Heart Shaped Rock

I have been thinking about how to write this for a long time now.  Years, maybe.  Because I don’t want to hurt any feelings.  But all I can do, in the end, is to try to write this from a place of love.

Mr. E grew up in Michigan, and his whole family lives there, and his grandparents were always around when he was a kid and he has 22 first cousins and they all mixed in and out of each other’s lives with an ease and a fluidity that comes from being part of a great big family where there are so many of you that sometimes it’s hard to keep track.

I grew up in Portland, and my grandparents lived far away, and most of the time it was just us kids against the world.  I have a few cousins but they always lived far away from us, and while I count my brother among my top five favorite people in the world, it was never hard to keep track of who was around.  Like I said, mostly, it was just us.  I wasn’t lonely, I had best friends.  The best of friends.  And  I have never known a different way of life.

Now there are grandkids and brothers and sisters are buying houses and having more grandkids and Mr. E’s mother is a professional baby whisperer and although they do not talk about it like they used to, I know that they would love nothing more than if we also lived in Michigan, if we were close by and if they could see their grandchildren more than once or twice a year.  I know they don’t understand why we live so far away.  I know they don’t really agree with our decision to live here.

The truth is that we live so far away because all of the years that I spent in Michigan and Nebraska and Chicago, all those years, I never once felt like I was at home.  I grew up on the West Coast and I will always be a West Coast kind of girl.  I don’t think Lake Michigan is just as good at the Pacific Ocean, and I never will.  I want my kids to grow up taking the beach just a little bit for granted and this is my home and I just don’t feel like me unless I am here.  And also Mr. E has a good job and this is where they do the kind of things that he does and so we bought our tiny little house and this is where we are.   This is our home.

But if I said I never think about moving back to the midwest, I’d be lying.

Unfortunately I feel like if we did move back to Michigan that I’d be making such a huge life compromise that life would owe me something really nice in return.  Like say a giant old midwestern house with built ins and crown molding and a downtown where I could walk to coffee and the movies and a tapas restaurant.  I’d expect life to look like it does in the movies, as a pay back, if you will, and life would owe me a giant SUV and a bank account that meant I never had to count pennies and it turns out that even when you move somewhere you don’t want to live, life doesn’t really care.  Life is not offering crown moldings and SUV’s.  Life is offering a job at Podunk State University in Terrible Town No One Wants To Live In That Pays Less Than You’d Make Working Full Time at the Gap.

It might surprise you to learn that sometimes, every once in a while, I can be a tiny bit of a contrary person.  I may sort of sometimes be the sort of person who, when pushed one way,  pushes back harder.  It might be true that the more that certain in laws of mine wanted  me to move my family back to the midwest, the more I ranted about how I would never go back, and whether or not this is right isn’t really what I’m here to talk about today, because the fact remains that there are no jobs and there is no crown molding, but let’s just say that if you want me to do something your way, sometimes, where I am concerned, you might best be a bit sneaky about it, because badgering isn’t usually the thing that wins me over in the end.

And to be fair, most of the time, the pushing has tapered off significantly.  And I am trying to make a point here, and I am failing.  What in god’s name am I trying to say?

I am trying to tell you a story where for years I heard nothing but how we should move back to Michigan and for years I fought against that and nothing ever came close to dissuading me to pack up and return to a place where I was never happy, because I just can’t. I just could not.  And then this spring, my sister in law came to stay with us, to visit for a few days after Katherine was born, and I came around the corner and she was sitting, holding my baby girl on the couch, silent, with her eyes closed, and with tiny Katherine held to her face, just breathing her in, and I hold that moment in my heart and if ever anything on this earth could persuade me to take my babies and bring them back to this family that loves them so, it is nothing more than that moment, that instant,  that passsing glimpse I think of almost every day.

Two years ago we were in the U.P. for a week when the same sister in law got married, and even though it was cold as all get out, we headed out to the lake, and while Eli waded in up to his waist in the bone freezing cold water I stood on the store and I found a heart shaped rock amidst all the other ordinary round ones, and I carried it home with me that day and it sits on my bedside table and it seems like somehow this would be the perfect time to spin a metaphor about a piece of my heart here and a piece of my heart there but it’s neither that simple nor that complicated, somehow.  In the end it’s really just a rock, a rock I got from a lake, a lake that’s nowhere near as big as the ocean, a rock I’ll take with me everywhere for the rest of my life, a rock that I count among the few things I treasure most on this earth.



19 Responses

  1. I know exactly what you mean – my in-laws are not the pushy kind, but oh, how I know everyone would die of happiness if we moved back to Utah. Bart goes back and forth about it, although the longer we are away, the less urge to go back he seems to feel. What does Mr. E think about Michigan?

    And I felt that same sort of “NOT BELONGING” in Boston. It was a fun town, but it wasn’t MY kind of town. It was so obvious to me, every day, that this wasn’t where I wanted to be. Coming back to Austin, a city I didn’t see until I was 20 years old, was like coming home. It still feels like home to me.

    Also, I’m betting you don’t even get a Gap employee discount with the Podunk University job.

  2. I grew up seeing grandparents and cousins once a year, and when we had Kalena, we were living in Texas, states away from any immediate family, so I assumed my kids would have the same experience.

    Life is funny though. We’re now back in the town I grew up in, a place I said I never wanted to live again. We see my parents like 3 times a week (or more) and my kids see their cousins pretty regularly. And as surprising as it is to me, I’m happy to be here.

  3. I thought this story was beautiful when you told it today and now that you’ve written it, this way, with these details, I think it’s even more beautiful.

    I’ve never lived more than 30 minutes from my mom and dad, so I couldn’t imagine being far away, but I do know that living in the suburbs, despite being close to them, felt choking and sad and that Midtown, in my tiny dilapidated apartment feels like hoe more than anywhere else. And that’s an amazing feeling.

