I come back to the specificity of THEIR lives and their love.  They married so young that he needed a fake ID to get a marriage license.  They shared their lives together for almost 65 years.  And in death, perhaps, they shared more intimacy about themselves than ever before.  He laid with her in bed, we all did, as she passed away from us.  I watched his poise and stoicism melt before me as he lost her.

My family is not a sentimental one.  Gruff, even.  But we wear hard exteriors to hide soft interiors.  Having the vantage point on marriage that her loss provides as I approach mine, perhaps is one of the gifts my grandmother is giving me posthumously.  She had a sharp intuition, that one.  And I credit her with helping me make my decision to come to Australia – a decision that has made all the difference in my life.  Her judgement was good.

I am, therefore, taking in the way Rick looks at me in the sleepy mornings and the way my heart melts when he talks about our puppy.  In these vignettes I have begun to envision the  architecture of our marriage, and the possible evolution of it with time.

Each time I speak to my Grandpa and hear the ways he is re-envisioning his life daily, recognizing the loss of structure, companionship, and intimacy he faces, I am reminded of what I’m signing up for.  I hope that I can emulate what he had and I take each painful observation as a lesson in what to strive for.

Flattened

Our queenslander is quiet.  One solemn lamp warms the minty-paneled walls, and candles still burn on the dinner table.  The night feels more silent than normal, or perhaps that is my exhaustion closing in. Rick and I mirror each other on our mauve couches, lounging.  Silent for once in a few days, digesting our huge Tibetan dinners. Feeling tired from an impromptu lunch climb of Mt. Coot-tha on our bikes.  It’s peaceful.

Since my return from Vietnam a few weeks ago,  I feel as though I stepped off a peaceful boat, walked down the pier, and right into a busy street where I got sideswiped by a bus.  A bus full of wedding stuff.  I’m attempting to peel myself off the road but I keep getting flattened by more traffic.

Okay, okay.  I’m being a bit dramatic.  But seriously, why don’t more people elope?  Weddings are such a racket operation.  Highway robbery.  It’s appalling.

I love a good party, but as soon as a white dress is involved it gets all kinds of slimy.  I think I feel about weddings the same way I feel about Christmas – great idea, but totally co-opted by the machine.  Make a registry, have engagement photos, send out save the dates, book a planner, join a gym, spend, spend, spend…  

Vomit.

I looked over at Rick tonight and said, “Remember a month ago when we didn’t spend every waking moment making huge life decisions? That was nice.”  And yeah, I’m not only talking about the wedding here.  If we were just planning that it would be much easier. It’s more like plan a wedding; move back to the US – but where?; should we buy a house?; honeymoon?!; jobs; family; should we get a puppy?; oh yeah, buy a dress for this wedding; figure out where we want to have it…

We can’t make any decisions.  I’m like a panic attack waiting to happen.  It’s vile.

But at least I like the guy who is tenuously helping me peel myself off the roadway…

Thank You, Ever on my Mind

I was storming through the house, burning from some inner fire whose proximate source wasn’t clear to me, or anyone else— ultimately, born of frustration at my day-to-day search for a job, a challenge proving fruitless. And, unfortunately, directed at the person who brought me here, R.

I wasn’t being mean, I was just not being me.  I wasn’t kind.  I wasn’t gentle. I wasn’t laughing or smiling.  I was brusque and distracted.  R left the kitchen, where I was chopping garlic with a focused fury and headed to put on some music to calm the tension.

Moments later, Emily Saliers’ voice cut through the garlic haze, crooning “Least Complicated”, one of my early and lasting musical favorites.  Swamp Ophelia, an Indigo Girls album filled with songs and lyrics that weave a history of my life;  growing up, experiencing love and loss, and becoming who I am, sang out from our stereo.  R’s album. My life. (In an abbreviated and poeticized form— articulated so much better than I ever could.)

As I sung along with the words, the tension eased out of me, garlic chopping turned to slicing, and I fell in love with R all over again.  To know me is to know that Swamp Ophelia will pacify the eruptive fury of my soul.

