Thursday, April 9, 2015

Finding Home: Other Voices

Today author Tess Thompson shares her story of finding home and what it means to her. Enjoy!

Wild and Unruly
I said I wanna touch the earth
I wanna break it in my hands
I wanna grow something wild and unruly”
            Dixie Chicks, “Cowboy Take Me Away”
I am a child. Where I live we worship the moon and stars, the green river that meanders through the mountains, trees that rustle in the breeze, and the sweet scent of flowers. We know the difference between pines and cedars and firs and that lighter green needles indicate the year’s growth. Stargazers, buttercups, and rhododendrons grow wild alongside country roads and their dabs of color are deemed a small miracle. During springtime we celebrate the blooming lilacs and Dogwood trees and the first morning of the year we wake to the sound of chirping birds. In the valley where our town dwells, humble and haggard, boasting of one stoplight and a Dairy Queen, we know one another by name. We’re polite to adults because they are our friend’s parent, or our teacher, or our neighbor that grows tomatoes so juicy we eat them warm from the garden like apples as juice runs down our chins, or the librarian who always knows just the right book to send us home with. We love because we’re loved.

We run in packs of young people. I have my pack. They’re like home. We were birthed from the earth and the expansive sky. We’re daughters of schoolteachers and hippies and furniture makers. Smart girls. Readers. Students. Nice girls, except for our wild and unruly hearts that yearn for adventure and love and cannot to be tamed. On August afternoons, my last August, we gather at the river and swim deep, down to the rocks that host a crawfish, and when we emerge the sun dries our skin and the backs of our legs turn pink from the hot rocks that jut out of the water as our feet dangle into the cool green. If we’re still, minnows will nibble our toes under a sky so blue its beauty almost hurts. When night comes we spend hours looking up because the stars seem close enough to touch. And there are falling stars in August. Everywhere. We wait but a moment before one darts across the sky, and then another, and another. Under us, the rocks are still warm from the sun.  

We are young and full of dreams. My heart is big and pulses with love for these friends that are my home and for the dry air that brings the smell of the flowers no one can name and for the community that keeps watch over their young. But the air whispers of change; I cannot hear it just then. I am a star shooting across the sky. Nothing can deter me from this hope, this anticipation for my life to come. It is the last time I am ever young.

Our gaggle of girls scattered like the seeds of our beloved flowers to all ends of the earth because we had to grow up, had to leave our little Oregon town and make our way in the world. One day I’m watching the ever-changing hue of the mountains and the next I’m in the place where I am to chase dreams instead of stars.

In this new home, the mountains are brown, the sky a hazy orange. At night the sound of helicopters flying overhead never ceases, penetrated only by an occasional gunshot. The sidewalks smell of urine and stale beer. Graffiti mars every building. People hate one another here. They hate one another and they hate the college students that live in their midst. Our privilege must feel like mockery, I imagine, the ugliness of their surroundings like jail. There are no trees, no flowers. Birds do not call to one another. Homes have bars across the windows. There is this foreboding, this just suppressed violence that feels like a room filled with gas just before someone lights a match.

For the first time in my life, I am afraid. I learn to keep my eyes averted, to walk fast, to carry mace. Only when I reach the gates of campus do I breathe easily even though I dare not look behind me. Here, on campus, the lawns are manicured. Old trees and brick buildings. Thirteen libraries. Paths zigzag around the buildings, teeming with privileged college students too young to understand how luck brought us to one place and not the other. Across the street is America’s failure. No one speaks of it, this poverty that brings crime and gangs and fear. No one wants to see it, to take responsibility for it, and so hate grows. Later, after Rodney King, the match is lit and the streets burn. Every building across from our campus will be obliterated when hate explodes.

And yet, in this new place, my new home, I find another gaggle of girlfriends. They’re not from the land of sky and river but of places I know only from the map. We bond because we’re displaced from our homes and because we’re creative with big dreams and because we’re wild and unruly and cannot be tamed. One of us is a Jersey girl that attended a Catholic school for girls and I never tire of hearing stories of the nuns and uniforms and what it was like to study without the distraction of boys. Amazed I do not know, she teaches me how to make a cross over my chest. Another is the daughter of a Marin County doctor – she has a nose ring and tells stories of her boyfriend that plays in a band. The other is a valley girl – not my valley with acres of hayfields, but the California variety where her parents are friends with famous people. Sometimes she drives us all to the beach in her convertible, our big eighties hair blowing in the wind. Often we marvel at the hue of the sky over our campus, trying to give it a name, a color, but are baffled. Other times we drink too much beer at theatre school parties. We share secrets we agree never to tell another soul. We perform in a play where we wear corsets. We cry over boys that do not like us. We grow up a little at a time, together. I learn that I love the smell of the ocean as much as the river. I am no longer a falling star but a wave. I’ve made a new home.

So it goes, all my life. Gaggles of wild and unruly girlfriends that make anyplace I’ve lived a home, despite the color of the sky or the weather or even my changing dreams. Home is where your people are. Home is where love lives. And each time I’ve had to venture further out into the world, seeking a new home or rebuilding the one that crumbled, as I’ve had to do recently, they remain in my wild and unruly heart no matter the miles between us. But I think, too, that my first home of earth and sky - where an entire community loved me - taught me how to love in the deep way I do. Hate is taught. And so is love. I love because I was loved. I love because I’m loved.

Tess Thompson is the bestselling author of romantic suspense, including the River Valley Collection. Her first historical fiction, Duet for Three Hands, was released in the February 2015. She grew up in a small town in southern Oregon before moving to south central Los Angeles to study theatre at the University of Southern California. Currently, she lives in a suburb of Seattle with two cats and two daughters. Visit Tess Inspiration for Ordinary Life.


Unknown said...

Luscious prose, such an engaging post.

arleen said...

Thank you, E.C. Moore. I'm grateful to Tess Thompson for sharing her post with us and to you and others for reading!