Searching for my true home

A ranch on a gravel road in Clinton, N.Y.

I dreamed of New York last night. I was in Ithaca, where I first went to college, and the first place I lived on my own. In my dream, Andrew and I were living there. I was in grad school. Andrew found a great job. It was summer. The sun was shining, but the air was cool. All I can remember from the dream was the downtown square with its cobblestone streets and lots of sunlight. I woke up at 7:40 a.m., surprised to find myself in our apartment. The dream felt so real. I should have been in Ithaca.

What is home? Is it a place or a state of mind? I’ve been in North Carolina for almost 11 years now, and it still doesn’t feel like home. But this is where my community is, my friends who have become family. This is where friends have laid flowers at my doorstep or brought me homemade chicken soup when I was sick.

The day after I found out I miscarried, two of my dearest friends came by just to be with me. I was on the couch wrapped in a blanket and wearing black stretch pants and a hooded sweatshirt. It was February. I hadn’t showered all day. My eyes were still puffy from crying; they felt scratchy. It was a no contacts kind of day.

Miriam brought me Chinese, pork lo mein. My favorite. She always tries to feed me when I’m depressed. She knows how I reject food when I’m grieving. She sat on the couch next to me and just listened. I don’t remember what she said, but I know that she made me feel better. She knows me in a way that not many do. She sees me straight down to my core. That’s home.

My best friend Addy arrived at my door with a tiny square box tied with a bow and containing truffles. She also brought Kleenex, the rectangular size, with blue and white splatters like an abstract painting. It reminded me of my grandma’s house; she always had the larger, rectangular Kleenex boxes. Addison sat with me for hours. She let me cry. She held my hand. Somehow, she managed to make me laugh.We binged on “Barefoot Contessa” episodes and talked about how Ina needs to be friends with us and invite us over for dinner every night. We took a selfie and sent it to my mom in California to show her I was OK. I was in good hands. That’s home right?

The best of friends will sit with you and your grief and see you through your darkest moments.

Maybe home isn’t a place. Maybe home is people, your village, the ones who lift you up in your darkest moments.

But in New York , when I was there last week, it felt like home to me. I miss it. I miss the feeling I had when I was there. It felt familiar. Being with my sister. Sipping white wine from stemless glasses. Giggling together, crying together. Gina is home.

Every day, I drove from my sister’s house in Albany to the Omega Institute outside of Rhinebeck, N.Y. where I was participating in a week-long writing retreat. I never minded the hour and 15 minute drive. It was peaceful. It gave me time to ease into the morning and space to decompress and digest the day on the way home. It gave me time to ponder and time to observe this beautiful land around me. Every day I crossed the Hudson River twice; it was my favorite part of the ride. The Hudson is breathtaking. It’s wider than most rivers I’ve seen and, damn, the light it’s just magical there. Most of my drive consisted of two-lane rural roads that careened through the countryside of fields and ice cream stands and rivers and golden sunlight and wildflowers and mountains and open roads.

On those drives, I felt a longing that I could not explain. It felt like home to me, even though I didn’t live there. Often during that week, I would catch my throat tightening or my eyes welling up with tears as I drove, taking in the landscape and all its beauty. At first I thought it was a side effect from all the intensive, personal writing I did during the day at my retreat. But this was more like a deep sadness, and I realize now, looking back, that what I was feeling was homesick.

One evening, I got to watch the sun set on my drive home. As I turned off the Taconic Parkway and headed north, the sky revealed a beautiful sunset of orange and pink dotted with clouds in various shades of blue. The Catskills looked like giant blue shadows along the horizon. Their presence was a permanent fixture, grounded and unmovable. Now I understand why so many painters have fallen in love with the Hudson Valley. Its beauty made me weep. Why do I feel such a deep connection to this place?

Somewhere along Route 9 in New York. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

I’ve been sad since I’ve been back from New York. Tuesday night at the dinner table, I burst into tears. “I miss my sister,” I told Andrew. I choked on each word as it tried to leave my throat. We had just come from looking at a house to buy. We’ve been unsuccessfully house-hunting since July. That night we toured a split-level with green shutters, tan vinyl siding, white columns holding up the front porch. It’s in a great neighborhood — actually, one of the neighborhoods we want to live in. It’s woodsy, quiet.

