Home is an anchor with its chain wrapped around your waist—you held afloat by a buoy—and the pointy end dropped deep into the ocean. You bob along on the surface, weathering the currents and the storms, suffering the nibbling fish and fearing the truly carnivorous ones, all the while secured by your anchor to your longitude and latitude. The ocean that rushes past is your personal ocean, because you haven’t moved or drifted and your point of view is determined by the heavy thing holding you in place. It feels good, your ocean, you’ve long since acclimated to the temperature, so you wonder why sometimes you find yourself yanking on the chain or gnawing at the iron links until your teeth hurt. Even stranger is when, by some gift of the ocean, your chain does break (affording you the freedom to drift for a little while), you splash around every abandoned buoy you pass thrashing for a new chain to grab onto. But every once in a while, when that chain breaks, you will your body into stillness, and permit the currents to help you disappear across the curve of the horizon.
This urge to disappear has, like the nibbling fish, been pecking at me for several years now. When, in the New England autumns, we would climb Mount Greylock or Mount Camden or Mount Washington, I would suppress this urge to run at full tilt, place my boot on the guardrail, and leap, not to fall through the orange leaves and splatter on the rocks below, but to give myself to the air currents, to be carried someplace apart from myself. Like all of us of a certain age, I have spent many years breaking rocks, with many years to go. If I don’t break the rocks my kids don’t eat or have a roof over their heads or go to college, and so I worry that the rocks I’m breaking are not the right rocks—that they are not big enough or hard enough, that they are not the geodes with the crystal loot inside, or that my smash-rate is simply not fast enough. But sometimes you just want to let the hammer slide from your hands, you know? But you can’t drop the hammer, because if you drop the hammer, your kids don’t eat, don’t have a home. And of course, you want to give them an ocean of their own.
I'll miss our corner of the ocean.
This is a midlife crisis. Plenty of people suffer these without deciding to shove two-thousand cubic-feet worth of life’s accumulations into an eighteen-hundred cubic-foot truck, point it west, and hope for the best.
On the surface, our decision to move from Milford, Connecticut to Andover, Minnesota is easy to comprehend. I was born in the shade of the Charter Oak, my wife is a daughter of the prairie. Since getting married seventeen years ago, we have lived out east, where houses are expensive and the highways are jammed, and what you get for your trouble is a quick temper and a tendency to drop the f-bomb seven times in a conversation with the other dads about your youngest daughter’s U8 soccer coach (what is that guy eff-ing doing, seriously, what is his effing problem?) All you need to do is compare housing prices and commuter times and daily rage-out rates to see why maybe a move to the Midwest isn’t the worst idea.
But then come the reasons why doing so is a not-great idea. Jokes fly quick about cultural Siberia, Frito salad, and the NRA. Your family who loves you may wonder why you are leaving them (and why are you taking the children from us, you monster), even while they understand that your wife’s family loves you (and the children) just as much. Like gravity, the love that is closest pulls the strongest. Sometimes when you smile and shrug and joke about Fargo, what you’re really doing is ramping up your EEV (emotional escape velocity).
And what of your friends, these people you’ve bonded with to suffer the uncertain years of early parenthood together? And if you’ve lived in one place most of your life, what of your old friends, the people you’ve known for decades? It’s acceptable to go away for college, but if you come back and settle down and resume your old friendships, there’s something of an unspoken contract that you will not disappear again. And when you leave, everyone, including you most of all, will be sad, but don’t be naive, deep down all your friends are going to wonder, just for a bit, what the eff, man? I thought we were friends.
You will spend some long nights alone by yourself in the dark, thinking about your physical body, your actual mass and its physical longitude and latitude, wondering whether the specific space you occupy matters at all. You will be dead in sixty years, tops, even optimistically adjusting for improvements in healthcare, and you’ve only got thirty or so circumnavigations of the sun left where you might expect your body to be reliably functional. These are the thoughts that work you over when you haven’t packed one single box, yet you know a move is going to happen as certain as the sunrise. There is nothing to worry about, you reassure yourself, this decision doesn’t matter because nothing matters.
Then, when you open your eyes in the morning, before your feet even hit the wood floor of your tiny 1913 crooked-stair colonial originally built for a fish-canner’s family, you think to yourself, man, you better chuck this dark northeastern shit, Minnesota is a cheerful place. Your kids need you to be cheerful if you’re going to ask them to leave all their friends and holy crap what are we doing.
The birch in the backyard.
So now we’ve moved. Our worldly accumulations—our tables and chairs and desks—are all placed roughly in the same position relative to each other in their designated rooms, so much so that the new house feels almost like the old one. I can already find my bed in the dark. There are moments when I look out my new window at my new white birch tree, stark like a woodcut against the blue Minnesota sky, and I imagine we are only a few miles from Milford, because this place already feels like home. When you’re adrift, even if just on the inside, it’s easy to lose your sense of location.
And it’s a good drift. I wake up to a breeze and silence. At night, I listen for the horn of the freight train, a ship on the inland sea. I see the buoys in the moonlight, but I keep my hands close about me, content as I am to float by.