Indiana has been clinging to a few leaves just for me, and when I wake up my first morning back home, I’m grateful for its effort. Every one in Puget Sound has been exclaiming about how beautiful the foliage is this year, and it is, but it is more muted oranges and russets interrupted by evergreens. In my part of Indiana, where the hills roll a little and there is almost as much woodland as there is farm land, the colors pop and sizzle. I’m convinced the only place where the fall leaf display might be better is New England, and I’m not even sure about that. That could just be something the Vermont Tourism Board sells us.
In the first few days I am home my eye is so happy to be looking at a big sky and a horizon instead of layers and layers of office buildings and apartment complexes. Mom complains about how much worse the traffic has gotten since the ethanol plant opened up, and I do notice the loads and loads of grain being carted up the road in long-haul trucks, but compared to siren-infested and traffic congested First Hill, I could be on a deserted island, it is so quiet.
Don’t even get me started on the sunsets or the constellations I can see in the crisp November sky. In Seattle, we’re lucky to see the moon because of the ambient light and the cloud cover.
This isn’t a home-is-better-than-Seattle post, in case it seems like it is. I’m not unhappy in Seattle, and like most good Hoosiers, I spent a fair share of my youth imagining an escape, dreaming of pulling what my friend Buns calls “a geographic”: moving across country with the misguided belief that a place other than home is infinitely better just by nature of not being the tired town where you grew up, only to discover when you arrive in the new place that all of your problems and quirks and failings have followed you. So no. I have to let Washington be what it is and I have to let Indiana be what it is and quiet the ranking system that self-starts in my brain whenever I’m in a new place even if at some genetic level I feel like home is “better.”
But there is an ease of being that takes place in your native geography that is astounding. It’s as if I’ve spent the last few months with non-native speakers of English and have had to navigate the quirks of language to get my point across, and suddenly I wake up and find myself in the company of my paisanos, where a gesture is understood without explanation. In this honeymoon phase of my visit, I’m so glad to be in the land of the un-ironic seed cap and people in Carhart jackets for reasons that have nothing to do with fashion.
My first day home I go downtown to look for something new and fun to wear to the wedding I’ve come home for. In the store, it seems easier to tell clerks that I don’t need help. I’m not navigating around hurried shoppers screaming into cell phones. (In fact, there are so few shoppers in the store I wonder how it stays in business.) When I leave, I stand on the sidewalk to take a photo of the church steeple that was backdrop to my childhood and I don’t have to worry about being in anyone’s way. While I peer out of our little apartment windows in Seattle, the world feels crowded and too full and I want to beg people to quit reproducing because there are too many of us and I am an introvert. But when I am home, there is a surplus of space. In Richmond, if you wanted to walk down Main Street with your arms stretched out beside you, you wouldn’t bump into anyone. At no time while I’m home, will my hips and shoulders be uncomfortably close to the hips and shoulders of total strangers. In Seattle, I’m amazed that we don’t all have communicable diseases because we’re always accidentally touching people we don’t know and pretending we aren’t, staring straight ahead, busying ourselves with our smart phones and creating invisible cocoons around ourselves.
The city is a petri dish.
While I’m snapping shots of the steeple, I hear an older man say, “Excuse me, young lady.” It doesn’t immediately dawn on me that I am no longer young and because I’ve been in the city for so long, I assume I’m in his way and he wants me to move, never mind the perimeter around me that is empty. I apologize without looking at him and step back so there is more room on the sidewalk. What I’ve become used to in Seattle is ignoring people. It goes against my nature to selectively NOT hear someone talking to me, yet it feels necessary if you have any hope of getting to the drugstore without having to hand out all your dollar bills to the people asking for them on the street corner.
I look at him and he’s a bit scruffy. He has on a puffy, jean jacket and there is a box fan tucked under his arm, which is a little weird for a crisp day like this. He stops in front of me and takes a deep breath, tells me his friend, who is a landlord, just had tenants leave this brand new fan in a vacated apartment. In Seattle, there’s a chance that I’d just not hear him and walk away. But I’m home and it never occurs to me that he could be a threat or even a huckster. I’m not even in a hurry to dismiss him. “That’s lucky,” I say. Then he says, “The thing is, I’m tired of carrying it. You want it?”
I can hardly contain my smile at this unexpected turn of events. I assure him that I have no need for a fan but thank him for his offer. He sighs and says, “Well, I guess I’ll just keep carrying it then.”
Later, when I’m driving home, what strikes me is how easy the exchange was. I didn’t ratchet myself up to DEFCON 1 assuming the worst about him and his intentions. He didn’t hold it against me that I wasn’t interested in taking the fan off his hands.
It is good to be home for a couple of weeks, even if I’m missing Z in the process.