Sometimes the only clarity you get occurs at 35,000 feet. Over patchwork corn fields and roadways carved through pine forests somewhere in Pennsylvania. When state lines are indistinguishable and you believe every big river you cross is the Mississippi. It’s during these moments when wedged between the window and an armrest that I actually consider where I am going.
I am not sure what it is about 3,000 miles and an additional 35,000 feet that makes it an appropriate time to reflect on your life. While I know exactly where I’m coming from, what is it that I am rushing towards at 600 mph? It’s usually after the first beverage cart rolls by that I begin considering whether I am on the right path. And not just the destination stamped on my ticket. But somewhere between New York state and Michigan I ponder whether I am really getting anywhere in the end.
I moved to California nearly 5 years ago for a change. I was nearing a breakdown living in Boston – a city I loved so much – and loved so much I had to leave it before I stopped. So I accepted a last minute job offer in the Bay Area, wrote the biggest I’m sorry letter to a newspaper in New Hampshire, and bought a ticket to a city I had never visited. And that feels like a lifetime ago.
In my past life I found love. Or something that resembled it. It was a life I enjoyed. But looking back, a life that I can’t believe was ever mine.
That life recently appeared uninvited and unannounced at my door two weeks ago. It showed up in severe capital letters in my mailbox and email. Told me I will always be its niece’s favorite and confessed it lacked good judgment when it left me. I’m grateful I already had my ticket booked to go home when my past life came back to visit.
It’s funny how it takes returning home – or at least the place where your mom lives – to remind you of where you’ve been, how far you’ve come, and much farther still you have to go. I come from a family that grows tomatoes. A family that mows its own lawns and each others when the day comes when they no longer can. A family of firm handshakes, grandmothers that know more about baseball and faith than anyone I’ve ever met, and an affection for lost souls. And whiskey.
I barely talked about my past life with my mom. I just sat on our back porch and drank good wine, watched Sox games on the local channels, played with the dog, and went on long runs by the Merrimack River. I considered – ever so briefly – getting my PhD in something, becoming a mediocre academic, and moving to Vermont to become a second rate lecturer at a small college where I run between classes.
After visiting the old people in my life I boarded a plane, ate my last Dunkin Donut, and looked out the window at New England towns I’ve never visited, towns I wouldn’t recognize even if I had, and felt that another change is about to happen. And this time I don’t feel the need to pack up and move to another time zone to experience it. Just maybe across the city.
I didn’t recall ever seeing the wind turbines we passed over on the flight back to San Francisco. I don’t think they were there when I first flew to the West Coast. The landscape is changing, and I am too. While I do not quite understand why this flight was different from those I made in my past life, I do know that I am finally getting somewhere. And I am returning to a city of new friends and old. A city that at least for now, I am happy to return to after exploring roadways and towns unknown.