A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nostalgia

[Note: some of this recaps my previous posts on the differences between living in Washington D.C. and in Nyack.]

When my husband and I drove down to visit friends in Washington D.C. a couple of weekends ago, we shared an uncomfortable moment – an uncomfortable moment that has stretched into an uncomfortable situation.

After spending a fun evening with friends, my husband was practically glowing. As I reported in a previous post, he had a big grin on his face as he earnestly told me that coming back to D.C. felt “like coming home.” There was an awkward pause as my enjoyment of the evening suddenly shriveled up and a hard knot formed in my stomach. I had to swallow hard and hold my tongue – I didn’t want to ruin his joyful little moment.

Honestly, I do not want to move back to the over-crowded urban parking lot that is the Washington D.C. metro area. I cannot stress enough how much this really effects your quality of life. Everywhere you drive, there are too many people. It takes an hour to get to work, to a friend’s house, or to the mall – unless you live a block away from your job or just down the street from your friend. But odds are, you don’t. Our best friends live in Virginia, in fact, half of our Friday night was always spent sitting in traffic so that we could hang out with them. I went to school less than 12 miles away from our apartment, but it always took me at least 50 minutes to get there… and that wasn’t even traveling on the infamous Washington D.C. Beltway. (I’m from the Motor City, so I am a big fan of freeways – but that’s assuming that a freeway is serving its purpose of allowing you to go faster than you would go on the surface roads…)

I didn’t really realize quite how miserable I was living in D.C. until we moved to New York, at which point I regained my sense of happiness at living in the world around me. Welcome to Nyack, Lauren: a little village on the bank of the Hudson River just thirty miles north of New York City, with access to all the amenities that you’re accustomed to but none of the over-crowding and stand-still traffic. I can breathe again.

But I’ve said all this before – this is old news. (I try not to repeat myself, but I’m a little bit giddy and obsessed with the freedom that I’ve found living here amongst the Palisades Cliffs and by the Hudson River.)

The new development, though, is this uncomfortable gap between my perspective and my husband’s perspective, between my desires and my husband’s desires. He’s ready to move back to D.C. in a couple of years (or somewhere even further south, for the warmer weather and longer days). I, on the other hand, am ready to buy burial plots at the cemetery on the western hill overlooking Nyack and settle in for the long haul. I had envisioned walking with my kids along Piermont Avenue to Memorial Park – pushing a stroller and stopping by the little stone library some afternoons. I had pictured dropping them off at the beautiful brick high school in the foggy mornings, and watching football games and track meets on the sweeping lawn in front of the building. I had started planning to make connections around the non-profit scene in New York City; I saw myself going to a lot of fancy parties in cocktail dresses and smiling and eating canap├ęs, all while raising money for worthy causes. All of these visions of my future are very much rooted in the particular town where we currently live – whereas my husband’s dreams for the future are distinctly about being elsewhere. And I first started to realize this that evening in Washington D.C.

I went to bed that night trying to ignore the knot in my stomach. I woke up and showered and got dressed, all the while still feeling hollow. Despite the great time we’d had with our friends the night before, I was hoping that my husband would enjoy the rest of the weekend with family and friends, but be content with our new home in Nyack.

I was up before he was, though, because I was meeting a good friend of mine for coffee and as I drove across the Key Bridge and into Georgetown, I gazed around at the familiar roads lined with trees that were already beginning to blossom – and I felt a little flutter in my chest.

As I drove toward the familiar Starbucks on MacArther Boulevard, I couldn’t help but thinking: this is the route I drove every day with Chloe and Chloe and Mia (yes, two Chloes) in my backseat, on our way to the Smithsonian Museums. These are the flowering trees that welcomed me every spring morning on my way to school and to work, reminding me that March and April are so much warmer and more joyful in Washington D.C. than in wintry Michigan. These are the homes of the families whose students I used to teach, and up that hill is the school where we held summer camp. There is the CVS in the old MacArthur theater, there is our favorite Asian restaurant, where we went for Max’s birthday and I got a flat tire, and there is Jetties, the sandwich shop with the amazing Thanksgiving turkey dinner sandwich (complete with stuffing and cranberry sauce ON the sandwich).

I had suddenly discovered the problem: I had felt at home in Washington D.C. – just not in the place where we actually lived. I felt at home where I worked and where I went to school – forty-five minutes southwest of our apartment. I felt at home surrounded by my summer camp kids, who wanted me to bandage their knees and tell them stories and teach them how to make jewelry. I felt at home, knowing that I was good with those kids and that their parents appreciated everything that I did with their children. I felt at home working with Eleanor, who was always more of a friend than a boss, like an aunt or even an older sister who welcomed me into her own family.

I also felt at home going to school down the street at American University, which I described a little bit in a previous post – but my description of the campus doesn’t really explain that I felt comfortable there because I was respected for my scholarship, my knowledge about certain types of literature, my proficiency with research and teaching. (And I could run up and down the halls of the Literature Department in my bare feet with the Professor’s kids. That also made me feel quite comfortable.)

The flutter of nostalgia in my heart kept growing, and when I reached the Starbucks and was swept into Eleanor’s hug, my nostalgia was in my throat, practically choking me with happiness. I felt it now – I felt like I was home. Call it a cheesy Steel Magnolias moment or something, but Eleanor really feels like family to me – and more than just a random part of my family. Eleanor reminds me of my grandma. Their personalities aren’t exactly alike, but they are similar/complementary in many ways. The two of them would have gotten along fabulously, and I always wished that I could have introduced them. (I can picture them linking arms, my grandma intimately leaning toward my friend and wanting to discuss my many good qualities and accomplishments.)

They would have gotten along so fabulously because at the heart of it they had the same expansive love for other people – and they both love me. That is why talking to Eleanor is a lot like talking to my grandmother. It’s the way that they both love me, the way that I can really say anything and they understand it in a certain way. I may have learned to distance myself from most people while living in Washington D.C., but Eleanor is an incredibly easy person to talk to and to love. I have all but forgotten what it feels like to have that kind of woman right there with you, talking to you about hormones and chocolate binges and career options and husbands and car accidents and fear and grief.

So now I am incredibly confused. My morning drive along Canal and MacArthur Streets, the pale pink flowers budding on the trees, my hours spent in Starbucks with Eleanor – all these things awakened a nostalgia that in some ways, I wish had remained buried. Even if we could afford to live down by Georgetown (which we can’t), we would still have to deal with traffic in order to visit friends or even make a Target run (across the bridge in Virginia). Even if we could live near our best friends in Alexandria and I could spend evenings out drinking with my literary buddies at AU again (and believe me, literature people are hilarious when they’ve been drinking), I wonder if my soul wouldn’t slowly start to shrivel up again from spending so much time behind the wheel of a practically-stationary vehicle during my commute. I wonder if my husband wouldn’t spend a few months dealing with the same kind of commute and come to the conclusion that we had made a terrible mistake moving back into the urban sprawl.

Most of all, I’m afraid that no matter where my husband and I decide to spend our future, one or the other of us won’t be truly happy with what we’ve chosen.

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