Last night, Roy and I were forced to dine out. The fridge had been emptied of anything truly perishable in preparation for a week or so away, which meant that the only things in the house to eat were 1) an ancient frozen pizza, aka, the Iron Rations; 2) fifty different kinds of condiments; and 3) a six pack of beer. The Iron Rations require a higher degree of desperation than we could summon. Also, we have an amazing corner Italian joint, and Thursday is Lasagna Night. By the time we started for dinner, we’d had a combined seven hours of sleep between the two of us in the last 36 hours, not between the two of us. Most of that accrued to Roy, who can sleep on planes, and not to me, because I can’t. Taking a red-eye flight is a terrible thing for someone who can’t sleep on a plane. So, in the last thirty-six (36) hours, Roy had 5 hours of sleep, all on planes, and I’d had 2, in a nap that I forced myself to get up from mid-afternoon. In the words of Charles Dickins, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”
Between unpacking from the trip and going to dinner, I slid in a brief visit to The Wonder Horse. I hadn’t seen him for nine days, I cheated on him by taking a trail ride in California, and I was missing him lots.
Here is the conversation I wanted to have with him:
Me: Huey! I missed you!
Huey: I missed you too!
<various other Heartfelt Statements of Deep and Powerful emotional bonding>
Here is the conversation we actually had:
Me: Huey! I missed you!
Huey: Where’s my treat?
Me: Let me give you a horse kiss!
Huey: Where’s my treat?
Me: I want to rub your muzzle and have a fond exchange!
Huey: I want you to give me a treat.
So there we are, Roy and I, in the corner Italian joint getting ready for a Carb Fest, and who should show up but the Bad Idea Bears.
I know that it looks from that clip like the Bad Idea Bears are fictional entities, but I promise you, they are real. They show up at my house all the time. I used to think that the Bad Idea Bears only showed up for kids, and that as I gained Life Experience, they’d show up less frequently. They might, but in general, all that has happened from all that Life Experience is that they show up with a different kind of Bad Ideas. Used to be they’d show up with Bad Ideas like “Hey! You can ride your bike with no hands! Awesome!! I bet you could ride your bike with your feet up on the handlebars to steer it!” Later, they”d show up with Bad Ideas like “We’re having so much fun! You should have another shot of tequila!” Now they show up with Bad Ideas like “Everyone is so exhausted from the trip! Let’s have a really deep meaningful conversation about important topics! Right now!”
That’s the one they showed up with last night. Thank heavens, Roy and I are still crazy about each other even after more than ten years together, because if we were even a little bit marginal, the Bad Idea Bears would have said “Everyone is so exhausted from the trip! Now would be a perfect time to talk about the relationship!” and then there would have been tears and a divorce. That’s not the case, though, and for that, I am deeply grateful.
So instead, we had a deep meaningful conversation that started like this.
Me: I have to talk to you about something important.
Roy (assembling a slightly wary look): What?
Me: The kids don’t love me. Huey only wants to interact with me because I might give him a treat, and Buster Kitty is acting out with hostility because we’ve been gone. He’s been attacking my feet with his claws out.
Roy: The kids do, too, love you.
Me: No, they don’t. I love them, but they don’t love me back.
Roy had the same air that a person who has just dropped their car keys into a leech-invested murky pond at midnight gets when they start wading in to find the keys. He wasn’t sure why I was telling him these things, because he’d only had five (5) hours of sleep in the last thirty-six (36). I told him it was because of all his Life Experience as a Parent. I felt certain that this suspicion that one’s children see one only as a vending machine of material goods is one that many parents must have encountered, and wanted some advice on navigating it.
This, fortunately, satisfied the Bad Idea Bears, who took their reign of error elsewhere. But as long as we in deep, meaningful conversation mode, I couldn’t just leave the parenting issue there and move on to something more appropriate, like a discussion of Derek Jeter’s latest injury and the state of the Yankee’s shortstop position. So I moved on to a topic that had actually been on my mind for a while. The topic of “belonging” and belonging-ness.
This was all driven by the recent trip to Northern California, or as William Gibson called it, NoCal. On paper, NoCal should fit me like a glove. I love the climate, which offers cool summers and easy access to very skiable terrain in the winter. It has lots of scenic, navigable riverways, perfect for kayaking. It has beautiful hiking. It has what I’d argue is the best dining in the nation, based on the intelligent use of superb ingredients given minimal processing. It has loads of small, quaint, artsy villages that are perfect for exploring. It has a progressive, educated populace. It has all of those fabulous wineries and more than a few fantastic microbreweries. It has scenic roads and while they aren’t safe for bicycling, being narrow, winding, and hilly, it has loads of cyclists anyway, so people drive carefully. It has mountains and sea, both of which I love. It has fantastic wildlife. On paper, I should be completely and impossibly smitten with NoCal.
The reality is, though, that I enjoy the area and its amenities, it doesn’t quite fit me for some reason. I don’t belong there. I’m not sure why not. I belong in Texas, although with the current state of affairs there, that belongingness feels like wearing a pair of old, battered, comfortable hiking boots but having sand in the socks. It makes sense that I belong in Texas, because that’s pretty much where I’m from. I also kind of belong in the South, but not as much as I belong in Texas.
Oddly, I also seem to belong in Maine. The way Maine fits me is like the way a pair of favorite loafers fits a person…the kind of loafer that slides on and off your foot like it’s been greased, the kind of loafer where the leather is blown out a little to accommodate a bunion, the kind of loafer where the sole is worn enough to roll right along with a pronating foot but the tread is still in great condition. I belong in Maine the way my foot belongs in my ten-year-old Sperry Top-Siders. I don’t understand this at all. Maine is – literally – as far from Texas as you can get and still be in the continental US. The landscape couldn’t be more different. The people are not what I’m used to from home. On paper, it should be an uncomfortable and unfamiliar milieu, yet nothing could be further from the truth. I recognized it the first time I set foot in the region: Maine, particularly the ocean-y bits, is some sort of Spiritual Home to me.
And yet, California was not. The people were absolutely lovely, everything was fantastic, I had a blast…but it felt like sliding my feet into someone else’s ten-year-old Sperry Topsiders. Right size, but blown out and worn in all the wrong spots for my foot.
So Roy and I had an utterly sleep-deprived, exhausted, jet-lagged deep and meaningful conversation about all of this, which (predictably) came to absolutely nothing. I don’t know any more about belongingness, what drives it, why I feel that I belong some places and not others, what it is that makes me feel immediately at home in an environment versus making me feel welcome, but not at home. I still don’t understand, and wonder if I ever will.
And Huey? Probably he loves me for something other than just the possibility of a treat. Probably this will all be clear once the haze from the jet lag blows away. Probably.