As I walked to the front door of the house, I saw a dad teaching his son to ride a bike. Images like that still have the power to break me. Inside, the house was beautiful. But way too much house for just the two of us and our dog. It hit me that night as I cried over my ratatouille that we don’t know what the future holds. Even looking for a house makes me sad. As we walk through each new home, I count bedrooms, I imagine where the nursery will be, if the yard is big enough for a child, if it’s in a good school district. And then I think: “What if there’s no baby in the picture?”

Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be pregnant again. The concept feels so out of reach. It feels impossible, deep down in my gut. This feeling has replaced the hope I’ve been carrying all these months. I don’t know where it went. It just slipped away.

“Your true home is in the here and now,” says Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddist teacher. “Your true home is not an abstract idea; it is something you can touch and live in every moment.” He says home is in your body, in your mind, in your present moment. But what if in the present moment all you’re feeling is anxiety and fear and questioning everything? Then what?

Greensboro was supposed to be a temporary stop. I thought I’d be here for three or five years. But then I bought a house, got married and got divorced all in that order. This was 2010. I wanted to leave North Carolina and go anywhere, live anywhere but here. I wanted to run from the present and start a new life. I could have left then, but my heart already endured so much heartbreak and change that the idea of picking up my life and starting over scared me. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my friends; that would have been another loss too difficult to bear. They had become family. Without them, I wouldn’t have survived my divorce.

And then, Andrew came into my life. I fell in love. He reopened my closed heart and showed me how to trust again. He gave me hope. That was 2011. And now it’s almost 2017, and I still feel like I’m straddling a line – one foot in North Carolina and one foot out.

“Don’t think about leaving,” I told myself the morning I was flying back to Greensboro. I usually start crying much sooner before I get to the airport, like in the shower or while putting on my mascara, my lashes damp with tears. Saying goodbye to any of my sisters is never easy. Last time I left, I cried so much that the TSA agent came up to me in line to make sure I was OK.

Gina and I are partners in crime. The magpies, my dad called us. We’re two years apart. She’s the middle child; I’m the baby. As kids she gave me piggy back rides around the house. I was afraid of jumping onto her back for fear she wouldn’t catch me. (I have control issues.) She’d sit on the edge of the bed and let me crawl onto her back, and at the end of the ride, she’d return me to my bed as promised and let me roll off her back like I was falling backwards into a lake. She’s always looking out for me, even though we’re both adults now. I still need looking after.

Last night I came across an old journal entry from 2006. As I read my own words, I could feel my sadness and desperation. I was lost. “What’s my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing? Why am I here?” I laughed as I read the questions aloud. Ten years later, the questions haven’t changed. Will I always be searching? What is this void that I continue to carry and can’t seem to fill? Has this feeling always been there? Maybe the answers are waiting for me in New York.

Gina and me toasting to my last night in New York. The picture is blurry because we were having so much fun.

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The honeymoon’s over

welcome-to-north-carolina

My wife and I will celebrate our second anniversary next month. We were married in Washington, DC five months before same-sex marriage became legal in our home state of North Carolina. We were tired of waiting and we thought that North Carolina would be one of the last sandbags against the rising tide of gay marriage.

And the Old North State would probably still have been holding hands with Alabama and Mississippi if not for the decision of an “activist” (bite me) judge who ruled on October 10, 2014 that the state’s denial of marriage to same-sex couples was unconstitutional.

2014 was a euphoric year for me and for everyone who supported marriage equality as state after state fell into the “I do” column. I went to more weddings that year than I had since my early post-college days when all of my hetero friends were getting hitched. I remember going to Crate and Barrel what felt like every weekend back then to peruse yet another gift registry. The straights love their pizza stones.

And all of those weddings that I attended two years ago were glorious in their own way, most especially my own.

wedding day

I wanted to marry my wedding day I loved it so much.

I confess that I was cranky (admittedly, not an uncommon state for me) that I had to leave the state that I had lived in and paid taxes in for almost 20 years, the state that my wife was born in, to legally marry the person that I love. That said, we wanted the legal protections and benefits that marriage provided so we had to leave our home to protect our home.

Irony always tastes like metal to me.

