On Leaving

I have two weeks and four days before I leave the United States. Eighteen days before I take my child and a few belongings and my partner and get on a plane for Mexico, and I have no return ticket. And no idea what’s next. I’ve spent the past month and a half at my parents’ house in a dizzying state of limbo, neither here nor there, preparing and preparing and preparing, selling boxes of white bakeware and old baby shoes and all the trinkets that made up my life here. The things you’re supposed to collect as you build a life, the things you pass down to your children along with your stories, this is the cast iron skillet I used to make your favorite biscuits. I sold it. And what didn’t sell was boxed up and given to a neighbor. Like it was so much of nothing. There's just a small closet of things left, things I couldn't part with just yet.  

I’m not even sure what I’m preparing for, other than the leaving. I know our departure date and where we will stay for the first three months, and that’s it. Will we stay in Mexico? Or will we be blown off into Europe, into Croatia or Hungary, or will we keep wandering to Thailand, to Bali, to who knows where else? The questions are at once terrifying and electric. I’m living the life I’ve long dreamed of. It’s wonderful. It’s also a little horrifying.

I’ve been thinking a lot of what it means to have a home, since I don’t have one right now. I’ve been thinking of West Virginia, the place where I was born. The state that’s home and not home at the same time. My parents live in Virginia now, which is a very nice place, but a state I feel no real psychic connection to. I only lived in West Virginia the first four years of my life, but my family is so deeply rooted there that the state is our bloodline, its coal dust is in our lungs, its granite in our bones. I’ve wanted to write about West Virginia a dozen times, and I’ve started and stopped at least that many drafts. I want to explain to you what West Virginia is—because I want to tell you who I am. But the words don’t come out right. The words get mixed up and become a defense. A defending of the state, because it isn’t well understood, and it isn’t well liked, but when I defend her it’s because I’m defending myself. When a friend remarks that he once drove through West Virginia and found it so sad, something rises up in me, something hot and flustered, a shame that runs deep. But it’s not the state, it’s me, it’s what I’m learning has been my lifelong feeling of not being enough.

The same thing happens with Florida, my other home, the place I was raised, and another hot mess state that people think they understand but don’t. Anyone who has been on vacation to our beaches or our theme parks think they know what Florida is, and they often feel the need to tell me just how tacky they found it, how garish. And I’m that middle schooler again, the one who shopped in thrift stores long, long before the hipsters made that socially acceptable, the one who loved the large, brightly colored silk shirts I found at a yard sale, the way they felt on my skin, cool and butter soft. I was tacky and garish too.

When I was in middle school, a friendship ended that had been so central to my identity that I couldn’t have been closer to any sister. I can almost mark my childhood in terms of before and after that event. I’ve so often thought about how I cracked after that, how I looked inward, how I immediately believed that it had been my fault, that there was a defect in me that had caused the rift, that had caused my pain. But now I realize that the fault lines were in me long before that moment, that I looked inward because I was ready to do so, because I found it so easy to believe there was something wrong with me. 

In the beginning, we were good, everything was good, the garden and the woman. But then, the fruit—first, the ambition, the wanting of more, the curiosity, and then the tasting. And last the exile. And once you leave the garden, you can’t ever go back. I was told this story in every church I went to, the story that told me I had been born broken, that I had been born sinful, that I was acceptable to God only after I had performed certain mental rituals, said the prayer, believed the right things, mentally agreed to the correct list of doctrines. Then, I could be loved, accepted, cherished. But. If ever I believed the wrong things, if ever I tasted the wrong fruit, it could all be taken away, and I could be exiled all over again. Once I asked my Sunday school teacher about a young friend whom I’d seen baptized but who now didn’t believe in God. How could that happen, I wanted to know? Was he still saved? She answered that he had probably not been saved “for real” to begin with. That moment I was given a new terror: that at any moment, I could think I was loved by God but not really be because of some mistake I had made in my belief, out of some inherent failure in my faith.

Is it any wonder I was such a good child?

Now I have eighteen days left in the country of my birth, and I’m thinking about who I will be in a year, in two years, in a decade. Will I find my home? Will it be out there? Will I become larger, collecting all the places and all the countries and all the cities inside of me, expanding and stretching to hold it all? Or will I spread myself thin, leaving part of me in every place, until what’s left?

What I’m looking for, really, is a home within myself. A centered, stable, strong sense of belonging. Belonging to God, belonging to the world. Belonging to myself. The freedom to be curious and to explore and to fly out of the garden—but then to realize that the garden I am leaving wasn’t what I thought it was, and to know that my exodus was always the plan from the very beginning, that I was never meant to stay in one place.

Oh, love. Here goes nothing.

Erin BondComment