Sunday, July 21, 2013

Home is Where the Heart Is

I think I've talked before about the genuine, if aborted, attempt I made years ago to write a novel about a young woman who had to choose between the man she loved and the place she loved (which, of course was Bozeman, MT - my home town).  I put all kinds of challenges in her path to illustrate how much she loved the man, who was a Houston native.  She lost her best friend and roommate because the roommate had a thing for him, but also because my heroine was engaged to the roommate's cousin.  Of course, there was the inevitable messy, emotional breakup with the fiance.  Bozeman is not a large enough town that these things can happen and it won't hurt your reputation personally and professionally, plus she could no longer go to her favorite restaurant, The Bacchus Pub (a real and very awesome place) because the now-ex-roommate worked there.  So, she had turned her neat, orderly world upside down for this man, whom she loved passionately, but in the end he had to go home to Houston to be with his young son.  And she had to decide whether to follow him to this vastly different and foreign place, or choose the area she also loved passionately, but realize she would be there alone.  And there I got stuck.  I just had no idea what I should have her do.  I was leaning toward having her make the opposite choice from me and having her stay put, but I just wasn't sure - I spent hundreds of pages messing up her life there for one thing, and for another, I assumed that conventional wisdom would tell you most people in American society - a highly mobile civilization - would want her to choose love over geography.  Yet, if you've ever sat out in the forest in the evenings, listening to the sound of the Gallatin River as it rushes along its journey and watching the sun cast its last golden glow over the peaks of the Rockies as deer come down from their daytime hiding places to forage only feet away from you, then you might get a sense of why it would be a difficult choice to voluntarily walk away from it.  And if you've ever laid out in an open meadow once night has fallen and looked up at the sky, simply crowded with stars, then you would probably have told my heroine there was just no way she could ever leave and give all that up for the noise, heat and chaos of Houston where the only stars she'd likely see are the ones on the state flags.

Bozeman (above) v. Houston (below) seemed to be about the most dramatic difference I could put in front of my character

Of course, there's no big surprise why I chose that particular conundrum to wrestle with on the page.  I was told many times in my days in Texas that I should be able to make my peace with wherever I was living and find happiness there.  And I did find a husband there - a native Texan with all his friends and family there.  All my dogs were also native Texans after all - before Ripley that is.  I had - and have - great friends there.  Both my daughters were born there.  Austin in particular does have great charms:  it is home to the most awesome of places to watch movies - Alamo Drafthouse, hosts the largest indoor pow-wow in the country once a year, is home to the famous Barton Springs, is touted as the Live Music Capital of the World with some good reason, and is a liberal bastion in a sea of red, among many other things.  But, as anyone can tell you, I never felt like I fit in.  Granted, I never actually tried.  I wore my other-ness like a badge of honor.  I always dreamed of going "home" and assumed that meant Montana.  I still miss Montana.  Greatly.  But Pittsburgh is my home.  This is where I belong.  Wholly and fully.  It's so far from perfect that it's not even funny, yet in some ways that just makes it more endearing.  It makes it a place worth fighting for.  None of this is new.  I've written about my love affair with this city before.  But this choice is about to be put to the test.  I'm going to have to steel myself (pun somewhat intended) for some challenging days ahead.  I'm going to have to realize that I'm leaving my husband of nearly three decades to handle one of one of the largest, hardest challenges and labors of love he'll ever face without his support system.  I'm going to have to be ready for people to judge me.  I'm going to probably spend some time judging myself.  But yesterday as we drove through the city on our way to my family's annual reunion, I gazed out over the skyline, saw Heinz Field loom up in front of us, looked off and saw PNC Park not far from it, home to the resurgent Pirates, then glanced over to Point State Park and saw the newly refurbished fountain spraying hundreds of feet into the air and knew in my heart that there was no other answer for me:  I belong here now.  I am a part of the city and it is a part of me.  And suddenly and irrevocably I can tell you what my heroine would have done:  she would have stayed put.  Even if it meant she lived the rest of her life alone.  But she wouldn't have resented her lover his choice to go back home to his son.  She would have known that was his place and his duty, just as it was her place to stay where she was.

What am I talking about really here?  Greg has made the hard decision to go back to Texas to be with his brother.  I am staying here.  The difference between us and my long ago fictional couple is that he isn't planning on this being a forever move, but it's couched in years, not months.  And we've got nearly three decades of marriage under our belts.  We're not young lovers in the prime of our days.  And there are some practical reasons for me staying here - we own a house here for one.  I've got elderly dogs who really shouldn't be subjected to a lot of trauma (we took Luke and Cheyenne to get their shots today and that was traumatic enough - moving them back across country would be very hard on the three seniors).  But even without all of that, I have to confess that I realized as I looked out over the city yesterday, I just wouldn't be able to pull up stakes and go without my heart ripping in two.  My heart may be here, but my love will travel back to Texas.

In parting for today, I can you tell you, that no matter what I would have had my character do, I would have had to acknowledge that there is a price to pay for her choice.  And it's not cheap.

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