My first step in most places is to figure out all of the ways I don’t belong. Not the common ground, but the way in which I stick out, how I’m unsettled, how I’m the other. I can vouch that this is, in fact, the worst way to enter almost any situation. It is an inhibitor to any meaningful contact, and will make one look desperate because one becomes desperate.
Suddenly I’m backpedaling who I am with a plateful of mashed potatoes in a line at Friendsgiving dinner, attempting to explain myself and why I am this way, and the face of the brand new person I’ve encountered goes from average-first-meeting-face to curiosity to alarm as I flail my free arm and hit the fast forward button on my mouth to try and get their face to go back to the average-first-meeting-face before I hit the end of my now-five-page-single-run-on-sentence, which usually ends in “I’m so sorry!”
For the last almost 8 years, I’ve been a traveler, which means that I was entering new places almost daily, and was secure in the knowledge that I don’t belong because, quite decidedly, I didn’t belong. I was leaving, if not this day then the next, and there was no real reason to explain myself or try and fool anyone into thinking otherwise. I belonged everywhere because I belonged nowhere. It’s an excellent bit. But I’ve ruined that self-actualized constant. I’ve ruined it because I belong somewhere, now. And I’m freaking out.
On October 31, my Someone and I closed on a house in Haverhill, NH, a little corner of New England wherein the trees offer a welcome shroud between me and the grey sky, where the Connecticut River narrows and widens between my home and the rolling green of Vermont, where there’s an apple stand just up the street that offers at least eight different varieties at any given visit, and the varieties change by the next week. I’ve yet to encounter it in its fullness, but there will be snow, likely through March and maybe to April, and if I drive East for a few short hours I will hit the rocky Atlantic coast. I’m 79 miles from Canada, the fun French part, and most days I’ve been here are the kind of dreary that makes me light candles and turn on low lights and stack good novels next to my reading chair. That’s to say, I have a reading chair. And a kitchen where I’ve made an apple pie with apples from the apple market up the street. I have a living room where we sit close to the heater at night, and a separate bedroom where I read before sleeping, where my hamster runs on her wheel and my dog snores next to me. I have house plants who I’ve named Jones, Marge, Rippy, and Scuttlebutt.
By all accounts, I have a home. I live here. I belong. From the moment we saw the place to the closing, there have been zero barriers, no hang ups. It was fluid, like it was meant to be. Which means that I have been freaking out because I have nothing to freak out about. Where is the anxiety of decision? When is the part where a major wrench appears and I get to question my choices? In what way don’t I belong?
We’ve even lucked out in community. We were swiftly welcomed by friends of friends, and found ourselves squarely in a room full of warm and open people– poets, painters, priests, potters, play actors– over Friendsgiving in the town hall across the river. Again and again we introduced ourselves, “Hello, we’re new here,” and in return were given a tour of people, what they do, where they live, and how they love this place. A couple nights later we entered another room of strangers and left with new friends. By the end of the night, I was tired.
“I should be happy,” I said to my Someone. “We’re lucky.”
We were. New Englanders are notorious for keeping to themselves– so we’re told.
“It’s hard to meet people,” a few friends warned us.
“Don’t expect a casserole from anyone around here,” one neighbor said.
And in a way, they are right. We still haven’t met our immediate neighbors, though we’ve knocked on the door during a minor fiasco wherein my little dog went missing. We were met with silence, but eventually found our little dog, fat and sick from a turkey carcass she found in the woods. The next day another neighbor, one who looks out for us, let us know that my Someone’s face was all over Facebook as a “suspicious character” caught on a surveillance camera for “lurking around.” She helped us make it right, and we are keeping a look out our window to try and better introduce ourselves.
It’s the small drop in the bucket of not belonging in an otherwise full bucket of getting more invitations to dinner than we have stomachs for.
So the deep ache, the lowness of spirit that compounded after yet another perfect night of being welcomed “home,” I couldn’t figure it. I tried to reason it out.
“Maybe it’s because we know we’re not leaving,” I said.
“Maybe,” said my Someone.
