Wednesday, May 5, 2010



So many signs, and I was unable to put them all together by myself. I, the chronic oracle junkie, completely blind to the signals. In fact, just yesterday I was walking by the new monster condo building “On the Park!” on my way! to the grocery store and a chunk of blue foam flew off of an unfinished balcony and literally conked me on the head, not hard enough to eliciting suing, or even to frighten me, but enough to make me consider the timing. I am into interesting timing.

Here is what I have wanted lately: a dog. Really badly, a dog. And, inexplicably, to plant things. I don't like planting things, I am intimidated by living things, I am not green-thumbed, I am not a lover of gardens, really, especially the over-cultivated kind. I can't stand the thought of all the fussing that goes into them. So that, a garden and dog, and then came the urgent dreams about pigs. And much writing about pigs.

And I discovered several weeks ago HGTV, and I have watched in awe as people actually choose the places they would like to live! Deliberately, consciously. And move into them, and be happy. I love the shows where people look for home. I am so happy for them, happy really to tears, almost every time, when they find the right place. I nod, I agree. Yes, yes, it was obvious all the time that's the place you belonged. Anyone could see it. Or I am surprised, but still happy. You made the right choice! I thought for sure you would go with quiet side-street Victorian, but I can see now that the rustic Colonial with the giant patio was really more you. I get involved in their lives. I struggle with them in their indecision. I am very pleased with each resolution, especially for couples. (I like the moments when the couples have silent telepathic communication in front of their realtor).

Why all the pigs and the dogs and the dirt? I go to places with my husband these days, like Home Depot and big sprawling stores where you can buy plants and toilets and tile and copper piping and squat plastic tubes. My husband is building a terrarium for our fire-bellied toads. It's very elaborate, involving complicated sprinklers and waterfalls and confusing channels of piping and things that need to be sawed and glued and shellacked and arranged. And plants, lots of plants. I like the plants, sitting in their soggy cardboard pallets as they await the start of their new job in the tiny ecosystem of the tank. Right now they are taking up all of the counter space in our sliver of a kitchen, but I don't mind.

Why all the pigs and dogs and dirt is because I am beginning to want home. To want roots. This desire feels alien and shameful to me, like suddenly having an errant limb sprouting from my left temple.

My father, now a janitor, worked in ground maintenance in the Air Force when I was growing up. There were a lot of kids and not a lot to go around, although that never really bothered me. I was never a clothes hound and didn't care that much about “stuff”. We got free cheese to eat if food ran out before payday, and no matter how broke we got, we always had base housing to live in. What I think, looking back, bothered me, was the complete lack of control we had over our lives. I could never keep friends, because we moved so much, and, because I had no common sense, I kept making friends over and over again. I had a sort of weird amnesia about the intense grief involved in leaving them. Some military kids learn quickly not to get close to anyone, but I never had that kind of discipline.

What I did learn was that you could always start over, and that the best solution to any problem is to move to a new place, to just leave. What I did learn is that life is rootless, that I have little control, and that there is always a fresh start around the next corner. Get in the car, it's time to leave. A new opportunity for something better; a chance to reinvent yourself with people who have no idea who you are, who you were before. I learned never to attach to a place. I learned that property was a trap, and that starting over, that change, was the best stimulus there was.

I became a reckless adult.

I moved ten times in my twenties, quit numerous jobs when I didn't know how to deal with the problems I was having in them, moved in and out of numerous relationships, took pride in my ability to cut my losses and move on. I changed schools, career path, banks, friends. I was puzzled by people who understood what it meant to grow up in the same place their entire lives; people who had best friends since they were two. I didn't understand it and can't really understand it now. I was very uncomfortable when my clients asked me where I was from. I didn't understand people who seemed obsessed with owning property. Obsessed with land. I packed light, owned little, and was always ready to react to the next crisis, the next big change.

Over the last several years, though, I find myself, through no will of my own, beginning a process of settling. I have been married for eight years to a man who has spent his entire life in this area, and helps to ground me in a sense of place and history here. We had a tough beginning, but I stayed in with it, in spite of all of the times that it could have gone sideways. I have actually kept the same job for over four years now, through regular fits of wanting to quit, through panic, through sadness and fear and feeling like a stupid person, a loser, a total misfit....somehow I have stayed with it, and have found that it has nurtured me and allowed me to grow in many ways. I find myself working harder to create what I really want there, instead of just running away, running to the next thing because of the problems, the exhaustion, the imperfections of it. I have lived in one apartment for almost seven years straight, a record for me. And when I tired of it, I found that I have changed what I could inside of it. I worry constantly about feeling “stuck” here. I worry about dying in this place, old. I change the walls, the mantle d├ęcor, the color of the slipcovers. Everything impermanent, just the way I like it. But still, I stay. I stay with it. I remain here.

But lately. Lately I want to settle, I want land. I don't really want a dog, or a pot-bellied pig. I want earth. I want a sense of belonging, personified. I want to feel safe owing something heavy, something permanent, something you can't just dismantle when you move. I would like temperature-sensitive ponds full of amphibious creatures; I would like bookshelves of impossibly heavy dimensions, I would like to be held by the love of a flower bed; a vegetable garden, living things that can't adapt to just anywhere, things that depend for their lives on the earth they're planted in. And I have I no idea where to find it, where to begin. So I watch my husband build the terrarium. I watch the microcosm of earth and bones and roots and river rocks begin to form, I watch it's tentative heart begin to beat. I dream of the water, the flow, and the containment. The plants rooting in a mere inch of soil. The love.

--Kristen McHenry


Dale said...

Oh! I hope you can find a good piece of earth, and settle in to it.

Jo-Ann Svensson said...

I'm not religious, Kristen, but all I can say to this beautiful song of life, this yearning ... this prayer, is "Amen".