Moments like these are everything.
Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.
And this is where the words get stuck. It’s getting late, the kids are barely in bed, my eyes are heavy, and I just can’t get my brain to cooperate and put these swirling thoughts in any sort of sensible order.
If you want to know the truth of it, I’ve got New York on the brain. We booked tickets for a trip this summer. It will be our first trip out East since Richie & Diane’s house was sold, since we wrapped up the details of the estate and said our goodbyes. I think we’ve sort of been avoiding a trip because we both know it’s going to be hard–going for a visit and not having the old house to go back to. And honestly it’s been easier than it should have been to avoid the trip. We’ve just been so busy. Isn’t that always a great excuse?
But now we’re going. It’s going to be fun, because we’re heading back to Concordia for a Band Bash reunion. Stevie’s getting some of the old bandmates back together, and we’re excited to see everyone and be back on campus for awhile and to get a chance to tap back into the place we love so much and miss every day.
Every damn day.
But it’s always bittersweet to go back too. I mean, we’re not surprised. We’ve been 12 years gone. But somehow everything has changed and nothing has changed. We just left yesterday, but we’ve been gone a lifetime.
And even if it’s a little painful, it’s always good to go back. It’s a homecoming. I crane my neck to catch that first glimpse of New York City in the tiny airplane window, and my heart keeps a beat every time.
And walking around campus–that place where I celebrated the best days and survived the worst days and learned more about myself than any other place before or since–I always get this feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, surrounded by the people who love me and supported me and taught me how to be my very best self.
Let the countdown begin.
In all the writing I’ve done, I’m often given the most positive feedback on my ability to set a scene. I’m obsessed with settings, with painting a clear picture of my characters’ surroundings and establishing a vivid and concrete sense of place.
Dig deep into my psyche and there’s likely a link to my adoption. Adoptees often struggle establishing a firm sense of belonging. But my obsession also stems from the fact that my family moved around…a lot. From the time I was born to the time I graduated high school, my family moved to five different towns in two different states and lived in ten different houses, including a three-week stretch where my parents, sister, and I lived in my grandparents’ motorhome. My dad had a new job managing the Four Circle Co-op in Bird City, Kansas and we’d moved before he and Mom had a chance to find a house to rent, so we parked in a vacant lot across the street from the town’s only gas station.
We arrived in Bird City in the summer of 1986. I was five, and living in Grandma and Grandpa Luethje’s motorhome for a few weeks seemed sort of exciting at first, like an extended camping trip. Lindy and I fought over who got to sleep on the bunk bed that perched above the driver’s seat (an argument she won because my tendency to sleepwalk proved hazardous when the bed was more than three feet from the ground). It was a bit strange to be camping next to a grocery store on the main drag of a tiny town with one stoplight instead of some ironically-named campground out in the woods near a lake, but it didn’t much faze me at the time. It was just another pit stop on the parade of homes that dotted the landscape of my youth.
I can close my eyes and still see each house we ever lived in in detail. I can see the little bungalow on Norris Avenue in McCook where our dog Tu-tu had her puppies. The concrete floor in the unfinished basement was always cold, but Dad built a makeshift pen with some blankets and spare pieces of plywood to keep the squirming black pups contained and comfortable. There was a little steel safe built into one of the concrete walls, and I sometimes imagined we were a family of spies locking away our collection of stolen secrets.
The kitchen was painted bright yellow, and Mom used to watch One Life to Live and General Hospital on the little black-and-white television that sat on the counter. Lindy and I shared the little bedroom at the front of the house (of course she got the top bunk), and Mom and Dad’s room was through the Jack-and-Jill bath. Sometimes when both bathroom doors were left open, Dad’s snoring would jolt me awake in the middle of the night, amplified by the bathroom tile.
I can see the first rental house in Bird City where we moved after the excitement of living in the motorhome officially wore off. The two-story house sat on the corner of Burr Avenue and West 3rd Street, just a block from where my best friend Mandy lived, which gave us license to spend just about every moment together when we weren’t in school or sleeping. There was a chainlink fence around the backyard, and in the winter the tumbleweeds would catch there and take over until Dad would eventually light a small fire to burn them, scolding us when we got too close or threw too many tumbleweeds on the crackling pile, sending orange sparks spiraling into the crisp autumn air.
There were two bedrooms and a large playroom with a 3/4 adjoining bathroom on the second floor, which meant Lindy and I finally had our own separate spaces. Our rooms were far enough away from Mom and Dad’s bedroom on the main floor that, for the first time, I could wake up and not hear Dad snoring. The entire second story floor was covered with mismatched scraps of brightly colored carpet. It gave the space a psychedelic circus vibe that started to hurt your eyes if you looked at it too long.
The kitchen had a set of ugly swinging doors, the kind you might see in an old-timey saloon–a wooden frame around a piece of orangish-brown opaque plastic. Mom nearly lost her voice hollering at us to “Stop running in the house!” as we chased each other down the stairs through the den and the kitchen and into the dining room, laughing each time we burst through those doors and heard the satisfying THWAP! as they slapped against walls and swung back into place.
Moving—to a new house or apartment, town or state—was always a nauseating mix of excitement and anxiety. I fancied myself an explorer, and I tried to imagine the fun new adventures I’d have when I arrived at each new place. But the unpleasant byproduct of the recurring upheavals was that it made it nearly impossible for me to ever feel truly grounded. I never really belonged anywhere. Thus, it became an exercise in survival for me to burn all the details into my brain so they wouldn’t get lost each time we packed up our lives and left another place behind.
