Long, long ago, back when I first started keeping the Cabinet, I wrote a long post about loneliness and solitude, among whose many laments was that I missed being the girl in love songs. Thinking back on it now, I realize that I have not even been on a date, not a real one, since the earliest months of the Cabinet. There have been situations that felt deeply ambiguous to me but turned out to be utterly straightforward to the other person in the situation; those situations seemed to recur with frustrating frequency for several years, and not even with just one person. But since I knocked off my fruitless crush habit about five years ago, it's been me and myself, unambiguously moving and moving and moving pretty incessantly, with the help of my friends who are unambiguously my friends. There are times where people who have known me for years literally have no idea where I am--even on what continent I'm living. This situation has come to be something like my normal.
For the first time in a very long time, in the past six months or so, I've started to glimpse what it might look like not to want to be on the run all the time, what it might look like to wish I were in one place with a particular other person, getting to know him. To wish I were in one place with a particular person so that I might get to know him.
I took a long drive this weekend--three hours west, over and through the Rockies, from the 5400-foot elevation to which I've become accustomed up to the Eisenhower Tunnel which is at 11100 feet and then back down again to 5700 feet at my destination. A drive like that, right up and into the sublime, up and up into lightheadedness and huge thirst and dazzling sun and icefalls and warnings about rocks and wildlife on roads, affords a kind of wild thinking, a thinning and stripping off of layers, a chance at seeing at least some things more clearly. What I could see this weekend--infinitely more on my way home than on my way out--was just how guarded I've become, how habitual my performance of self-containment and self-contentedness is now. One of my friends once told me her secret to coexisting socially in a place where she deeply did not want to be: I'm personable, she told me, but I'm not personal. Personable but not personal. I think I've been living most of my relationships that way for longer than I can even remember now.
But fissures in this shell--or perhaps the invitations to fissure my shell--have been showing up, in interesting ways. I have a friend who makes mix CDs for me. The first one was a surprise; I'd been warned that the mix was coming, but when it finally showed up, it had been left for me with no note. And the mix itself was surprising, moving from a first, jokey (but appropriate) track to an almost bewildering array of excellent things I loved and was genuinely moved by. A few weeks later, he had to ask me to make him a mix in return, something that hadn't occurred to me to do. A few weeks after that, I had another mix from him. It's turned into a kind of musical conversation, complete with in-jokes and unspoken challenges and responses to those challenges. Can you put together a whole set of songs that I've never heard of? Can you find unfamiliar covers of beloved songs from my childhood? Can you strike a particular tone and shape it with 22 songs? If I put a particular song in a particular place on my CD, will you respond in kind? If I give you two CDs with a 3 and a 7 on them, will you get that they're because you're turning 37? If I give you two CDs and one has nineteen tracks and the other has twelve, will you get that it's because you're turning 31?
The thing that has surprised me about all of the CDs, and the conversation we've had through them, is how much they have come to feel like a training ground for my locked-down heart--like an invitation to trust someone else with a story about how my heart has come to be this way, and what it's feeling and wanting, and like an invitation to feel more curious, more searching, about what's actually going on in other people's hearts (not just what I wish were going on there). It's entirely appropriate that the first one reached me on the very day when I found out that someone I've long thought was fascinating was in love with someone else altogether, a person far, far away, which meant that I had been misreading a lot of things about our relationship through the filter of my own fascination and interest. That first CD, then, arrived as a kind of reminder--an inadvertent one, too, since that other situation was resolving itself as completely out of view as it could possibly have been--that there's never just one person about whom to care, and that there's never just one way to care for another person, and that people are never as simple as they seem, and that, plain and simple, I am visible to and cared for by others in ways that I have no idea about. The first CD was part of what helped me feel less disappointed about than interested in what I'd just learned about the person who had fascinated me (and who continued to interest me, but in a richer, more open way, once I knew more about where his own fascinations lay).
I listened to a couple of this friend's mixes during my long drive this weekend, but mostly I listened to a massive playlist I made one night during my drive out here in February and called Road Love. The thing that's most surprised me about the songs I've continued to add to that playlist over the past few months is that they're zeroing in not just on love (though Could you be loved / and be loved? is one of my favorite lyrics right now) but on home. Home, let me come home / home is wherever I'm with you. I'm gonna make this place your home. Home / is where I want to be / pick me up and turn me round. They're all songs that intertwine home and love--as how could they not? What is a home without love?