So there we were on a sunny late afternoon in spring, standing in front of a minister, a few dear friends and vases of cherry blossoms. It was a wedding that neither of us had ever dared to dream of and it was so far away from the dark nightmare of May 8, 2012 when Amendment One passed with 61% of the vote.

We were surrounded by light and love and I have never felt more affirmed in my life.  And it took 57 years for me to experience that feeling.

Now the state that I live in and pay taxes in has decided to once again legislate discrimination into law in the form of HB2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, making it illegal for cities to expand on state laws regulating among other things, workplace discrimination and minimum wage standards.

sign

Protesters at a rally against HB2 in Raleigh. Photo courtesy of Mary Nations.

The Republican controlled legislature has reverted back to the fear mongering tactics that have served many states well over the past several years – you know, the old “God, guns and gays” strategy that Karl Rove and his cronies executed so efficiently. Just make it about everything but the real issues and scare the hell out of people along the way.

Instead of genuine concerns like health care, poverty and education, make it about going into the opposite sex restrooms to rape and pillage our women and children. Make it about transgender folks because, Lord knows, they haven’t endured enough harm from inane misconceptions. And for good measure, shorthand the bill by calling it “the bathroom bill” to sensationalize the matter and divert the true discriminatory intent.

Well guess what, Governor McCrory? We call bullshit on your bathroom bill.hb2meme

HB2 is unconscionable and it is mean and it is wrong.

And I am pissed off.

For the past 11 years, I worked for an AIDS service organization that provided services to mostly very poor people living with HIV. Their needs were great – housing, food and medical care. They also desperately needed acceptance and affirmation and damned if we weren’t pretty good at providing those things, too.

Stigma is still a huge issue for anyone living with HIV/AIDS and HB2 cultivates stigma against LGBT North Carolinians in disgusting ways by promoting fear and ignorance over understanding and acceptance. And, as these bills always do, it marginalizes the least among us – the ones without money or power or position – the ones who are different.

stigma

Art courtesy of a brave soul living with HIV/AIDS.

It seems as if every hour another business is coming out against HB2 including PayPal which announced yesterday that it would not proceed with a planned expansion in Charlotte, costing North Carolinians 400 good paying jobs.

Maybe money is the only thing that will get the attention of the governor and the legislature but that makes me mad, too. This shouldn’t be about money; this should be about basic human decency, which should never be a partisan issue.

The past few weeks I’ve revisited the words of the late great Harvey Milk, as I often do in times of civil strife. His words have a clarity and timelessness that fortify me.

It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people their freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression. ~Harvey Milk

What’s at stake in North Carolina today goes way beyond party lines. It is time for all North Carolinians to put their principles over their politics and their paychecks.

It is time for all of us to exchange our vows.

“We are not this.”

dante

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain musings

  
The last morning of vacation always makes me sad. I’m never ready to go home. This is how I feel this morning sitting on the back porch, swaying back in forth in the wooden swing on our deck, spending the morning watching the fog and smokey-grey clouds drift and separate across the Blue Ridge Mountains. I want to wake up every morning like this. 
  
We are tucked away in the woods at an elevation of 4,000 feet. To get here we took a series of paved and gravel roads that seemed like they were leading to nowhere. I’ve never been this remote, so removed from the rest of the world. We’ve immersed ourselves in solitude and quiet, the only sounds being the wind moving the leaves of the trees, and the occasional woodpecker that swoops in and taps on a nearby tree. We turned on the television last night for about an hour and even the sound of it irritated me and disrupted my mountain vacation zen. We turned it off to walk down the gravel road to an open field where we watched the sunset.  

I wonder if I could get used to living somewhere like this with the nearest grocery store 45 minutes away. I guess I’d be trading convenience for peace and a spectacular view. It seems worth it to me. Yesterday I picked wildflowers along the side of our road and baked chocolate chip cookies while listening to a Mozart CD I found in the house. These are not things I normally do in my spare time back home. 
  
I’ve had fantasies here of becoming a novelist and spending my days going for walks in the woods and returning to my cabin to write a few pages. How awesome would that be? 

I feel grounded in the mountains; they’ve always had that effect on me. Maybe it’s because they remind me of home and why when I’m in their presence I feel a sense of longing. For what? Peace? Living somewhere that I truly love? Having that connection to place, nature, the land? Perhaps it’s all of those things.