“Maybe it’s because we don’t know our neighbors well enough,” I said.
“Maybe,” said my Someone.
“Maybe we miss being on the road?” I asked.
“Nope,” said my Someone.
He was right. Not once since we moved in have we looked out at our old, beat up home-of-the-road and wished for another night in it. Sure, there are days ahead still where we’ll pack it up and carry it across this country and back. But now we have a place to be back to. No matter where we go, now, we belong somewhere else.
We pulled into our driveway and walked toward our front door. I made sure to touch the spot on the third step up, about a third of the way from the right. Since moving in, it’s the one spot I’ve found that accidentally felt like home. Our second week here, I’d been running back from the camper with an armful of our things when I stepped on that spot and had the sensation of doing it a thousand times already and a million times in the future. That little piece of the step would know my tread, and it warmed my leg up to the top of my head in a feeling of knowing that I couldn’t deny. I’ve since pressed it for its magic each time I walk up to my porch, hoping if I stamp it enough, it’ll pool outward under the house and float upward to the loft until the house in drenched in the stuff of home. I believe it’s working, as last week I felt that wobbling magic under the skylight in my kitchen as I chopped celery on Thanksgiving eve.
We entered our house, dog tails wagging. These two animals have taken to still life easily with no identity crisis at all. I breathed in the faint smell of a local peppermint mocha candle I bought. I dropped my things in their correct places. I wandered into each room while my Someone began to chop lettuce for dinner. He yelled from the kitchen, asking if I’d like to watch a new movie. I said yes, but kept roaming from room to room. When dinner was ready, I sat down in the living room with the low patio lights and a few candles burning and looked blankly at the computer screen we prop up on the desk chair in front of the couch. My Someone hit play and I felt myself relax.
“This isn’t that new movie,” I said.
“It isn’t,” said my Someone.
The screen played a familiar opening sequence, one I’ve seen at least three times before. I don’t re-watch things much, if at all, unless it is in the spirit of sharing it with someone who is watching for the first time. I don’t like watching the same movie every year at Christmas. I don’t like reliving childhood memories around The Land Before Time, I don’t like playing Magnolia again for the director’s cut. But my Someone and I have already watched this before. The whole series. From beginning to end.
“But, you’ve already watched this,” I said.
“Yes,” said my Someone, “but it seemed like maybe you needed an old friend.”
There it was. I was homesick. I was new, new, new, in a new house with new people with new neighbors and a new peppermint mocha candle. And all I really wanted was for someone who knew, knew, knew me, longer than a day, longer than a year, longer than a decade.
And somehow, Lorelai Gilmore knew me then. Or rather, my Someone knew me well enough to know that rewatching The Gilmore Girls would be just the ticket to put my old self in its new order. We finished the episode and started another, making a bowl of popcorn and piling another blanket on, one my mother had made me the first time I got married. I was getting tired, as my ages were coming together again, presenting themselves in my one body in a new place. I picked up my phone and texted Ann, then Annie, then Jessica and Holly, too. Because to know someone a long time is to belong somewhere, no matter where your body with all of its ages is sitting.
Then, a text popped up from a new friend. We’d declined dinner for the sake of coming home to our sick, turkey filled dog. When I opened the screen, it was to a photo of a table full of new people, ones we’ve met since arriving here, ones who have made such an intention to fold us in. They were waving at us from the dinner we declined, and they were telling us that they were happy to have our new selves in their community.
The feeling, at first, was itchy. I tried to find the way that I could protest– the way to tell them I don’t belong. But it was impossible. Because belonging is one part showing up and one part acceptance and a few parts that are a mystery that I will likely be figuring out as I spend my years here. Sometimes, it is you yourself accepting your belonging. But sometimes, when you’re really lucky like I am, it is the persistent invitation to be accepted, in spite of yourself. All this agonizing over a story I’ve already watched before– I know how it goes. It’s no Stars Hollow, but it’s pretty damn close, and soon I will be replaying these early episodes in that familiar way that only someone who belongs can appreciate.