Tonight I visited a place where friends have been telling me to go for years. And it was just as magical as I always knew it would be. Although I am still building my collective, it felt like I found a place where I am surrounded by the people I love most in the world.
On my way back, I needed to stop for gasoline. So I randomly got off at Lemont Road, which is right by where I grew up. And then I remembered all of these dreams I have had over the years where I am trying to find my way back home but it is too dark and I would get lost. And that is exactly what happened.
I left my home when I was fifteen years old. I had actually begged my parents to move for years because I wanted to be free from all the ridicule I had endured for so long from my peers. I felt like it would never end and that I would never find acceptance. Sometimes I truly wish I had stayed. I think I would have found my place. And, in fact, in the beginning of my freshman year of high school I did find people who loved and accepted me. But it was too late.
My parents sat me down in the living room and asked if I was sure that I still wanted to move sometime just after the school year had started. And I said yes. I did not really know any better at the time.
I remember that I had finally found this best friend, Sarah. We had met in French class, but she was much better at French than me. She encouraged my creative writing and indulged my eccentric whims, like wearing flowy-sleeved tops to accentuate my movements while spinning down the hallways. Her mother recommended the book Sophie’s World to me, which I then made Sarah read. During sleepovers, we would stay up all night asking and answering our naively absurdist philosophical questions. Sarah was really special to me. Her and I used to try meditating together while listening to Enya! But we would often just end up giggling.
And I remember one day Sarah’s father drove me home and I kept telling him to stop the car so I could walk to my house, but he insisted. I had not told Sarah yet that I was moving; she had only just arrived in town. And I remember when the car rolled up, the big “For Sale” sign was right there and I was so ashamed that I had to hurt my new best friend.
I felt like I just needed to go back home. But which home? What is home, really? And when I got to my house of origin, all I wanted to do was park my car, ring the doorbell, and come inside. But of course I knew that this could not be the case because it is not of course my home anymore. My lovely willow tree was still there! Big and beautiful, right on the little hill in front. The windows for my brother and sister’s room, like eyes underneath the roof and over the teeth of the garage, stared back at me, as though to say, “We know. Welcome home.” And the room that was mine on the side, and how sometimes I would look out my window to see my friend Melissa and to make sure she was okay, but I never really saw her, just lights on and off in her house.
So after feeling at home and loved by this community tonight, I felt it was appropriate for me to go back to my true home, my place of origin. I was brought to that house when I was only a day old. I grew up within and around those walls and in that town with the church steeples that twist and turn around one another upon descent from the bridge over the I&M canal that leads into the historic downtown. And my middle school, named Old Quarry after the limestone quarries across the way. All of the students got to be in a raffle for the school name. I put in “The Learning Center”, not realizing at the time that it was a name that referred to a library. I still have a really hard time thinking that an elementary school kid came up with the name “Old Quarry.” I think the raffle was a scam. Oh well, people lie.
It was so funny how my route was just like in my dreams! I kept feeling like I was in a dark maze, just trying to find my way! And I tried to borrow my childhood brain to go back and think about what was where, but I could not find a point of reference. But then I finally found it and it was like the ending scene of The Giver, when Jonas holds baby Gabriel and they sled downhill to the house that was waiting for them.
They put a little garden with flowers in front of the house, and a wreath on the door. I am just flooded with memories of that house. I sometimes wonder how one person (in this case, myself) can contain so much, how I could even possibly remember so much so vividly from all throughout my life. But I do. To the point that it is often bewildering.
My father told me when I was seven that I should start writing my experiences because someday I may not remember them. I remember that he told me that famous riddle about the tree falling down with no one around to hear on the same day. The riddle fascinated and upset me. I wanted the tree to make a sound. Just like how I wanted the two chicks to fall in love, and how I saw that as the beginning of the egg. I was seven at the time and I saw changing patterns of new art emerging in the grains of wood on my dresser and I got so distracted starting at it that I forgot to finish my sentence in my journal.
When I was in sixth grade, the assistant principal at my school saw me writing in my journal while waiting for my mother to pick me up after school (I always missed the bus). She told me to write in pen because her old journals in pencil were so faded that she could no longer read them. I have written with pen ever since.
But nothing is permanent.
On the last day of seventh grade, after doing a special assignment on The Giver, my teacher had a long discussion with me on my interpretation of the ending of the book. And then she told me something that I will never forget, and that genuinely changed me.
She said, “Lynda, you are the most gifted writer in all of my classes.”
For the entire year, I had struggled to fit my words in three-sentence organized and super-structured paragraphs. The classic essay format made me feel like I was a failure at expressing my ideas clearly. And here I was, being told that I was good at something for the first time in a long time.
From then on, I had found something in myself that was stronger than the adversity I faced every day at school.
For the record, it is perhaps worth noting that I never ate in the lunch room for a single day of 7th grade because I was too scared of what my peers would say to me if I tried to sit at their table. In my few attempts, I was taunted so much that I left crying and had a hard time consoling myself for the next class, which was my favorite because it was Art class and the teacher was really nice to me. So I would hide in the girl’s bathroom. Sometimes I would just stroll the empty halls and wander. And sometimes I got “detentions” for missing lunch hour, but they got smart and sent me to the art room where my art teacher would give me special assignments to research various artists.
Anyhow, on the day that I told I was a good writer, it really opened something up in me. It gave me a path to follow and something bigger than my circumstances to live up to and to live for. It added a bounce to my step and an assertiveness to my expression.
There was one summer growing up that was particularly special. I would stay up all night writing and talking to my “Teen Open Diary” friends about how beautiful life could be (since they were all very sad). I would build out fantastical worlds in my head and on the page. This all happened in the room of that window you see of my childhood home, the one on the left. That was my brother’s room, but after he went away to college it became the vacant computer room. It was my hidden place, growing up, the place where my mind could light on fire through the middle of the night and into sunrise. Every morning I would hear the birds and I would see the sun rise over the willow tree, as though there to congratulate me. I would grab my CD player and headset with the Smashing Pumpkin’s greatest hits, especially the song Thirty-Three, and walk around my old neighborhood.
That was the summer that my older cousin, 15 years my senior, came to visit. I had also just given my sister a book of my journal entries in the past year for her birthday. It seems like such an absurdly selfish gift now, but at the time it felt like the most sacred thing I could give someone. My cousin and her boyfriend really listened to me when I talked about writing, theater, art, psychology, philosophy, and wonderment. I showed them the poster on Psychology that I had created for a science project that year as well as some of my writings. And they listened in a way that made me feel like I had real insights to share. They also recommended the film Waking Life to me that summer, which I watched when I was fourteen, and that film really opened me up to studying lucid dreaming, the imagination, memory, and perception. It showed me that it was okay, perhaps even artistically powerful, to be full of wonder about the world and about being alive.
So, I look at this picture of my house now and I think of all the times I sat outside by the pine trees or the stone garden on the front porch, or all of the times I jump roped, hop-scotched, or bike road in the driveway. I think of my father playing The Police while renovating the bathroom upstairs, and how I thought that the song Fields of Gold was about real romantic love that I might experience someday if I was extremely lucky. I think of the jungle that my friend Melissa and I made out of the branches on the willow tree. I think of my friend Lauren belting out Whitney Houston on the hill behind the willow tree. And sledding down the stairwell on pillows. And I think of the basement with its unfinished gravel foundation and the wooden plank stairs that shone into the gravel foundation and how I thought tat space really was what my mother referred to as “The Valley of the Lost.”
But it is okay now. Because all of these memories and emotions are still so vivid and almost tangible within me. And I have found a new, more lasting and profound way to be at home 🙂