24 December 2012

The Distance from Home

You might call it irony, the way I am sitting on a couch in Spain, sorting out my future the same way I did thirteen years ago in North Dakota when I promised myself I'd never move far away.

At fifteen, the future was lined with a handful of cards ripped from Campus Life magazine. I checked the boxes carefully, making sure not to leave errant ink next to the name of any college that wasn't in Minnesota or a Dakota. I wasn't even open to free info from either coast, so sure recruiters would try to rip me out of the Midwest with their shiny brochures and scholarship offers. And when I finally made a decision, at seventeen years old, it was exactly 502 miles away. Not far enough for my classmates, who all claimed they'd blow this dump after graduation. Too far for me, the only one who felt safe inside the edges of our tiny world, a bell jar safely covering the radius around my family's farm.

The 4500 miles between North Dakota and Madrid don't feel as wide now as those first 500, that eight-hour drive carving a sharp divide between childhood and adulthood. I thought then that choosing anything new meant severing the old--and not only severing, but hacking to bloody pieces with a dull knife. I left my parents' home--a stray sunflower in the middle of a wide open wheat field, as if someone dropped the wrong seeds, magically harvested a ranch-style earthberm on the prairie. I had no idea where our land started and stopped, only that I was somehow included in the "our," that I was invited to return to the pastures and tree rows and gardens forever, even if I hadn't helped with the planting and harvesting.

When a college friend enlisted in the army, she distributed her five most precious books to friends for safekeeping. The rest of her possessions were sold, trashed, donated. I opened an envelope once to find a letter handwritten in the margins of pages she'd torn from an Emily Dickinson volume. This was a great mystery to me, having grown up in the same place where my father has spent most of his nearly-sixty years, which is also where his father spent an entire eighty-six. My closet shelves have buckled beneath the books I've been stashing since graduation. I've never yet had to change my permanent address.

And yet I live across the sea, doing things I never anticipated I would be brave enough to do. That's not exactly true, though--that I am doing anything because I'm courageous. The truth is that the sense of belonging to a place is the weight allowing the balloon to dance in the sky. The number of miles between two spaces means less than having a space to measure distances from. And this, I think, is why it's impossible to completely cut the strings, to fly haphazardly until tangling in a tree. I am free to go anywhere because my heart is tethered securely to the one place I can always call home.

Mom, Dad, thanks for letting me fly so far this time. Next year, we'll do this together. Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

mom said...

I am so looking forward to having you back home next year, and can't wait. You will always have a place here at home at the farm.

My heart bursts with pride and joy with how you have grown into such a beautiful woman! Love you so much!