Lost and Found

What a close call.

Recently, a dream of ours, my husband’s and mine, nearly came true. Yet the closer it came to being, the more I realized how much I didn’t want it. In fact, in losing what I thought I wanted, I found something I didn’t know I was missing. I discovered what it means to call a place home.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For years, My husband and I have talked of moving to Asheville. The weather would be cooler there, a major plus to my Boston-born-husband-in-exile. The scene would be “crunchier.” We believed we would drive less. And hike more. Somehow there, we’d find time to browse funky art galleries, to linger in cozy coffee shops. We saw ourselves settled in a quaint bungalow clinging to the side of a mountain.

So he did. And the firm wanted to interview him. He drove west to spend the day. And he thought the visit went well. But over the weeks of back and forth, I realized, with a growing sense of panic, something nearly sacrilegious in our household. I didn’t want to go.

It wasn’t that Asheville had fallen from grace. Or that I was reluctant to take on the task of moving four people, one of them a cranky infant (though that was surely part of my panic). It was something deeper. Something unexpected.

Durham, somehow, without my knowing it, had become the place I wanted to be. The place I wanted to stay. In the six years since we landed here, somewhat on a whim, this quirky, troubled city had ceased to be a stopover and had become our destination.

Let it be known that I love our 55-year-old brick cottage perched high on a grassy hill. Our garden filled with cucumbers, eggplants and tomatoes. The neighbors. Our church. And of course our dear friends.

But I’ve moved enough times to know there’ll always be a comfy house, an abundant garden, a welcoming church and friends enough to go around. No, this inner bubbling was more than mover’s remorse.

Durham, I realized, was no longer just a series of streets, a collection of buildings, a stable of memories. Over time, through the simple act of day-in and day-out living, she had become a friend, an influence, a major player in who I had come to be.
Then it struck me. That’s what home is. A place so interwoven with who you are that leaving rips a hole in your life’s fabric.

I grew up in Winston-Salem. We lived in the same house, on the same street, with pretty much the same neighbors, from the time I was two until I left for college. Back then, home seemed stifling. I couldn’t wait to get away.

But after a decade of nearly constant moves, I had forgotten what it was like to stay in a place so long that I had grown with it and it with me.

Durham has seen me through my college days (at UNC), my newlywed days (I moved back a month before getting married), my reporting days (I worked as a Durham-based features writer for The News & Observer for the better part of four years). Durham is where I was baptized as an adult. The City of Medicine has hosted dozens of prenatal midwives’ visits and delivered both of my children.

As I struggled to find my footing as a new mother, Durham showed the way to my growing baby and me. I would be a different person had I not haunted these playgrounds and libraries and museums over the past few years.

I’m now entering a new phase: Mother of Two. And I don’t want Durham to miss it. I also don’t know what I would do without her amazing ability to keep catching me as I stumble onto new pages of my life.

All water under the bridge, as it turns out. My husband didn’t get the job. We still don’t know why. Could they sense our reluctance to go? Did they feel sorry about taking us from a place where we have made such a happy home?

Of course, someday we probably will leave. The timing will be better. The job will be offered. My husband will start to feel restless even while I’m feeling rooted.

But at least this little scare has taught me something I might not have learned until it was too late to appreciate. I now know that Durham will always hold a special place in my heart. It will be one of the few places I’ll call home.

This essay first appeared in INDY Week, Durham, N.C.’s alternative weekly, in November 2004.