  4. Michigan is a very nice place to live. Or to have a rock from.

  5. this was really beautiful Elizabeth…really. I totally get it.

  6. You live in your dream state while treasuring things and people who live elsewhere and I live in a state with things and people I treasure while my heart feels like it will always long for someplace else.

    You never really win, this much I know.

    You do your best, you make a helluva lot of sacrifices either way you choose and you pick up heart-shaped rocks where you can find them.

    I wonder when/if we’ll ever go. I wonder when/if we do, if we’ll regret it.

  7. I felt the same kind of not-quite-home feeling when we moved to California from the Midwest. I was always just a tiny bit culturally out of sync. I get it. I really do.

    But, if you ever decide to move closer to Michigan, say to OHIO, I can totally show your our suburb with crown molding houses and a walkable down town (including a farmers market and two ice cream stores). If you ever want to move to the Midwest, I can show your our little Pleasantville and we could totally be neighbors. After a few neighborhood pub nights, it might not seem so bad.

  8. Oh, I so very much understand this! We are in mid-west with the inlaws and cousins and big family gatherings and even close to my dear dear brother, but my roots are in CA and I miss it SO VERY MUCH. (that req’d me to delurk but it was time)

  9. Going into my seer mode: To me, the heart shaped rock is a symbol of what your post says–that you’d be willing if your heart’s needs could be met.

  10. It is so very, very hard to find a place that truly feels like home. My heart is in Portland, where I also grew up, as is my family and adoring relatives including grandparents and cousins who would love to get their hands on my kids.

    However. The jobs are in NY (YUCK) and so NY/NJ is where we are. I also know that no place is perfect and that the grass truly is often greener. So I try to remember that on the days that I pine for micro brews and rainy Sunday afternoons and thrift stores and breakfast places worth standing outside in the damp cold for. Also, the Portland of my mind doesn’t really exist anymore (or I’m not the same person and wouldn’t live that life).

    But boy, would those grandparents love to have us around (and we them).

    Sorry. Ramble. I just get it.

  11. CA is so expensive. I think about it all the time – how much more we could get somewhere else. How paying rent or buying a house wouldn’t take up so much of our income. Unlike you, our family is here, so that makes me want to stay. But then we have a great weekend – like this past one – where we’re at the beach both days and it’s so beautiful… I think that all the expense and LA crap is totally worth it. This is my home too. But I know what it’s like to wonder… and like you, I don’t have an answer.

  12. I’m an Army brat who moved every 2-4 years growing up, so the idea of “home” has always been very elusive to me. Ultimately, we spent the most time living in Germany (8 years total), so in a lot of ways “home” to me is still grey skies, soft rain, the faint smell of manure passing in strong winds, the taste of kinder eggs, and long hikes to reach fortified castles that touch the sky. Will I ever have those things again? No. Not really. Not like I did as a girl. I’ll always long for them in a way I can’t describe, but I’ve chosen to build “home” where I can… with my husband in our little townhouse in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It’s no Germany, don’t get me wrong, but if I’ve learned anything through my faith and in my time getting an M.A. in Counseling, it’s that happiness can be chosen. It takes concerted effort, but the power is in my hands to be happy.

    It sounds like you won’t have perfection either way, and that’s fine because perfection isn’t really what this life is about. It’s just a matter of what’s available, and then what’s more important to you. I can tell you that one of my few regrets in life is that I never got to live near my (very large) extended family as a child. I think I missed out on a lot there, and I’ve always felt like a little bit of an outsider because of it. On the other hand, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Or so my Georgia-raised mother-in-law tells me. 🙂

  13. This piece really rang a bell, although I am kind of in the opposite situation–I hate where we live and want to move home. We are renting an apartment above my inlaws because this is where my husband’s very good job is located, but I absolutely cannot stand the area in which we live, nor can we even remotely afford to buy a house here. I actually really love my inlaws, and I am waging a campaign to get them to move back to south Jersey with us. I have decided that while I will put up with this place, we are not staying here forever, or even for more than another five years. I am saving my pennies so my husband can take a lower paying job back home.

    • Not to intrude, but South Jersey is also my home, and I totally get it. I don’t care how many jokes Jersey is the butt off, I’m a Jersey girl through and through. I also love how you specified South Jersey, because North Jersey is practically a different state!

  14. I so totally get this. I mean I get this, in a reading this post on an iphone at a superbowl party and end up randomly crying and having to go in the other room kind of way 🙂 My sisters and I are split apart and the part of this that hit especially close to home was when you were describing your sister in law with Katherine. Oh man, I beg my two sisters to come back home all the time, but now that they have kids it breaks my heart even more.
    This post was so beautifully written, especially the last two paragraphs, they really hit home!

  15. This post gave me goosebumps…

  16. I’m in the camp where I live somewhere I hate because my husband has a job that (supposedly) will give him a pension if he works there for five more years and gets vested. And I hear “five more years,” and it feels like a sentence. And I miss my family, three hours away. And I feel like they are missing so, so many moments of my infant son’s life, and that breaks my heart.

    And perhaps the most cruel part of it all? That if a fairy godmother came down right now and asked “Where would you like to go?” I honestly wouldn’t know. I miss my family like crazy, but the suburbs of Chicago never felt like home. So where do I belong?

  17. Tears.

  18. I commented on this post when you first posted it, and loved it so much that I added it to my favorites. I just reread it again tonight and immediately cried when I got to the end of it. I just wanted to tell you that you summed up my feelings so beautifully and eloquently in ways that I could never do. Thank you for that. You have such a beautiful way with words and have REAL talent when it comes to things that are close to your heart, it seems.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: