Friday, July 8, 2011

roots and wings

I spent the first seventeen years of my life on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. It's a beautiful area of the country, with Colonial houses, majestic rivers, sailboats, wildlife, cornfields, star-studded skies, and lots of rednecks.

I loved growing up there. I loved living near the river, smelling the marsh mud (nostalgia always smells sweet, whatever the reality) and watching the herons. I loved the feeling of endless space, of clean horizons. The corn and soybean fields went on forever, except where interrupted by deer or some picturesque trees. I loved eating fresh fish and venison. I loved eating corn-on-the-cob from my great aunt's garden, and steamed crabs from the Bay. I loved the black-eyed susans, the brick sidewalks, the heavy humidity, the scrapple, the biscuits with dried beef gravy, and the Ravens. (How can you not like a team named in honor of Edgar Allen Poe?)

I love my family. My mom's side of the family is large, loud, and invasively affectionate. They will feed anyone who enters the door (or even anyone who comes near the property line; my grandmother has frequently made plates of sandwiches, watermelon, and leftover cake for the garbage men). They all live within a twenty-mile radius of one another. They all talk at the same time. They all bicker constantly. They all pry into my private life. Several of them are outstanding cooks. They have all given me money at least once, whether as a gift for graduation/birthday/other special occasion or just because i am young and sometimes tight on cash. I have crashed on their couches, bummed rides to work with them, accepted hand-me-down furniture from them, politely turned down hideous hand-me-down furniture from them, and become friends with them on Facebook. And i have only had to put one of them on restricted access so far.

I love my immediate family, too. But my dad lives in Delaware. My brother is in Afghanistan. One of my sisters is only a year away from graduating and starting college, and the other one is seven and a half years younger than i am. As we both grow older, that gap matters less and less, but twenty-one and fourteen are still worlds apart. My mother's recent marriage to a guy i barely know makes the house even more awkward to be in. I no longer have my own bedroom, so i stay in my brother's room with all of his half-packed things from college and childhood.

And after a while, those endless horizons start to feel oppressive. Sure, you have no limits, but that also means that you have nowhere to go. My town has one movie theater. The second nearest one is thirty miles away. The nearest mall and Walmart are in the same town as the second movie theater. There are no museums, no concert venues, no public transportation, and no Starbucks.

Yeah. That's actually the whole town.

I have spent the last four years of my life near Boston.

I can see Boston from my roof (though not as clearly as in the above image). There are four coffee shops within walking distance of my apartment, as well as two cupcake shops, several bars and restaurants, and a Marshalls. And a five-minute walk brings me to the train, which can take me anywhere i want in Boston. I can go to theaters and museums, attend concerts, shop, tour the historic Red Line, eat fabulous food, and pretend that i go to Harvard. This 4th of July, my roommates and i hosted a cookout which culminated in watching fireworks from our roof, over the Boston skyline.

My family isn't so very far away, and they're not even in a different time zone, so it's not terribly difficult to talk to or visit them. The only real difficulty is that, as i mentioned before, i'm not the only one who no longer lives in my mom's house. But we make it work.

I have lots of friends here. I have a job here (for now, anyway). I'm enrolled in grad school. I have a church family. I have a boyfriend. I have a cat.

There are a lot of things that keep me here. There are a lot of memories, a lot of possibilities, and a lot of really delicious cupcakes across the street from my apartment.

But sometimes, when i'm sitting on the roof and gazing at the Boston skyline, i hunger for stars. Sometimes, when i'm at the beach with friends, i think of Maryland blue crabs steamed with Old Bay and my mouth waters. I long for thunderstorms that make the windows rattle and that last for hours. I long for humidity so intense you can barely move. I long for old men in pickup trucks who wave (in a friendly, non-creepy way) when they see you out for a walk. I long for my family, blowing my personal bubble to smithereens with their very presences. I long for goose-calls in the fall, for Queen Anne's lace in the summer, for mild winters where school is canceled because of forecasted flurries, for springtime full of wildflowers.

My roots run deep and my wings reach far. At times i feel like i will be torn in two by the opposing forces.

When i was sixteen, my dad took me out to dinner to give me a blessing, Old Testament-style. He said a lot of really great things, but the one that stuck was that i was a willow tree. He told me that willows look beautiful and graceful and delicate, but that their beauty conceals an iron strength. The roots of willow trees often force their way through concrete barriers into swimming pools or drainage pipes, all in a quest for water. They are tough enough to break mower blades. They are very tenacious and difficult to remove.

My dad said, "You are a willow. You won't let anything get between you and the things that you want and need. You will break through any barrier, block any blow, and hang on to the very end." The way that he talked about roots made them sound almost like wings. I liked that.

I have written before about my swallow tattoo, about how the swallow uses its wings to return home. When i read about swallows, their wings sounded almost like roots. I liked that.

I don't know what the future holds. I can't say that i will never again live in Maryland. I can't say that i will live in Massachusetts forever. I can say that, wherever i live, i will be torn. I will feel out-of-place and homesick. I will dig in my roots, desperate for sustenance and refreshment, and i will spread my wings, longing for the next horizon.

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