A few days ago, I brought Maeby inside from a morning piddle and found my grandma with her arm around my father singing, “My home’s in Montana, I wear a bandana, my spurs are silver, my pony is grey! When riding the ranges, my luck never changes, oh yippee ki, yippee ki, yippee ki-yay!”
She’s commissioned the entire family to learn it while she stays with us this winter. Recently, we were all indulgently singing along, and my father pulled up a quiet Youtube video of ambulance sirens which could only be heard by Maeby. The sirens prompted Maeby to howl along while the rest of us were Yippee Ki-Yaying. We all giggled happily afterwards, but there was a subtle profundity to the experience too.
My grandmother has some sort of dementia; it’s a good-natured sort of dementia, but she often can’t remember things like the fact that there’s a bathroom on the main level of the house, or that she’s not supposed to feed Maeby people-food. Sometimes she refers to me as the “cute pregnant lady living in the basement” as opposed to Sierra, her granddaughter who used to tangle with her cactus collection and swing on her chainlink fence.
But she remembers, almost relentlessly, that her home’s in Montana even though she’s lived in Alaska, Utah, and Colorado more recently than Montana, even though she hasn’t lived in Montana in probably 60 years.
I’m overturning similar stones as I’ve made the millennial trek back to my parent’s basement in Colorado. I’m back in the hometown that felt so sleepy as a teenager and so large as a child. I’m in my childhood house, but I’ve never been so aware that I’ve never paid the mortgage. It isn’t my home and it is my home at the same time.
I was at Starbucks the other day, filching internet and feeling salty about being at Starbucks instead of some hip coffee pod in midtown. I couldn’t stop the running, derisive commentary about commercialized caffeine and the relative smallness of sprawling suburbia. It didn’t help that The Dogist recently (finally!) went to Riverside Park and featured my old neighbor’s dog and that two of my favorite Bachelor contestants were walking along my portion of the Hudson River today. Instagram-fueled jealousy never improves a bad attitude.
But in between sips of caramel hot chocolate, I begrudgingly looked over to the corner of Starbucks and saw that they had the same communal table they had in 2007. I could picture all of the theater and band kids coexisting– huddled around this table, catching up with our AP reading of Waiting for Godot. It was as though I could brush knuckles with Tyler Gattoni and Paige Delude while we waited for the Godot that would never come. Beckett has never been so hilarious. I had had a cup of caramel hot chocolate next to me then too.
I looked over to the middle region of Starbucks where I pulled a Cady Herron and asked my high school crush to tutor me in ACT math, even though I knew I’d score higher than he would (I did).
And reluctantly, my memory gave way to a snowy evening with Peter Spear at the bass, his jazz trio playing while I huddled in the opposite corner with my yellow satin journal, archiving (in exhaustive detail) my first truly broken heart.
Lately, I feel like I’m in constant negotiation with past and present. New York collides with Colorado. Theater-geek collides with writer, teacher collides with student, teenager collides with child, child collides with mother. The line from one of my favorite poems “Ulysses” comes to mind: “I am a part of all that I have met.” But I can’t figure out if all the things I’ve met line up, or if they stack, or if they blend.
It’s made the search for “home” complex. Which parts of “all that I have met” do I settle down with?
Maybe it’s something that only becomes clear when you’re 85 and have a clarifying sort of dementia—the kind that only lets you remember what (or where) matters most. Maybe you only know home when you’re not in it. Maybe home beckons loudest when it’s not feasible to go back. Or maybe home is all of it lined up, blended, and stacked within you, and roots don’t matter as much as the lessons you’ve learned, the experiences you’ve had, and the people you’ve shared it all with. I’m still in the middle of all these Maybes, hoping one day I’ll know home.