When I graduated high school and decided to move to New York to attend college, everyone told me I was crazy. They couldn’t imagine a small-town midwestern girl like me fitting in in the big city. But this was the move I desperately needed. It was a chance to throw myself far outside my comfort zone and headlong into the depths of independence. It was a chance to figure out who I really was and who I was going to be.
And for more than 15 years now, Stevie and I have been doing a lot of moving of our own—from New York to Arizona to Nebraska, from apartments and rental houses to our very own homes, packing and unpacking boxes, trying like hell to find the place that fits.
Here we are now, living in a quiet neighborhood in the heart of the Heartland. We’ve got two sweet kids, one crazy hound dog, and a house filled with books and memories and mismatched furniture collected from our families and our childhood homes—a table that came across the country in a covered wagon, framed family photos whispering stories from days gone by, the faded floral couch and matching swivel chairs where Richie and Diane sat drinking coffee each morning in their living room on Long Island. Our walls are covered with movie posters, our children’s scrawling artwork, and photos of the people and the places that we love most.
We are a collection of the people we meet, the places we’ve been, and all of our lived experiences. Our genetics and our childhoods give us a starting point—where we’ve gone from there is a hodgepodge, mishmash, shaken not stirred blend of all we learned and loved and left behind along the way. It’s messy and it’s beautiful. It’s ours and it’s everything.
It’s here, and it’s home.
I spend a lot of time reflecting on my college days, partly because I spend my days working with college students and partly because I tend to start feeling a little sentimental every time Stevie and I have been away from New York too long and I start itching to spend time with the people I miss every moment of every single day since we left the east coast ten-and-a-half years ago.
It’s hard to explain the connection I feel to this place without sounding overly nostalgic, but I always feel the need to try. I guess that’s just the writer in me–unable to deny that urge to try and put the giant surge of emotions down on paper and arrange the words in a way that might explain the way this place calls to me and why I remain so firmly tethered to the people we met and the connections I made there.
Going to college was my first step (a giant 1,500-mile step) away from my family and out on my own, and with that heady rush of newfound freedom and adventure came an almost paralyzing sense of self-doubt and isolation. Yet the first time I ever stepped foot on Concordia’s campus, I got the distinct feeling that I was coming home.
The families we come from are our default. They teach us how to love, how to fight, how to forgive. They give us our first sense of the world–its beauty and its chaos. The families we leave when we set out on our own will always be with us. They will always be part of us. But it’s the families we create for ourselves that truly reflect who we are and give shape to who we will become. The people we connect with, the people we return to and invest our time in are the people who reflect the very best of who we are, the very best of who we hope to be.
People matter. Connections matter. Kindness matters. Honesty matters. Love matters.
Everything else is just noise.
My favorite line from the old 1989 Tom Hanks movie, The ‘Burbs, is the one repeated by Corey Feldman’s character throughout the movie whenever something good or bad or crazy or unusual or hilarious happens in the neighborhood.
“God, I love this street! Of the
I think I have been waiting my whole life to feel that way.
When I was young, we were always moving too much. I never really got too attached to any of the houses we lived in. Bird City was too small and claustrophobic. Holdrege was too cliquish and just never really felt like home. New York felt like home, but the apartments I lived in never did. Arizona was too hot and just never seemed to be the right fit. And the first house here in Lincoln was just too old (well, Stevie thought so anyway), and just seemed to be missing something.
And then we moved here, and I gotta say, it feels like home. It felt like home the minute we walked through the door and held the keys in our hand and, for me, that feeling only grew stronger the day we brought Henry home with us from the hospital. I love our house and our neighborhood and the little park that’s only a short walk away. I love the fact that we can actually go trick-or-treating through our own neighborhood , and that there is a little Par 3 golf course that we can join and play. I love that there are families that have grown up here, and a whole slew of new families like ours starting to move in. I love the fact that there is a steady stream of children chasing each other through the neighborhood every day after school and all summer long. I love the way the trees arch over the road like a canopy and that all of the houses are beautiful and unique.
Most of all, I love the fact that I have the opportunity to build a life here and raise my children here.
I guess I’ll just go ahead and say it…God, I love this street.
Some nights after I’ve finished feeding Henry and putting him to bed, I come downstairs into the living room and see this…
My hubby takes the definition of portable computer to a whole new level.
I think it started once when I was out of town for work. Stevie wanted to pay some bills and surf the web but the Islander game was on and he was torn, so he just carried the Mac downstairs into the living room and parked himself in front of the TV for the game after Cadence went to bed.
Now, it’s become a thing.
Tonight, Stevie is balancing the checkbook and researching what mixer would be best for us to finally start the podcast he’s been plotting for several years now, watching the Islander game and the ridiculously censored version of The Usual Suspects they’ve got playing on the Ovation channel.
And even though it cracks me up to see him sitting there, almost completely hidden behind the giant screen, watching a game or a movie or an episode of one of our favorite shows on the giant television, I’m not complaining. I’d much rather have him sitting down here in the living room with me than sequestered up in the office. My favorite way to end the day once the kiddos are tucked into their beds is hanging out with my hubby and sharing some laughs while we relax in the living room and stay up too late.
It’s the little things, you know?