chris and me + moving away: how maryland's been on our relationship

 My handsome, handsome love | Catoctin Mountain Park | August

My handsome, handsome love | Catoctin Mountain Park | August

Let’s talk about the ways we love, and fail to love each other. Let’s talk about them even though it’s hard.

This move brought with it a storm of homesickness that stunned and stunted my first days and weeks in Maryland. Like everything in life, the move was harder than I expected, and hard in ways I didn’t expect.

I didn’t expect the sadness, no, but I also didn’t expect how I’d respond to the sadness. How it would make me both silent and combative, how it would shape this season for me and Chris.

I don’t like sharing my failings (who does?), but I’m been learning about myself, about who I am when I’m vulnerable, who I become when I feel lost, and I like sharing what hurts and what heals.

We got out here, and in the first, borderless week, I felt these gaping holes open—not just missing Minnesota, or missing family and friends (though both were there), but missing the stability of knowing the place on the globe I occupied. It was bigger than homesickness, but included homesickness, but also needed a language separate homesickness. Something that included loss and being lost, but also included brightness: notes of curiosity and excitement.

Before all these knots of pain and fear and dislocation, I became what I’ve never been before—a stonewall. I went silent when I couldn’t find a way to explain what it was I was feeling, and when I could explain it in ways that made sense to me, but not to Chris, I got harsh.

(This is what I didn’t want to talk about—the ways I responded when I was hurting. I get why babies scream, and toddlers hit. We want to give our pain a name that someone else will recognize.)

Who knew that I, overly articulate and expressive to the point of exhaustion, would meet my sadness, and fall silent before it? Who knew my emotional interior would become so complex I’d lose my arsenal of language?

One night, I sat on our kitchen floor and cried, so angry and ashamed that my first experience of our adventure out here was one of sadness and retreat. Chris took the floor next to me, and took my hand, and said “I know you feel safest when you’re alone with your pain. I don’t know how to join you in that right right now, but I want to. Can we find ways to let me care of you too?”

It’s heartbreaking and humbling to have your partner ask you to make room for him. Chris is a warrior for us, and he keeps us strong when I flounder. He’s tender and brave in ways I’m still learning, and while I’ve thrashed through my discomfort and sorrow, he’s waited for me.

This move is our first striking out on our own. We’re each other’s only people out here. It’s just us, and when we decided to move, that was the exciting part: who were we going to be when there’s no one and nowhere else for us to go?

--

One month in, and I think we’ve come through the worst of of the dislocation. We’ve named the varied sadnesses of living away from home, and we’re learning to negotiate the ways those sadnesses manifest themselves. It’s only been a month, but in relationship years, it’s been long. We’re grown and stretched and fortified ourselves. Built new forms of trust, and stripped away more layers of year. Hard work for four weeks time, but good, good work.

I’ve called him this before: Chris is my miracle of love. He’s my radical re-education in how to receive love, how to be loved. We wouldn’t have moved here if we didn’t trust completely that the love we share would hold us. But it didn’t take long for us to find these bumps, these failed experiments and wrong turns and accidental crossroads that can weaken relationships not ready for them.

We talk in terms of lessons, and Chris has been kind enough to approach my frustration, and stonewalling, and furious sadness as lessons. Already, we’re stronger for what we’ve learned. More intimate and more attuned to one another. Already I see the playing out of the single faith that brought us here: That the together is the home, and that inside the together, we can do anything, be anything, become anything.

I am grateful, and grateful, and grateful for a partner who is patient with me. Who is tender and empathetic and willing to weather my storms. He’s learned the extraordinary lesson that it’s pain that makes us painful, and he soften when I harden. His is a love of returnings, of circling back and back to my points of pain and shame. He’s showing the love of unconditionals. In turn, in all my messy, frustrated, frustrating ways, I hope I’m showing him the same.

Right now, this move feels like a half-framed house. Please stay in it with me. It’s in the building that we’re finding all this beauty, that we’re strengthening and steeling our love, that we’re becoming, together, ourselves.

our first week in maryland: homesickness, hope + an apartment tour

As my parents prepared to return to Minnesota and the reality that I wouldn't be returning with them set in, I kept saying, “I want this experience of leaving. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.”

