For the past several years, I have wanted to move back to the West Coast. I kept telling myself, and other people, that the reason I did not was because my father was here, and he didn’t want me to be so far away. This reasoning became ever stronger when he became sick last March. I will not leave my Dad, I said. But who knows how long that will keep me here?
With the terribly premature passing of my Dad last week (I thought we had years left, maybe decades–they said they’d get him a liver, and they lied), I inherited a bunch of stuff. I am now the proud owner of a house in the middle of a town I’ll never have a desire to live in (and my father knew this–he wanted me to use it as collateral to buy my own home, which I will do). I also own a grey minivan that I’ll probably never use as my own because it’s so old and run down that it only makes sense for a gearhead like my dad to own. I’ve got a half-built hot rod, and a shop full of incredibly cool tools I don’t know how to use (but hopefully will someday), and a cherry red 1953 GMC 630 semi with a white Coke-bottle stripe that’s fully restored. And a decent chunk of change, too, the amount of which I will not specify.
And I have the freedom to go wherever I want to go, without feeling guilty about it, or missing the most important person in my life. Because the most important person in my life is gone.
And I thought about it, too. Years ago, before he got sick, I thought to myself, when he goes, I’ll be able to go wherever I want without getting lectured about being a bad daughter. If only I could bitch slap the face of my old self now. Oh, how stupid I was, and so willing to take for granted that he’d always be there. Sometimes desire can be a truly terrible thing; can make us think of things we should never think of.
Nevertheless, I have the freedom now. I can go wherever I want–New Zealand, Europe, California–and I’ve chosen to go home. Back to the place I came from. I’ve chosen instead of running away to some glorious faroff place to return to the tiny island that spat me out all those years ago.
There are some who think that I’m using my father’s death as an excuse to make a foolish and un-thought-out decision. That I’m going to drop out of school and be absorbed by the island, transformed instantaneously into a lazy, pot-smoking Island-duh, and that I’ll never leave again, never get anything accomplished.
It couldn’t be much farther from the truth.
For the first time since I left home in 1997, when I was 18, I realize what made my parents move there and raise a child in the first place. Although my father later became embittered with the forces that were acting upon our tiny island and left it, he could never say that the magic was completely gone. There is a community aspect of living in so small and isolated a place that’s hard to achieve anywhere else. And not only are the people on the island familiar and isolated, they’re smart (most of them, anyway). And they’re artistic.
I’m not going home to hide out, or to escape my demons. I’m going home in search of something I think I may only find there–solace. I’m going for the trees and the ocean, and the deep dark of the winter night sky. I’m going for friendly games of wine-infused Scrabble, and heaping pots of homemade chili. I’m going for the fresh-baked smell of pastries in coffee shops, and the knowledge that every door I walk through will reveal a face that I know. I’m going for free concerts by local musicians, and dinner parties that happen every week, and people who will band together with or without your consent and throw a benefit concert when your dad dies suddenly and you can’t afford to pay for a memorial service for him.
The things are mine, much as I wish I could trade them in for another day with my Dad. And they, too, mean freedom. Wheels to take me anywhere, if I want to go. A house to live in if I ever need a roof, or a rest. Something to show the bank when I want to buy my own home that I’m good for it. And a little money to help me along the way.
I want to believe that my father would have approved of my decision to move home. I’ve almost convinced myself that he would. What I do know for sure is that he would have believed I had the right to make my own decisions, and that if I’d taken the time to think them out, they were probably the right ones. The only time he ever told me not to move somewhere, my destination was Texas. He told me the whole 8 months that I was there that I had to pack up my duffel bags and get back on the bus and go back the way that I came–and he was right.
I’m not exercising excuses, I’m exercising freedom. And I’m using my freedom to stay nearby, and look for a quiet life instead of adventure. Dad, I hope you understand. Nobody else’s opinion even matters.
I miss you, but if I can’t have you back, I’m grateful for the freedom.