Today’s guest entry is by frequent commenter and fellow Arizonan, Megan. She writes about homesickness. She knows me well.
I wish I was
Home where my thought’s escaping
Home where my music’s playing
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.
(Homeward Bound, Simon and Garfunkel)
I first discovered Laura almost four years ago, on Christmas day. I had a sick baby and only a few doses of medicine so I Googled the local grocery stores, trying to find their holiday hours. One of the links was to a blog called Snerkology. I’d heard of blogs, but had been knee deep in diapers and laundry during the years of blogging’s birth and had never read one. So I started to read. It was a voyeuristic rush, peeking in on a family who lived so nearby, and so differently, and still the same. And I have kept reading ever since. I have a few other blogs bookmarked now, but Snerkology is the blog that feels to me a little bit like coming home. My first blog. In honor of that, and in honor of one of Laura’s top ten topics (maybe top five, just after Calvin/family, work, music, and the animals), I would like to write a little bit about homesickness today.
I’d like to start out with some praise of the desert though. Because, believe it or not, you can love where you are at the same time that you miss where you came from. I love the desert, the way it dries everything up so none of the cars get rusty, and hardly anything grows mold. I like the fact that basil is a perennial here. You plant one basil plant and have basil every summer for the rest of your life. I love the smell of jasmine blossoms, citrus blossoms and even the skunky odor of mesquite trees. I love the sparse, clean lines of my front yard after I’ve trimmed the Palo Verde tree and raked around the prickly pears. I love walking into the backyard in the evening and picking a pomegranate or a lime, still warm from the long set sun. Everyone seems to enjoy predawn exercise around here; it’s oddly exciting to run into a friend unexpectedly at five o’clock in the morning. And in the spring, the night blooming cacti present their fragile white flowers, ghostly and virginal in the moonlight, lasting only a few hours before the sun burns them up. Hiking in South Mountain Park, it is not unusual to see a coyote or to have to detour off the path away from a rattlesnake. The desert has an honesty to it, with no lush green beauty to hide behind; we dwell in the stark beauty of thorns and fangs.
Even so, I grew up in a place where it rains– smooth, cleansing rain, life giving, pattering, flooding, brown muddy rain that brightens the green tunnels of trees in the Emerald Necklace of my youth. And let me just say, the desert is a real tease when it comes to rain. A drop of rain falls on the concrete and the air smells like ozone, the wind picks up. All your senses tell you that a great skywashing is coming and then…nothing. Or worse, maybe you’ll get a dust storm, which my husband once described as “all fart, no dump”. The sky fills with quiet urgency and you can look out the window to see a wall of dust approaching. The line is sharp in the sky, much like movie animation of enemy hoards approaching. Then the windows fill with brown grit and everything seems to disappear. The sun cuts out. The light changes to the mood-altering quality of a total eclipse of the sun. No matter how much you may love the desert, you feel distracted, homesick.
Homesickness is a chronic, multi-sensory longing that can be soothed, but which never goes away. We attend to the wounds by finding things that give us the sensory experience of home. I bake Grandma’s Banana Bread Recipe, and beg visitors to smuggle quarts of maple syrup to me in their luggage. I stock up on corn and watermelon in the summer, chasing but never finding that elusive fresh taste of local produce. I finger the tiny, glossy zucchini in the produce aisle and daydream about great, lumpy, ubiquitous squash the size of a club. Sometimes I scratch the stems of produce aisle tomatoes-on-the-vine and smell them. Briefly, weakly, they smell like home, where it is so easy to grow a garden that even the compost piles are covered with volunteer tomato and pumpkin plants, real food growing straight out of cast offs. A few times a year, when the desert follows up the promise of its precipitation strip tease and actually puts out some rain, I go driving with the windows down just to hear the sound of the wet tires and feel the humidity on my skin. You always know a transplant by the open car windows in the rain.
I miss crayfish and salamanders, fishing, squishy mud and bonfires. I miss the change of seasons, salty puddles of melting snow, and the snow that falls past the lights outside the big bay window. My legs ache to go out on a snow fresh morning and trail my feet to write ten-foot messages on the smooth white page of our yard. I miss the local culture of the place where I grew up. When I visit now, I love the way that everyone understands my punny jokes and the popular culture references that go misunderstood out here. I love the interest in literature that I experience when I go home; I like not being the most well read person in the room. I like it that people back home get excited about books, how the librarians know exactly which book you mean when you say, “There was some guy who lives in a lighthouse and there was a murder and something about birds?”
Homesickness is a state of longing, of not quite belonging where you are. For the homesick person, even the word ‘home’ takes on greater meaning. Home, with a capital ‘H’. Instead of taking vacations to Mexico or Hawaii, I find myself booking flights Home. Unfortunately, just flying Home is not enough. The longing surpasses reality and dumps me back into my own imagination. Home has been built up, twisted, too many new malls, too many cars and new houses, not enough roadside stands. The smell of diesel fuel is stronger than I remember it. Apparently, homesickness can also be a way of longing for the past and the way things were. I miss the family members who are gone, the way my arms and legs were slim and strong. I miss summer vacations stretching vacant before me, and friends who have moved away. I miss all the potential I once had and, maybe, haven’t lived up to. I miss Home as it was, not always as it is. I travel along familiar streets, dazed by my double eyesight, seeing past the new stores, gazing at the parks and empty lots I remember.
Fortunately, homesickness cannot be passed down by generations. You can only catch it by moving away. When I was little I read about the exotic Wild, Wild West where tumbleweeds tumbled and roadrunners ran past saguaros reaching for the sky. Dust devils seemed unimaginably friendly; in my world, tornados were real. Recently, my daughter picked up a book set in the Wild West and started laughing at the description of the Arizona desert. The main character was complaining about the sun and lack of water. She wondered why he didn’t just carry sunscreen and fill his Camelback with water. For her, scorpions and monsoon toads are familiar; snow and rain are exotic. When we visit her grandparents in the summer, she gets a kick out of the innocuous spiders and their lack of venom. She is afraid of mosquitoes. If we ever decided to move back home—and it is something we talk about sometimes— I worry that we’d be exiling our children to a lifetime of homesickness, daydreaming about fresh corn tortillas, being baffled at the sight of rust and mold. They could spend years scratching limes in the supermarket, placing them to their noses, trying to smell themselves Home.