- - -

We arrived in Maryland last Wednesday after a Herculean 20+ hour drive, and spent Wednesday through Saturday existing in a bubble of excitement. Look, the Capitol! The Potomac! The Chesapeake Bay! The weather app now includes tides patterns! Target is five minutes away! There's Alexandria! Mount Vernon! Mountains! Crabs!

Our parents were still with, and our brand-new apartment smelled of fresh paint. Our floors were a disaster of cardboard boxes and IKEA assembly, but look how the space was coming together! Everything was unfamiliar. Everything was exciting. We were riding high on adrenaline and adventure. All the reasons we came out were felt present and close.

Then my parents left before dawn on Sunday morning, and the weight of what it means to leave fell on me. I watched their tail lights until they disappeared, then I let Chris bring me back inside.

We spent that first day alone in a heavy quiet. I cried and put books on my shelves as my mom’s location moved farther and farther away on the Apple map. This was the weight I couldn't feel when this move was just an idea and a plan, the weight of what it means to live separate from everyone you love.

I went to bed on Sunday still crying. In the dark, I told Chris that I'd thought I was strong enough to do this, and he said to me: “just because you're strong enough doesn't make this easy.”

I’ve long been afraid that I’m not brave enough or strong enough to withstand the fullness I so desperately want out of life. Getting out here to Maryland, and finding myself immediately mired in tears and homesickness resurfaced this fear. We’re on this grand adventure--why do I so desperately want to return to what I know? Why aren’t I more excited?

- - -

The shape and weight of my homesickness has taken me by surprise. I expected a swell of sadness, but I didn’t expect it to edge out the excitement or joy of the move. I didn’t expected all these strange moments of sadness -- crying over a shelf pin found at the bottom of my purse, because it reminds me of my dad, who built me my desk or overspending at Target, because I felt oddly conspicuous and obviously out of place. 

I’ve never been the girl to have a mantra, but mid-week, I made a deal with myself to “be present, but have a plan.” My sensitivity, my sadness, my love for the things that feel so far away aren’t wrong, but I don’t want them to consume me. When you’ve the history of depression I have, sadness can feel frightening. Who's to say this won’t be the blue patch that sends back into that dark country you’ve worked so hard to leave?

But not all sadness is depression or leads to depression, and as Chris so kindly repeated to me through all my tears: what I’m feeling is right, and it’s appropriate. Feeling my feelings is healthy and good. Loving something enough to cry for its absence is beautiful. It honors that love.

And while homesickness has dampened the excitement, it hasn't, by any stretch, extinguished it. There are all the things to do  that I'm excited for: I want to visit every Smithsonian, and hike on the Appalachian Trail. In December, Mount Vernon does candlelight tours, and on Assateague National Seashore, there are wild horses. Last weekend, we visited a state park known for its fossils. 

And then there's the beating heart of why we moved: the possibility. Above the job offers and the day trips, we came here for what if and what will. What will happen as we grow? How will we change? And in what ways will we become more of who we are meant to be?

We came out here to line up the dominoes, and see where they fall. We've set ourselves up to experience an onslaught of the unknown. That is absolutely going to make us uncomfortable.

Tears aside, here;s the highlight reel of the move so far: Our apartment is lovely. We leased it sight unseen, and what could have gone so badly has gone so well. This space is comfortable, large; the light is clean and effulgent. There's space for me to have a small writing nook, but not so large that Chris and I could lose each other in it. Our town is a surprising mix of rural and suburban. We’re five minutes in any direction from: A suburban, commercial stretch that includes a Target, a one stoplight "downtown," all county services, including the courthouse, and farmsteads. We’re also only thirty minutes from a metro station that bring us directly to DC, forty-five minutes from both Alexandria and the Chesapeake Bay (in different directions), a little over an hour from Baltimore, and a little over two hours from the Atlantic Ocean. (We’re also only four hours from Asbury Park, which is important since our entryway is dominated by a massive poster of Bruce Springsteen).

- - -

This move is an experience and an adventure. We’re at the very beginning, and like any story, we don’t know how this all unfold. Thinking about it this way gives me the most excitement. I deal in stories, and here we are at the very beginning of our next one.

I may miss Minnesota, but he's the best home I've ever found.

packing a life into boxes

I've done it so many times I don't have a count anymore, but every time I pack my life into boxes, I'm flooded. Both with the amount of stuff I own, and, as I touch every item in my home, the emotional terrain each item comes with.