I had a long conversation the other night that centered on the difficulty of not knowing where one's home is, or where one would want it to be, or what even makes it possible to ask where home is or might be. For me, it's partly become a question of where my heart wants to be--of finding a geography where my heart feels at home--especially now that I'm feeling so acutely the many, many ways I've locked that heart's desires down, especially in the past decade. What went unspoken on my side of the conversation--because the story wasn't called for, but also because its resonance is only hitting me fully now, as I write--is that I left the last place I felt deeply, contentedly, sustainedly at home in the same week that I was left by the last person I had a romantic relationship with. I think I've told that story here before--how, mere days after I'd turned in my dissertation and left my beloved home of six years and moved my things to another city, I found myself being broken up with by the person I still loved desperately. I recovered, in a manner of speaking, quickly--because I had to in order to do my new job. But I also started a habit (or perhaps just strengthened one I already had) of recovering without doing any actual healing--of covering over my hurts and moving relentlessly forward. Do that enough times, and you end up with a heart that will offer love and care whenever it can (which is not as often as it could if not hurt) but has a genuinely hard time making itself available to receive love and care--to such an extent that it largely stops showing up at all, or shows up only in the most tightly constrained and guarded and thus failure-doomed and damaging ways.
Well. I'm starting to feel a need to show up again, to take my friend's mix CDs' invitations and start believing again that I could be the girl in the love songs, that it's all right to want to be the girl in the love songs. And that no love song that's been written yet will have captured what it will actually be like to be that girl again, should such a thing come to pass, because if it comes to pass, it won't be according to anyone else's song. It will be our own song, our own making, and it will be a song about love, and it will be a song about home.
A book I've just started reading catches at some of what I'm trying to get at here:
It seems to me that the greatest adventure is to find a home in the world, particularly in the natural world, to earn a sense of belonging deeply to a place and to feel the deep response well up within you and become a part of you. When it is done, it can't be lost: the knowledge is as acute and sure as falling in love.... We took up residence, not by imposing ourselves on this place, but by giving ourselves over to it and learning what was truly ours. (Cynthia Huntington, The Salt House, xiv)
What I'm missing isn't just a home place, and it isn't just a particular person, whether or not I've already met him. It's that sense of belonging deeply, of feeling a resonance and letting go into its depth, of being open to it and trusting it. Right now there is precisely one place in my life where I experience anything like this kind of deep, settling feeling, and I suspect it's no coincidence at all that the particular person I'm thinking about tonight has that place in common with me.
In between my drive westward and my return eastward this weekend, I had a chance to play in madcap fashion with the three-year-old child of a new acquaintance (not the person I'd travelled to see, but someone I met because of him). We laughed and laughed and laughed as we threw a hollow blue ball back and forth to each other, and every once in awhile, she would fold over on herself and laugh even harder, and then say gleefully and a bit breathlessly, "We are silly girls." We took a break to have dinner, and then another to have dessert, and both times she said to me quite earnestly and wide-eyed, "When we're finished, we will play again. And we will be silly laughing girls." As indeed we did, and were, catching and running and laughing and dancing and laughing some more.
When it's time, I will play again. And I will be a silly laughing girl.
(I come back to this after a few hours away and think, "But on the other hand, this wandering life and its vast solitude has turned out to be so exceptionally interesting and genuinely fun so much of the time." Which is to say: it is always time, and I am always playing. But sometimes, I want someone else to be there when I double up on myself laughing breathlessly. Sometimes, I want someone else to say, "Yes indeed," when I say, "Do you want to play again? Shall we be silly and laughing?" Sometimes, I want someone else there with me in my serious joy. It's still going to be okay--more than okay--if it continues to be me and myself travelling around. I know what's up, and I get myself around, and it may well be that as I continue bringing my guard down, I will find and keep my sense of belonging in solitude. But I think that it would also be okay--more than okay--to have someone to love and be loved by unguardedly while we travel, and maybe even when we root.)