I have been less than direct in my mission of writing about love on this blog, but as I walked home from an interview today the song Free in You came on my ipod. I was in a good mood.  The interview went well.  The cosmos aligned in my favor momentarily.  As I listened to it, all I could think of was my life right here, right now.

I have been in love before. Deeply.  I walked away from it, in one of the more difficult decisions of my life.  I won’t say I never looked back.  I did.  Plenty.  Perhaps one of the reasons I have held back some of my writings about love in its specifics rather than its abstractions on this blog, was a fear that I was treading into a dangerous and exposed world in publicizing my feelings.

Well, today I am going there.  The song Free in You (video above) perfectly describes how I feel about R.  Love as I once knew it, was like a drug addiction, with sailing highs and torturous lows.  Love as I know it now, is an altogether different being.  I may be unemployed, unsure where I fit into the new world I inhabit, and tentative about my next steps, but I do know how I feel about the man by my side in my confusion.  I am proud of him, I love him, and I want to do what is right by him.  I want him to stick around.  Sometimes I wonder what he sees in the human-shaped chaos that is me, but he reminds me that he sees me. He sees the things I consider weakness and he loves them too.  He believes we deserve each other and happiness.

How he knows so much and articulates it so well when I need to hear it most, blows my mind.  I sometimes believe he is a sage from a different universe, sent here to teach me how to be a better person.  But, then I see that his light shines on other people— cab drivers, coworkers, people in the running club he started, and I know that I am kidding myself if I think that he’s here just for me.  He is here to set the bar for personhood.  If we all strive to be like R, the world will be a better place.

I recently came across this letter, from John Steinbeck to his son. 

He says this about love: “Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it. The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.”

And so today, I am glorying in, and being grateful for what I have.  And daily, I try to live up to it.

Would You Stay?

Watch the above video.  It always makes me cry.  Read below and you’ll see why.

Two years ago, today, I was presented with a difficult choice.  I learned that my boyfriend at the time had cheated on me.  It wasn’t the first time, and I hadn’t always been faithful either.  We had a tumultuous relationship, we’d done a lot of distance, we’d tried being “open,” we’d questioned ourselves, we built layers of scar tissue upon layers.  But, this time it was in my face.  The girl contacted me.  Told me she was sorry.  She wanted to be friends.  She was, sweet, almost as if she didn’t realize she’d blown a hole in my life.

I loved him.  With my whole being. I hated him for what he did.  I felt the kind of loveanger that makes you crazy and blind at the same time— completely unreasonable, completely set on ending it, completely unaware of how to live without it.  I cried mascara stains into my pillow case.  They never came out.  I knew that I had to make a change.  So, I called him to my house in Denver, sat him down, and told him I couldn’t live life wondering when my next Silda Spitzer moment was going to happen.  We had to be over.  It wasn’t a choice so much as an inevitability.

Since that time, a lot has changed.  He has moved on.  I have moved on.  We had our stumbles.  We had our tearful, rambling phone calls. Loss, over the phone line, is almost more poignant than loss and sadness in your living room, on your couch.  The distance magnifies it – the tinny sound of human on wire, over waves, through space.

Our souls fell out of solution.  Grains, one by one, falling to a cold, still bottomplace, where they rested.  Today, we live on different continents.  Lives separated by oceans, time zones, easterlies and westerlies, accents, seasons.  We share nothing.  Nothing, that is, but the history of loss.

These days, I don’t mourn the loss of that love.  I miss the boy I knew who was fragile and sweet.  I miss his insightful way of seeing the world. I feel sad that there was the callousness within each of us to hurt each other so badly.

I can’t imagine acting the way we acted anymore.  I can’t imagine inflicting that kind of pain on my new love.  I bristle at the childish notion that our hearts were so resilient.  They aren’t.  They continue beating, but the scars are still there, torquing the muscles, creating heart murmurs that whisper through stethoscopes to us, telling us not to make the same mistakes again.

And I won’t.