On Leaving My Home

I'm not ready to write about this, but the longer I wait the harder it's becoming and I fear that, if I wait too long, I'll never write it at all.

For most of 2015, my family and I have struggled because I lost my job in March and then my stepdad lost his job a few months later. It's been months of food stamps and the stress of never having enough food, falling behind on bills, worrying that we would lose everything. We almost lost our home until a kind friend helped us. So when my stepdad was offered a job two weeks ago we had no choice but to take it even though the job was located in another state. We were one week away from losing our car and having our lights and water shut off, that's how desperate our situation was.

It was a swift move. So quick, I'm still reeling. We had two days to pack and not much room in our car. I focused mainly on clothes and had to leave behind almost all of my beloved books except for six. We loaded our car with suitcases and our two pets and set out on our road-trip from North Carolina to Rhode Island. Over the course of two days, we traveled 700 miles and drove through six states.

It's important to convey how extraordinary this move is. For my entire life--26 years--I have lived in a small town in North Carolina that I have never left except to attend college at a nearby university. My life has been sheltered. I have been someone deeply rooted to my birthplace and the physical home where I grew up. It's the home where I lived with my late father. So it's more than just a house, it's a repository for all my memories. When I entered the rooms, I could imagine him in them. The yard I stood on was the same one he mowed in the summers. To leave this place was unimaginable for me but, after his death, I know that the unimaginable is possible and we have no choice but to endure it.

What is home now? I've written that my father was my home and that I've felt displaced since his death. I've written that my mother is my home and that as long as I am with her then I'm safe. But home is a material place. It's a culture and a landscape where you are created, for better or worse. People leave their homes all the time. It's a rite of passage for the young as they set off for college and begin their lives as adults. It's what migrants and refugees do across the globe. They leave one place for another, in search of opportunity, safety, and a fresh start. I would never compare my experience to theirs. I'm trying to make the point that, for many, home is fluid, it's something they are forced to (or choose to) leave behind and they cope with it while also mourning the place they have lost and I think maybe mourning and grief are integral parts of leaving home and I think they are what I'm feeling right now.

I didn't just leave a house or a town, I left the state where my father is buried. When will I see his grave again? I feel I am losing him all over again. His body is so far away. Yes, the memories live inside of me, but I can't take flowers to his gravestone. I don't know how to handle this loss. I had to leave many of his possessions behind because I could not fit them in the car. What I did bring: his wallet of soft brown leather, a bottle of his cologne, a photo album filled with pictures of him. This is what I have left of my father and I'm haunted by everything I left behind but I know I must forgive myself for the selection I made.

I had to leave behind dozens of journals written over a decade, journals that hold memories and thoughts and lists of favorite words. I had to leave behind a lifetime of collected books that were found in thrift shops and bargain bins, hundreds of books that will remain unread, at least for now. I mourn them, too. I mourn the girl I would have been if I could have read them. I'm luckier than most in that I still have my house but the chances of us returning to it anytime soon are small because the journey is so long, though I know it could be worse. All of this could be worse but it is it's own kind of hell.

Where do I belong? In North Carolina, I felt out of place because of my atheism and liberal politics. I hated the confederate flags on some homes, the conservatism, the close-mindedness. Of course, those things are not unique to any particular geographical area but they were smothering me. Now that I'm in Rhode Island I still feel out of place. I'm not Northern. I stand out with my accent. I feel disconnected to this place and have no familial ties here. There's also more obvious class divisions, more conspicuous consumption, a greater contrast between the haves and the have-nots, at least that is my own observation. The food, the culture, the people are different but it's only been two weeks. Maybe as time passes, I'll feel more rooted, though I doubt it. The truth is, I belong nowhere except in books and words. Maybe literature is my only real home.

My family and I are trying to make a new start, to create a better life here. We've left so much behind and we'll never stop thinking about what we've lost but I wonder if maybe we can also, for the first time in a long time, look forward to what might come. I don't know. I don't know.