Archive for November, 2010

The Wilds of Philadelphia

My first few hours home felt unnatural, almost eerie.  In just 23 days, my little cottage in the Wilds of Philadelphia had grown somehow strange and foreign in its cozy familiarity.  Reuniting with my darling Sofie was sweet beyond expression; yet something, perhaps I, felt horribly “off.”  Even after turning on every light in the house against the autumn nightfall, there seemed some sort of filmy layer between me and my own belongings, and my vividly-decorated home felt somehow muted.

The last few days of driving, I was keenly aware of really struggling with this “going back” thing.  I couldn’t bring myself to call it “going home;” but even “going back” made me feel a twisted clench in my stomach.  I remember spending three months traveling abroad when I was deeply depressed at 24, how I was “fine” while I was traveling, but when I came home, I crashed and burned.  So I was more than a little freaked those last few hundred miles, thinking, What if I spend the whole night crying? What if I spend this whole next week crying? What if the same thoughts that were plaguing me before I left creep back in?  What does it mean if I’m sitting crying?  Is it depression coming back?  Will they want to medicate me again? – and on, and on…ugh….  All proving that the things that you can gain on these kinds of journeys are harder to sustain when you take them back to the same old conditions.

But in the moment, I was reunited with my sweet beloved Familiar.  This creature, with her four paws, her white-whiteness, her softer-than-softest coat, this cat-who-thinks-she’s-a-dog, my amazing, interactive, self-cleaning pet, has zero notion that she and I are different species.  And does not for a moment think I might be a cat.  Yet for the first time ever, my girl was not waiting at the door for me.  I fear I have left her far too long, that she has given me up as gone, that I am a cruel abandoner.  When she finally shows herself, and comes close to me, I am reassured that all she craves is to be with me.  My guilt and my delight poured forth in equal measures, and I apologized to her endlessly. For an hour she chastised me; between tongue-lashings, I gave her treats and began unloading the car.  Swarmed with guilt, I rewarded her with the one package of wet food in the house, as she clearly had not been eating enough.  This was the longest I’d ever left her, and with no one sleeping in the house, just daily visitors. Oh, Sofia was righteous as she yelled, screamed at me for an hour; and after she filled her little belly, and after I cleaned her neglected litter box (my fault), she at last let me pick her up and pour her over my shoulder. And stayed glued to me thenceforth. How I love this cat:  she does not punish me – she only wants to be with me now.

And then…oh, how I cried this night.  Guilt aside, I could not stem the flow of tears.  Whatever seemed trapped inside me out on the road had finally found its way free, and came pouring out the front of my head.  I had a birthday card waiting from Mom that made me really cry.  I got a heartwarming, encouraging email from an old friend about the blog, and that made me cry.  Mom sent me an email, and actually posted on my Facebook page, and that made me cry.  I texted several people saying I was home safe, but not to call tonight.  Because cry I must.  Cry I did.  There was no helping it.  I looked around the walls of this sweet little home I’d spent 5-1/2 years nestling into, and although every shred of it, every splash of color on every surface was of my choosing, it felt like a mere shell. But for Sofie, this house was not a home; and the truth is, wherever she and I went would be home if we made it so together. We had already proven that when we moved in here  Yet even she could no longer render this place that ineffable thought, concept, feeling, that we struggle to define, but all agree to call “home.”

I sat on the two little steps in the doorway between my living room and kitchen, and just bawled.  Wads of tissues were piling up everywhere, mostly near wastebaskets, but I’d stopped even trying to aim.  I had let Pedro know I was safe, but had also told him I was crying.  And though I said not to call, he insisted on checking in later.  We talked for about 40 minutes; we talked of belonging, and purpose, and the notion of home.   We talked about how Philly had never really felt like home to me, although I’d been so willing to make it that. And it would’ve been OK to make it home with my former boyfriend, as we had planned; but that plan changed, and great a city as Philadelphia is (and I will not abide any trash-talk about my Philly!), I just never really felt like I belonged there.  Pedro pointed out that in coming back to a place you feel like you don’t belong, to not cry would be surprising, and that there is a difference between sadness or mourning and depression. These ideas took me by surprise. It hadn’t occurred to me to frame it that way – I was just awash in all this raw emotion and had not seen it as simply sadness.  When he’s right and insightful, Pedro’s right and insightful. You just can’t set your watch by it.  He was being so supportive, which of course had me starting to cry again, and he said, kindly and gently, “No, no, nooooo, you promised no more crying tonight!”

By midnight, we were off the phone and I was busy trying not to cry.  Trying not to freak, just be with it…and trying to stay true to my walkabout and keep making notes.  I committed myself to keep writing the next day, even while dealing with all the re-entry chaos.  Because I’ve found that in focusing within these notes and pages, whether in a hotel room, office, guest room, or coffeehouse, I actually locate a centeredness, an eye in the hurricane, where context falls away and time is irrelevant.  Within the maelstrom of speed, miles, scenery, and rotating cast of characters, I have, unexpectedly, found a spot within myself that lets me set down and feel at home.




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