A Series of Screen Doors
Moving doesn't mean closing a secure door behind us, because the past still follows us
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
The summer I turned thirteen my family made the trek back to the Midwest from Wyoming, less than two years after our cross-country move, to visit family and friends in many of the locations we had left behind. We returned to our Detroit neighborhood and met up with our neighbors and saw the Strawberry Shortcake curtains still hanging in my old bedroom window. I spent the night with my childhood best friend and we rented Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, mooning over both Christian Slater and Kevin Costner. But most importantly, we returned to the Illinois town where we had lived for only two years so that I could see the middle school friends I had desperately missed for far too long.
Four years later, my family would drive in the opposite direction, from Michigan to Wyoming, so that I could see the high school friends I had left behind and find personal closure from my friend Mike’s suicide only a few months before. I spent the night at friends’ houses, traveled up to the mountains so my high school best friend’s mom could take senior photos of me in the mountain landscape, and visited Mike’s grave, still marked with a simple grave marker in place of the larger tombstone his family planned to put into place.
When Jeff and I were still essentially newlyweds and traveling back to Indiana from Yellowstone, I directed our travel through Riverton, the town my family had left less than ten years before. Yes, things had changed, but years later my body remembered the way to the football stadium where my high school won the football state championship my sophomore year, the downtown main street where I had watched movies and shopped with friends, and the cemetery on the outskirts of town where my friend Mike had been buried.
For those of us who cannot call just one place home, each location we have lived, no matter how long, tattoos itself on our hearts. I don’t remember living in California, but I pride myself in being a west coast baby. While I’m not a huge baseball fan, my team will always be the Detroit Tigers, I will always defend the Detroit Pistons against character attacks, and the Detroit Red Wings is the only professional hockey team I will cheer for. (The return of my hockey boyfriend, Steve Yzerman, to the front office sealed that deal.) I will never forget learning about the Lincoln/Douglas debates when we lived in Freeport, the Rocky Mountains constantly call to me, I know far more about Johnny Appleseed than I care to after living in Fort Wayne (full disclosure: it’s still not much), and hurricane season now draws my attention every fall, even though we currently live nearly 1000 miles from any oceanic coast.
Each place we live leaves a mark; some of those marks spark joy while others hurt to touch, but the mark is undeniable. And when we leave and never return, we can leave gaping holes that never fully heal.
As a child, all I could ever remember was the good of each place we lived. And while there were good memories for my parents, there were bad ones too. But each time we left a place, we returned at least once because there was still something that tied us to the places we had left. There were still friends we missed, places we wanted to see again, and experiences we wanted to try replicating. And each time we returned, I realized that changes had happened to me and my friends, places didn’t look quite the same as I had remembered them, and I while I missed what I had I still had something to look forward to when I returned home.
Moving is like seeing the past through a screen door. You can still see it, but it's grainy. You can still feel and smell and hear what is on the other side, but it's not quite enough. And with each new screen door, the additional doors let in a little bit less of the past. But because it is a screen door and not one made of metal or wood or glass, the past still seeps through, the sounds and smells and feelings eventually fade to a noticeable whisp.
I knew that when we moved away from Texas last summer we were going to need to return sooner than later. Our kids missed their friends and still idealized what they had in Texas. So I drove over 2000 miles round trip to give our kids eight full days visiting the places they missed and hanging out with their friends. To say that I was a bit anxious about the trip is an understatement. I was going to be doing this alone and this trip would take me away from my husband for the longest time ever in over twenty years of marriage. I had no ideas how plans were going to work out, where we would stay every night, or if our kids’ plans would go the way they had dreamed up in their minds. I prepared myself for disappointment during the trip and a return of depression and solitude once we returned home.
And as would be expected, it didn’t go exactly as planned. Texas experienced an unseasonably hot heat wave during the entire time we were visiting, making what was already going to be an uncomfortably warm trip even hotter. The mom of one of our daughter’s best friends (who was supposed to be her host for the last three nights we were in town) got ill and our daughter had to sleep with me at the hotel instead in an effort to keep ourselves healthy. Instead of a mother/son trip to NASA we had a mother/kids trip to NASA. But through it all, friends were visited, favorite foods consumed, and we enjoyed being tourists in the city we used to call home.
Despite my apprehensions before leaving home and the realities we faced while away from Indiana, I couldn’t let my fears stop me from giving my babies a chance for a little more closure. When my family moved from Wyoming to Michigan during the summer before my junior year of high school, I left a piece of my soul in the Rocky Mountains. I’ve come to accept that my own children have left a piece of their souls in southeast Texas. Living in Texas for a large chunk of their formative years means that it will always be a part of them. It will always call to them, just maybe not the way that they think.
Moving may change our addresses and the place where we lay our head, but it doesn’t change where we leave our hearts, each home still felt on the breeze that comes through the closed screen door. I just hope that my children will someday see it that way too.
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Boy, do I feel this one. My dad was in the Navy, and we moved every two years until I was 12. I still remember living in Waukegan, IL for the blizzard of '77, the school I went to in Pensacola, FL and visiting Mt. Etna when we lived in Sicily. Great post!
Love it! I grew up in a lot of different places. I went to 13 different schools between kindergarten & my senior year, but it also made me a citizen of the world and I think gave me so much more empathy & compassion. Moving was hard for sure, but it made me who I am and if I could, I wouldn’t go back and change a thing!