I often re-visit favorite books, reading them in their entirety or just special sections. It’s remarkable the way literature finds unique relevance for me as I age. It’s why my tradition encourages the reading of weekly Torah portions and hosting a Seder in the spring to re-tell the Passover story. Texts are static, and our evolving response to them can be considered a barometer of growth and maturity, accumulated life experience.
Over the past several weeks, however, I’ve experienced a somewhat uncomfortable, inverse phenomenon… with place. Unlike pages of text, the physical world changes from day to day — even, from second to second. But while on tour with THE NINE, I’ve been revisiting places from my past, and I’m not experiencing them with fresh eyes, but through the lens of a younger me. Flooded with memory, as if blind to the changes in the landscape, I revert to a prior version of myself with emotions I’ve claimed to have left behind.
I traveled to Newport Beach, CA, where I lived for four years of high school. After I left for college in Massachusetts, my parents moved to Texas and so, Newport Beach became a distant container of teenage experience. I idealized the place over the years, my high school career becoming legend, almost a dream. As my adult life became rooted on the east coast, there was little time nor reason to return. My two best friends from had transplanted to the bay area, so a visit to California meant heading north.
So last week in Newport Beach felt like opening an emotional time-capsule.
Despite the enormous amount of construction and development over the past thirty-five years, I was constantly reminded of my seventeen-year-old self: a strange mixture of oblivion, rebellion, and uncertainty. As I drove down the PCH, crossing a bridge where I remember stalling out my mother’s car as she was teaching me to drive, driving by the site of our old house, and tracing my old route to school, I was forced back into the mindset of a girl. A girl who hadn’t yet lost her mother, who had no idea of the changes to come, what it would be like to turn fifty, to have children who would leave home.
Two weeks later, standing at an American Airlines baggage carousel at DFW airport, a similar grip took hold and I was in a college sweatshirt, home on winter break, waiting for my luggage, the greatly anticipated homecoming with my parents lacking something, already strained. And even though I was still naive to the massive changes ahead, some knowing had begun. We didn’t talk about it, but my mother’s piercing decline was foremost in my thoughts. I couldn’t have put words to it, but I sensed my family’s ultimate rupture coming my skin.
I waited for my suitcase and a box of books to be unloaded from the aircraft with such a tugging at my heart that I had to put my sunglasses on.
Next week I’ll be visiting Cincinnati, the place my husband and I began our marriage and where I gave birth to our eldest. Happy memories for sure, but really, I’d been only a slightly older version of that girl. A girl who had white-knuckled control of her life and held on to the belief that hard work would solve everything. I’m not sure what will meet me when I land, but I’m prepared for another brand of blind optimism.
I don’t often write about domestic travel, what might be considered “business trips,” but they have resulted in as much self-reflection these past weeks as traveling to a foreign land. Plus, my experiences have proved the writerly hypothesis that setting truly does inform character. I’ve always known that place has a significant impact on my psyche, that I respond viscerally to a horizon of ocean or the white capped mountains, but these weeks on tour have brought to light another facet of my relationship to place — and to the places that made me.