I'm not a pack-rat or a minimalist. I live for the feeling of clear cupboards and manageable drawers, but I'm hesitant to toss stuff that I've spent my money on, because will I kick myself in a month when I need to purchase a new fillintheblank? A cousin once told me that if he's considering discarding something he can replace for under $15, he lets it goo. But I also grew up watching my mom be meticulous about our possessions -- sometimes to the point she was discarding items we very much need in our daily life.

I don't have answers. Our relationship with our stuff is so complicated. It's fraught with our own layers of emotional complexity, but also with socio-economics and the politics of wealth inequality.

Our objects tie us to the multitudes of who we've been. I have a bookmark with a giraffe a mother cross-stitched for me when I was nine after I lent her daughter a piece of clothing at a summer camp, because I like being reminded of the first time I remember consciously choose to set aside my own anxieties for someone else's inclusion. Last summer, I filled trashed bags of clothing, because I didn't want my closet to remain a reminder of of all the ways I compromised my worth. My boyfriend and I are moving two full sets of Harry Potter books across the country (plus the beginnings of a third, illustrated set), because this story shaped our childhoods and adolescences in separate, but powerful ways. Do we need three copies of the Sorcerer's Stone in one house (especially when you consider I've read it so many times I can repeat the first page from memory)?

At the beginning of the year, I had a vision of white space. I wanted to clear room. Why, I wasn't sure, and for what, I didn't know. If I'm learning to have faith in anything, it's that we are receiving preparation for what comes next. I was creating space between the narratives that frame my life, and the desires those narratives found conflict with. I needed clarity to make the decision we made three months ago.

We're weeks away from the materialization of that "white space" I wanted. A cross-country move, and a place to live where we know no one except the HR departments who hired us. I said to a friend that this move feels less like an outright opportunity, and more like the opportunity for opportunities.

Six months ago, I cleared my home of anything that was unnecessary or reminded me of pain. Now that I'm packing what's left, the question has shifted "do you need this enough to haul it cross-country," and the answers aren't as clear. There's math I need to consider, how much does the trailer hold, what can we afford to replace, what must we just part with, but then the equations get messy. How do you fit what you need in a trailer, but first, how do you know what you need when you leave home for the first time? How much of you collection do you keep out of comfort? And how warm is that comfort, really? How do you carry all your history with you, and still keep space for new places to become a kind of home?

The question I'm really asking is how to I love the home I'm leaving and still leave room for something new to grow?

did you hear the news?

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We're moving! This August, to the East Coast. Get ready, people. Get excited.

After we made the decision to move, I kept asking my boyfriend "are we really doing this?" Even though we were doing all the things you do when you leave (told our parents, told our bosses, signed contracts, applied for housing, etc.), it didn't feel real. How could it? We said we'd do this one big thing, and now we're just doing it?

This will be the first time that either of us move away (away, away, not just to the next zip code) from our homes. I know people move away all the time, but for us, this is the ball game.

We spent last week in the area to which we'll be moving. Even though we were there for work and at least thirty miles north of the community we'll be moving to, just being in the same region felt surreal. We descended, and I kept saying "this will be the airport we'll fly in and out of when we live here." We walked outside: "This is what the trees will smell like when live here." We grew sticky in the heat: "This is what the air will feel like when we live here." Minnesota is my home is such profound and deeply rooted ways that I can barely, barely imagine what it'll be like to live anywhere else. I looked up at the blue sky, and again: "This is what the sky will look like when I live here."

Already, I'm enamored with magnolia leaves. They're thick and glossy, and stand at attention in ways I didn't expect from tree leaves. Already, I'm intrigued by the history, so much military, so much politics. Our federal/political past has always interested me less than our socio-cultural past. Already, I'm mapping transit stations, because so much is going to be a train ride away. The whole east coast, it seems, will be just a train ride away.

Seeing our soon-to-be state, doing the cross-country move housekeeping, playing tourist in our new backyard. It made it seem - not more real, because it'll take months to shake the not-in-Minnesota surrealism - but more tangible. This is really going to happen. This is what I was feeling this January, when I said I wanted room. Space, space, more blank space. For what, I didn't know them.

For this, I guess. For all this.