Hometown

Where are you from?

It's a simple question. Most people have a fairly straightforward answer, but I am not one of them. I'm not sure I'm from anywhere. So where's my hometown?

We wandered a lot when I was growing up, starting from the day I was born. (We left the hospital to go, not home, but to my grandmother's house until "home" could be established.) Then we just kept moving, never settling anywhere for long. My mom would call us gypsies, trying to make it sound fun, but there was nothing exotic about it. No cool caravan with bead curtains. No funky furniture or hippie friends. Just a discontented dad, a hopeful mother, three little girls and lots of moving boxes.

I could name you the states we lived in. They all bordered America, which now makes me wonder if my dad was actually trying to get out. (Would we have stayed still if we had crossed the border and Dad found work in Chihuahua or British Columbia? I'll never know.) I could name the towns we lived in -- the ones that stunk of paper pulp and the ones scented with eucalyptus trees and kelp. Or maybe I could describe the houses -- the Victorian that was haunted by a ghost named Fred, the redwood just two miles from the beach or the nondescript city apartment infested with cockroaches. How about school mascots? No, I can't keep track, although one of my grade school fight songs is strangely fixed in my head. Passing through twelve schools in twelve years*, I barely remember my teachers or friends. I can tell you I had to read Great Expectations three times. It's still not a favorite. Where ever we went, I never belonged. Not one of those places, no matter how long we stayed or how much I loved it, was really home.

I have been listening to my daughter's favorite band, Twenty One Pilots, a lot lately. In their most popular song, Stressed Out, Tyler Joseph sings about the unique quality of home -- even the unidentifiable smell of home -- something shared among siblings. I think about the things we moved from place to place. The same pictures that hung on different walls, Dad's console stereo and the piano that was SO heavy! Then there was the stuff I loved that had to be sold at yard sale after yard sale because there wouldn't be enough room at the new place. I don't want to talk about the pets we said goodbye to. Maybe it is the combination of all those things, along with local flora and fauna that creates that familiar, homegrown smell that makes people feel nostalgic. I will never know.

So where am I from? It's a question I still struggle to answer. Few people have the time to listen to a list or my embarrassing story, and I dread the typical criticism, as if someone telling me I had cruel parents will somehow make me feel better. I dread the typical questions too, starting with: "Was your Dad in the military?" I always envied the kids who said yes. They had dads whose sacrifice was admirable and they were sacrificing along with him, weren't they? There was camaraderie among "military brats," not to mention exotic posts, or at least the hope of them. We rarely moved anywhere exotic. The most interesting thing I can tell you is that we managed to land ourselves right in the middle of a series of natural disasters, including mudslides, tornadoes and Mount St. Helen's eruption. All of it leaves me feeling like a liar, no matter what I say -- like I might be the only person on Earth who wants to select "it's complicated" on Facebook, not for my relationship status, but for my hometown.

But despite these observations about my odd childhood -- the subjective and objective -- I am not really complaining. I have two sisters who went through it with me. I may not have a hometown, but I have a home now. It's where my family is. It's where my heart is. (Finally, a platitude that makes sense for someone with such an unconventional upbringing.) So if you ever wonder why I am such a strange combination of anxiety, oddity, fear, courage, friendliness, awkwardness, imagination, fortitude and faith, now you know. That's just the way we are in my hometown. That's how we survive.

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