On Becoming the Place

I’m scaling the Adirondacks during a snow storm going 35 miles an hour in a rented sedan in between home and the place I grew up when I realize that home is no longer the place I grew up- it’s a 2 bedroom apartment in Humboldt Park, Chicago. My knuckles are white from holding on to the steering wheel so hard. I’m tired, calling in a few favors thanks less to belief and more to a Catholic upbringing.

“Just get me back to Boston safely.” I ask the universe. Touching my deceased mother’s necklace around my neck, I ask again.

The only person that can get me off this fucking mountain is me, and I’m crawling.

4 hours later, I’m back in Boston and it’s not nearly as comforting as I remember it to be.

****
There’s this part of 93 that rises above the rest of the highway, giving you this perfect view of Boston right before you head into a tunnel. It is one of my first visits  of my first trip home.  This view used to conjure so many emotions but for some strange reason, I feet nothing. I take a deep breath heading into the horizon, keeping my eyes on the road as I sink below the city. When I come back through the tunnel I will feel overwhelmed with a toxic combination of everything is as I left it, and not.  I will feel the urge to keep driving. I called my roommate telling her I wanted to go back to Chicago, not because I was unhappy, but because my safe place no longer existed.

“Well, Sweetheart,” she said, “the other day it wasn’t here. Where is the safe place, then?”

What is the safe place? Is it the ocean? Your favorite coffee shop? Is it your old bedroom that is now an office at your dad’s house? Is it a friends voice, or the familiarity of a city?

I didn’t know. I did know that driving on 93 south out of Boston I felt very unsafe. Alone in the rental car, on streets and roads I can accurately trace in my dreams I felt so exposed in anxious. Could anyone see the girl in this little white Chevy, regurgitating herself from the inside out.

It’s been a common feeling lately-a state on inundation caused by everything evolving and be being aware of it all. I reckon that meant progress was being made, but did it have to be so uncomfortable? Did I have to feel like an alien in my dad’s house or awkward when I hug a life long friend after not seeing them for months?

Is there not a place on this planet where I can go just be? If Chicago is just as uneasy as Boston, where do I belong then?

****

Hull Gut is a stretch of water in between the tip of Hull, Massachusetts and Peddock’s Island. I would drive to this spot from the moment I could, just to be surrounded by ocean. I’m here this time to scatter half of what I have of my mom’s remaining ashes. A close friend of mine suggested it.

“It’ll be a good time to let things go.” She said.

The wind kicked back as I opened the bag, but I was able to get about half to where the wake touched the rocks. I saw the khaki gray that was once my mother get taken into the water. I stayed until the last bit of dust had vanished.

I felt untied. While I still felt connected to her love, I no longer felt connected to HER. She was gone. Keeping the little bag of ashes meant nothing.

But something else did. Walking back to the car, I realized that I had the ashes for so long because I gave them meaning. Having them meant I still had my mom, even though I had her in other ways, like her necklace I keep or the endless advice I reference daily. I also realized something bigger. I used to think that comfort came from an outside source, that I would have to go to it- search for it high and low, desperately needing something else to feel secure. The thing is, I felt it before, but there wasn’t a go-to for all stages of my life. It changed along with me.

Pulling away from Hull Gut, still one of my favorite places, I discovered if that feeling of comfort and wholeness wasn’t a specific location, maybe it was everywhere. Maybe it traveled with me, as me, and all I had to do to access it was to be unapologetically myself.

I have become the ocean. I have become my dad’s forehead kiss and my mom’s fingers through my hair. I am a medium iced hazelnut coffee extra soy milk extra sugar. I’m Neruda and my electric blankets. I am Boston and Chicago and any place I chose to be. I am a strong as my knuckles on the wheel of a car that doesn’t belong to me and I am strong because I am as vulnerable as the bottle I put down when I was upset over my best friend dying.

I have become the place. I have always been the place.

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