As we drove up to the long-empty house in West Virginia last night, my friend said, "Are you sure you want to do this?" In that moment, I wasn't 100% certain what my honest answer would be. "Are you kidding me? Let's go back this minute!" crossed my mind. But so did, "Yes, of course I'm sure." The most authentic answer hung somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
This morning, now that the hot water is flowing properly, the rooms are warm, the carpets have been vacuumed and I've had a good night's sleep, I calmly sip my coffee and look out the picture window in the den. The same picture window my childhood friend and I ran to pull the drapes to cover the night we practically sat in each other's laps secretly watching The Shining at 2am after my grandparents got HBO. I am drinking gourmet coffee that came from a market in Greensboro that I already miss. Looking out that window, I have a quiet talk with myself. Not the talk I've had with the 73 people who've asked me, "Now why is it that you're going to live in that house in West Virginia, again?" The talk with myself is calmer, less refined than the spiel I've given them. I don't have to give myself the back story I tell my friends. My listening ear doesn't need to hear the setup of how I've always wanted to do something a little solitary and bold. I don't need to be reminded of how my Uber Extroverted Life needs a little kick back toward a more balanced existence, and that something extreme like leaving the town I love just may be the ticket.
The talk I have with myself this morning started with the memories of people who used to use that phrase, "She's finding herself." Those words may have applied to me years ago, but these days I'm feeling more confident than ever that I know exactly who I am. But what is just as clear to me is that although I don't need to find Melody, I sure could use some quiet time with her. In the drizzly, semi-gray light of day this morning, I look out with eyes filled with reality, the shimmer of nostalgia solidly peeled away, and see both beautiful and ugly sights. I want to embrace them all.
A few years ago, someone ran a truck into the corner of the barn that sits up the hill from this house; it needs to come down. I look at this barn and feel sadness that it doesn't throw off the brilliant colors seen in the photo my mom used to have hanging on the wall in our house. I want to blame the guy with the truck. But it's not his fault the barn has aged. The timbers are almost certainly rotting and when I walk up there later today, I'm nearly certain I will find moss growing on some of the surfaces I've only observed from the driveway yesterday and the kitchen window this morning. But ugly as it seems compared to the beautiful structure in my memory, it's beautiful, too. The aged building - no longer really a building as I'd be a fool to try to enter now - has texture and depth and knows stories I'll never know.
I want to carry my camera with me as I explore this property, and find beauty all around me. Even as I stood in the front yard and looked over at the other house, last night, recognizing the presence of disappointment that the view before me was bland and paltry alongside the vividness of my memories, I want to create some new ones. I want to examine these spaces with the eye of an artist. I want to look for light as my photography teacher instructed us. I want to focus in on tiny spaces and surfaces, examining each part of this property in parts rather than the whole, admiring each element for its authentic beauty. I look now at a tree in the neighbor's yard. Nearby is the bold orange and blue of a Little Tykes sliding board that suggests the children I knew as a child now perhaps have their own children. The tree branch I see is amazing to me, the gnarled branches snaking out with jutting angles that remind me of arthritic fingers. The moss on one side reminds me of something I last saw at a state park. I want to embrace more of these sights as I make a space for this phase of my life here. I want to notice everything.
I've always known that I may decide to stay a mere few weeks, just as easily as I may decide to remain for months. The remarkable gift my parents agreed to in allowing me to come here is that I don't have to know the outcome. I don't have to have a fully-formed plan right now, to get what I need from this place. Which is, I'm finding, more than I realized when I first made this plan. Perhaps I place too much pressure on the idea of closure and finality. Maybe the idea that I'll put to rest some of the demons of the tougher times spent in this house is just as romanticized as the vivid greens and browns and reds of my remembered summer visits here. Maybe being here will finally show me that while the place holds the secrets of some of the most formative times in my childhood, it's also just a place. A place for me to be still and work and be. With myself, with my work, with my thoughts. I'm not going to find myself here. Years of living took care of that. But I do want to be with myself here. Without the distractions of my lovely community, often taken for granted, I want to work in this room and learn to do my job much better than I do now. And when I can't sit at the computer one minute longer or I'll go mad, I want to get up and walk around the quiet property and find one more thing and then one more thing after that to draw beauty from.
But not yet. This time I'm only here for a few days. I'm going to travel a bit more, do some photos for an event far from here, go to a few appointments I can't meet from here, and then I'll return here and be. I'm not anxious for that phase to start, because I anticipate enjoying the time that stands between now and then, but this morning I feel my anticipation has the perspective of realism. I'm glad I didn't come here alone the first time. I'm glad I had a friend with me to talk some of this through with. I'm glad I came for a few days, letting myself reacclimate to what IS here rather than what my imagination wanted me to believe WAS here.