I’m home. After driving more than 1200 miles and sleeping in six beds in nine days, across eight states, I am home.
This trip was different than most – I drove rather than flying, I went back to a place I once knew well rather than exploring new territory, I didn’t stay in one place more than a few days rather than my usual way of exploring from a home base. And in many ways, I went back and forth in time pretty rapidly.
I grew up in New England, on a small spit of sand known as Cape Cod. Often romanticized, it was pretty remote back in the 60’s and 70’s, in the winter at least. It is the place where I was born, where some of my ancestors arrived on a ship called the Mayflower and others, the natives, greeted them with mixed feelings. It is the place that was quiet, damp and grey for nine months of the year, then sprang to life in blues and greens and golds and huge numbers of people for the summer season. It is the place where I learned what fear can do to human beings, that magic was scary and verboten, that being myself was a dangerous thing.
And so I left. Before graduation, before I turned eighteen, before I could recognize that even with all the dark, there was so much good. I threw the proverbial babies – many, many of them – out with the bathwater and for a long, long, time, I didn’t look back. Or go back. Not for decades, other than once or twice out of duty, briefly and without opening my eyes to what was really there.
Until a couple years ago, when I returned for a magical retreat with the lovely Mara Glatzel, one that was called “Restore”, interestingly. And it did, indeed, begin to restore my connection to what once was my home – something I had denied for so long. It was a huge step, that initial return and reconnection with a few relatives, with a few places I once loved. I flew in and out and admired the Cape from far above. I saw the beauty that Patti Page sang about, that called so many there for summers spent on the beaches and playing Monopoly on screened porches in the inevitable rain. It was a beginning, for sure, though I didn’t dive very deep.
It took another couple years to bring myself to drive from the DC area where I now live, spending a night in New Jersey along the way, not far from where my father grew up, stopping for breakfast in a little town in Connecticut, drinking Lipton tea for the first time in eons. I drove over the Sagamore Bridge on a glorious fall day, the bay sparkling in the sunlight, the trees waving in the breeze, and for the first time in longer than I can remember, I felt like I was going home. Somehow the GPS took me through the tiny town where my mother was born, on the way to the home of my childhood friend where I would spend a couple days realizing how, despite our different paths, we’ve pretty much ended up in the same place at this point in our lives. Where I would see how much her son reminds me of her father, one of the very kindest men I have ever known, a man who showed me what a good man looked like, what a good father could be. Where she introduced me to her life now, to her current friends who welcomed me as one of their own, with incredible generosity and openness.
There were reconnections of all sorts along the way, high school friends and long loved spots, one after another. The Cape was showing off – the salt marshes beginning to go gold and red, the sun shining daily and the nights cool and clear with stars galore, the food better than I remembered, fresh and briny. My cousins and aunt welcoming me so lovingly, saying the kindest things about the child I once was, spinning my mind in ways I can’t really describe. They never believed I was awful, or a miserable wretch, as I was so often told. They described the child I was as engaging, adorable, curious. I’m still trying to integrate that. They put those beliefs I’ve held onto for over a half century back where they belong – in the mouths of the parents who were raising me, the ones who were so unable to see who I was, to connect with me on any level.
There was so much good. I met, on the Cape, and later in Rhode Island and New York, the loveliest people. Showed the friends who met me for this year’s retreat all the places I’d once loved, the day to day-ness of my childhood, and I saw it through their eyes, through an untainted lens for the very first time. We stayed blocks from the place I lived my earliest days in, around the corner from the library where I spent so much of my childhood, where I was told I was a born photographer, where I did my first television interview at the tender age of eleven. I took them to Sandwich, the town where many of my relatives grew up, where the spirit of the early days of the Cape is still preserved, where they learned to say “wicked wicked hard” from a fabulous tour guide as we learned about the daily lives of the earliest settlers in a tiny house where my great grandfather once lived. We explored the beach where I learned to swim, the rocky one where I once tracked turtles, and collected shells and rocks and the largest intact horseshoe crab I’ve ever seen. Souvenirs that I’ll keep close by to remind me of all I left behind.
We drove together to the tip of the Cape, to the province lands, to the National Seashore which was established the year I was born. We joined more beautiful women and I let my heart open more and more to them, to the place, to all the good in the very location I’d once run away from, as fast and hard and soon as I could. I sank into the sand and the piney woods and the sound of the ocean, the sunset and the moonrise and the rough mosaic of the jetty on the coldest evening of the early autumn, that last night on the Cape. To good company, great food and lots of magic. I felt welcome, at home in a whole different way. I relaxed and let down my guard, something I still don’t do as easily as I would like.
And then I had my heart broken, early that last morning, in the most unexpected way. As I stayed for the closing circle, fighting the urge to flee again, fast and hard and as soon as I could, I let myself feel all the sadness of not only that break, but how my heart broke when I left the first time, some thirty odd years before. I flew away then, allegedly for the summer yet knowing I’d never go back. This time, I realized, as I drove the length of the Mid Cape Highway, I had a choice. I could, once again, throw out all the good with the bad. I could feel so hurt that I blamed the place again, forgetting about all that phenomenally good stuff that I’d seen and done and felt in the first seven days and focus on the one difficult thing that had happened, the conversation that somehow had me believing once again that I was the worst person on earth, that I’d failed in everything I had worked so hard to transform in myself over the decades. Or I could realize that I am a human being, that the person on the other end of that heartbreak was human too, that sometimes we trigger each other. That we can’t be everything to everyone. That we are human beings, not gods, and that this, too, is part of living.
I could realize that I was doing again what I had so often done before. That I was defining myself by the perception of others. I could admit that, at 54 years old, I don’t really have time to do that anymore. That it’s not the way I want to live my life. I could drive to Rhode Island, to the home of two of the sweetest souls I know – three, if you count their beautiful dog, and sit under the full/super/blood moon and it’s lunar eclipse that evening, listening to the buoy bells and the waves lapping against the sand. I could let it all go. I could come home to myself, once and for all.
And so I did.
I am home.