If you ask me about my roots, I would show you the silver-white streaks cascading from my scalp and tumbling over my curls. I could take you out into the garden and show you my iris that my mom and I planted 2 years ago and how their rhizomes are exposed to the sun so they don’t rot away. I could give you some family history and heritage on both my parents’ side and you would find it mildly interesting as we have still yet to discover any really salacious details of ancestors who were thieves, ladies of the night, or gypsy fortune-tellers who barely escaped a ravenous mob. I can discuss with you my hometown and talk to you about my adopted town I’ve lived in for 16 years. I could list all the pros and cons of each. I can even tell you in detail the love of my Midwestern roots and why I love Garrison Keillor and his show “Prairie Home Companion” and the nostalgia it creates when he sing-song talks about the moving mountainous clouds over the rolling prairie and tells the quaint stories of hardworking and honest to goodness good Midwesterners out there.
I’m avoiding talking about the sale of my house and the roots I failed to fully establish in that space. I’ve lived in 3 places since I moved to this area. The first was a small apartment across from a park. The second was the place I stayed at the longest (10 years to be exact): a duplex with a manageable yard in a middle-class neighborhood. I loved it immensely, but there was a yearning to grow bigger and try something new. That’s how I awkwardly found myself in a gorgeous cottage-style 2100 sq foot ranch home with a large yard, vaulted ceilings, open concept, 3 bedroom, 2 bath, all brick home in a really nice neighborhood, complete with a private lake within walking distance. A lake I was only privy to in glances among fence rows, past the neighbors’ large homes whose backyards include said lake.
A few days before I moved out, one of my neighbors, a retired teacher in her 70s, was on her morning walk. My dog and I joined her. She talked at me the whole entire time – projecting on to me her worries and desires about my move, and her life. She fretted about me leaving my teaching position and worried about my pension. She told me I should go and teach school in North Carolina where it’s not as bad as this area. I questioned her on that, and she said, “You know. Minorities here. I’m sure it’s hard to teach. Move somewhere and teach where it’s not as bad as here.” I almost started an argument with her, but she then switched subjects and talked about her second lake home that is 50 miles away in a “non-minority” town. She was fussing about how she had to clean her lake house here and then go there to mow the lawn of her other lake house. My dog and I parted ways without a goodbye. Two weeks prior to that, another neighbor asked me if the couple moving in to my home are black or white. When I snapped, “I don’t know. What does it matter?” He smiled knowingly and said, “Oh it matters.” I walked away without even a goodbye. It was time to leave, and not just the conversation; time to leave this neighborhood where some of the inhabitants live in isolation and fear of what is beyond their island of supposed safety and security of brick walls, nice lawns, a man-made lake that has wintering geese and egrets that spike its shoreline.
As I spent the last few days packing boxes and shipping things off to storage, I heard the spray of the broken pipe in the leaky bathroom and heard the sump pump kick in. I shuddered to think that this home is falling apart from the inside out. The sound only revealed itself too me after the buyers made an offer and then got their home inspection a month afterward. The subflooring in that bathroom is rotting out and one day the toilet will be in the crawl space. The inspection also revealed that the roof in the garage had a leak in it that caused black mold to form in the attic. I replaced the entire roof for the new owners with the support of my insurance company. The wiring throughout the home is shoddy and a friend who replaced light fixtures for me found that the original wires to the light fixtures were ungrounded and so he fixed them. I went back to my own original home inspection and discovered truths I was too naive to understand at the time. One section stated: “If leaks are apparent, they seem to be hidden cosmetically.” In a nutshell, the previous owner (and probably the previous owners before him) just lived in the home. They didn’t maintain, they covered up or ignored.
I had done many repairs during the 3 years I lived there, and now the new owners will be inheriting more money pit issues because of someone else’s laziness or my oversight or lack of awareness of these issues their home inspection revealed. Through conversations with my realtor, I sensed that this young couple were still in love with this home and wanted it so badly they could taste it. I did whatever it took to help them realize their dream. Even lying and crying to the county inspector who was trying to tick off more items to repair on the second re-inspection after I had made all of the repairs he wanted on the first inspection. I just wanted out. I was not in love with the home and I was already deep into my commitment to my new life that I fought for it with not just my tiny white lies to the county inspector, but with additional repair money to the new owners, hasty packing, numerous trips to the storage unit or the Salvation Army, electronically signed forms sent from my realtor, etc., just so I could leave faster. In my fierce fight and flight, I forgot to mourn my loss. I forgot to take a moment to say goodbye to all that has been good. I forgot or ignored the parts of my body that were holding in stress.
I did finally take some time to clean the house and sit in meditation after a solid yoga practice. I did an old Native American ritual where you burn sage and smudge every room of the house as a way to symbolically clear the energy and open the space for the new owners that would build their life here. It felt good to actively participate in my departing, but still no real wave of emotion came to me. I supposed that was a good sign and an indication that some part of me had already left this all behind and that the goodbyes were over with. And so it came as a little of a surprise when I found myself crying at the kennel on the last day I picked up my dog from daycare. Here were the sweet people who have loved us for so long and they were sad to see us go. And I found myself crying when I stood in the Chick-fil-A parking lot one hot afternoon after eating lunch with my best friend Katie and her three kids. I had just hugged them all deeply and kissed the 6 and 3 year old boys’ cheeks as they told me, “We love ya, bro! We’re coming to visit you, bro! Be good bro!”
It really hit me that I was leaving my old life and old ways the night before I left town. I was saying goodbye to my friend Jenn and her two little children. We were outside in her front yard, standing near their maple tree that was dappled with the light from the summer’s first full moon. I pointed out that a young mockingbird was playing in the tree and the grass hours before when I arrived. We all could hear him singing but couldn’t see him. We chit-chatted a little more, and Jenn stood with her 1 year old on her hip while her 6 year old daughter danced back and forth between us. I was feeling just fine and it didn’t resonate with me when she said to me, “You’re off on your new adventure. I’m so proud of you, Meg. It takes so much guts to follow your heart. You’ll do well, and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for you.” It wasn’t until I hugged her that I felt her strong arms hold me close to her and not let me go. I heard a sniffle and realized she was crying.
When I finally stepped back, I saw tears running down her cheeks. “Why are you crying?” I asked. “I’m a Virgo. We’re loyal as hell and we don’t let go of friendships that are important to us.” I laughed a little at my silly astronomy talk that I don’t believe in, minus the loyalty part. She finally collected herself when her daughter hugged us and laughed, “Oh mommy. Turn off the waterworks. You’re Ok.” I smiled and gave one last hug before getting in my car. As I began to pull away, I looked up and saw my friend’s tear-streaked face as fresh new tears fell in the tracks. My heart broke in that moment. Here were my roots. Here was my nourishment and my tending and my loving care support system. In the eyes of my friend. Of all my friends and family who love me. The roof over my head and the walls supporting it and the neighborhood around it were very beautiful indeed, but it did not fill me up with so much love as in that moment of my friend’s heartbreak. And I now see all of the emotions displayed by the ones I love, whether it be practical concerns, words of encouragement, or displays of hurt, sadness, worry, confusion, frustration, elation, and celebration. They are what anchor me to my heart and allow me to stay rooted to them, no matter where I am.