It’s been another too-long stretch since we headed back to our panhandle origins and I’m feeling the ache this April as the snow just keep seeping in whenever we think we are solidly into springtime.
While I was grateful to avoid the arduous trip down to Florida while pregnant or with a newborn, life doesn’t stop for morning sickness and aching backs, and I’ve got a whole crop of new babies to meet when we head down in a few weeks.
This will be our first time not staying at our childhood homes when we travel back, but I think with the birth of Elizabeth we’ve finally outgrown our parents’ houses. It’s a bittersweet point: we will have more privacy and better sleep when we aren’t sardined into the houses that saw our teenage years, but it’s tempting to feel a little exiled.
The children who are a delight to all our relations, for whom we’ve made our own home, have by necessity distanced us from the life that came before them. We have all made space in our hearts, but the space in our guest rooms is finite.
I have an almost limitless capacity for homesickness which has dogged me since leaving home at 18, and which I’ve experienced in every place I’ve ever lived for almost every place I’ve lived before. It would be comical– if it didn’t also smart a little.
Recently I was driving around our little Virginia town composing Tallahassee packing lists in my head and heard on the radio:
My brother’s old room used to be mine / And all of our posters have changed over time / Now all of our idols are on the tip of our tongues / And we can’t recall what’s-his-name, over eggnog and rum
And my brother’s old room used to be mine /Now my mother’s old paintings can finally shine / And fill all the spaces where celebrities posed / I woke up this morning in a room that I know
My brother’s old room used to be mine / He painted it blue when I left it behind / Now my mother’s old Alvarez leans up against white / In the brand new guest room where I slept last night
And let me stay, a little longer / And let me rest, let me belong here / I am a guest in every room I’ve ever known
And if my brother’s old ceiling gets just enough sun / The shapes of our made-up constellations / Glow in a pattern that I knew by heart / I woke up in the morning and picked up her guitar
And on my mother’s old Alvarez, from ’76 / I wrote down this song as a bargaining chip / To capture a moment from merciless time / To stay in a room that I know, for a while
(excerpted; Heather Maloney’s full lyrics found here)
It was one of those instances where good art reaches out and loops a sticky tendril or two right into your heart. I had those made-up constellations and my room is now the computer/guest room. And when I return to my hometown this summer I know I will be wresting a moment from merciless time as the babyhoods of my own children and the children of people I’ve loved go flashing by, as our thirties play out, as life unfurls for us all, both near and far from the rooms we’ve known.
I don’t really have a conclusion for all of this. Maybe that I’m reminded that we are just pilgrims and sojourners in this world? (If so, my Peregrine is well named.) Or maybe that it’s a luxury to have a place to miss? That homesickness implies you have or at least once had a home, and that this is no small gift? And yet aren’t there times when all of us admit to ourselves, “I am a guest in every room I’ve ever known”?