We roll into Pennsylvania from the south under winter’s inky evening cloak. Even in the dark I can feel the mountains shouldering up out of the earth’s crust, as if to make my way clear. This way, they tell me, this way to home.
I am sliding into the hearth of place, into the bosom of belonging. Hugged by the ancient rock and anchored into time, tethered to memory, laughter, and family, going to Pennsylvania will always be going home.
And leaving. Leaving is an earthquake, a massive boulder-shifting tumult that cracks my figurative tectonic plates, knocks loose my senses. I wander, for days after leaving, holding on to strings of memories as if they are weights I must release. For days I cannot hear certain songs without my carefully cobbled together structural presence threatening to loosen again.
With this scattered mess of nostalgia and post-holiday sadness, I cracked open a book my daughter asked me to read, which not coincidentally falls in line with my 2018 reading goals. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake is one I’m going to treasure in small doses, because oh. The first chapter was not a salve to my sad heart, nor was it a balm to my homesick soul. In fact, the book is about saying goodbye, of moving away, of finding one’s own footing in a land that does not feel one’s own.
I don’t have much in common with Lahiri’s characters. I am not a Hindu housewife from the 70s. In fact, my parents would probably more closely resemble the pair’s first neighbors, Judy and Alan, the hippie professors upstairs who let their babies run barefoot and wild, nursing them for “too long” and eating homemade yogurt. But the goodbyes, the looking for place in a world they don’t understand, the pain of raising children without the proximity and comfort of parents, those things I understand.
Moving from Pittsburgh to Tulsa I hesitated to make friends and then realized I needed the security and solace they provide. And when I turned myself and my family into proper Okies by eating local and visiting all the off the beaten path places, we up and moved to a new place in a new state with new signifiers of belonging. We are not quiet there yet, but we are assimilating with sweet teas and yes ma’ams.
It is not easy, and family provides that mooring I detect when Ashima and Ashoke weep before the photos of their passed ancestors, wondering who would be gone when they next got to visit. Everything will change when I leave, I think when I say goodbye. The cousins will grow, the sibling’s hair will go gray, and mine, too. Life goes on, even without me. I will be writing about my year of reading different voices, books from women and people of color this year. I want to hear the songs they sing and find the thread of constancy.
I take comfort. Comfort in the mountain ranges that extend like the wisps of memory stretch from me to that place, and the rock faces they see resemble those I run along. I love that there are three little rivers in this town reminding me of those three big ones in the ‘burgh. And the faces of family. They are always there.