The field adjoining our road began to look like an intricate ant farm lay on its side. Dug into the earth was a complicated maze of tunnels for the houses that would be built upon them. I began spending my days walking the paths, hidden in the earth with only the sun overhead. There were so many changes from when we first moved in and I was not happy with any of them.
I climbed up on the side, my feet dangling down and stared at the red Sold on the realtor sign in our front yard. It was leaning to the side from the one afternoon I walked up to it and kicked it over. Fearing my mother’s wrath, I then picked it up and tried to right it. The sign was a mocking reminder that some things cannot be undone. Selling our house and moving back to Kentucky was one of them.
In the evenings, I would sit in the spare bedroom with my sister playing Barbies and looking longingly at the disassembled cardboard castle now perched against the wall. Of all the rooms packed and ready for the move, our playroom was the saddest. We no longer had cardboard walls to hide us from the real world as my sister and I pretended we belonged to a royal family. She was so young, I think she was anxiously awaiting the day they would arrive to take us to our real home.
She was too young to understand we were leaving to never return. Instead, she treated our move as if it was another road trip with diner scrambled eggs and dirty gas station bathrooms. I envied her ability to laugh and be happy despite the inevitable. Even then, I knew in my gut, instead of life improving, it would become harder.
The weeks leading to our move, my mother was angrier than ever before. This was something my father could not fix, and I think she hated him for it. He had a family to support and he felt he could do better in Kentucky. I would also like to think her volatility came into play. Although she viewed Arizona as her new home, she had never assimilated and was anything but happy. Maybe he thought moving back to her family would fix her. To this day, we have never discussed what happened in Arizona to her.
The morning we moved, the truck came and burly men packed our whole life into it. I clung to my basketball, hoping for a last minute reprieve, but when my mother pried it from my hands and threw it in with our furniture, it was over. I would no longer wander through the mountains near our home or slide down a hill of volcanic rocks. I would never again taste the sweet nectar of the Indian paintbrush flower or listen to the coyotes howl at night. I was saying goodbye to the fragrant alfalfa fields and a night sky full of diamonds. There were bad things to remember, but there were also a lifetime of moments that would change the adult I might have been.
I walked to Daniel’s house. We stood on his porch, our hands in our jean pockets and said our goodbyes. His mother wiped tears from her eyes and gave me a hug that hurt my heart. I promised to write Daniel and send postcards, but I never did. Instead, I walked away from him, pausing only long enough to look back and give him a little wave. My last memory of him is his dark eyes looking into mine as he raised his hand to return my wave. Then he turned to go back inside.
My friends in the neighborhood told me awkward goodbyes. I took one more peek at my babysitter’s room of Playgirl penises and Robbie gave me his favorite GI Joe to remember him by. I lied and told him we would be back in a year. This is just temporary, I reassured him. A sweet lie, I thought. I knew I would never see any of them again. I never did find the GI Joe in any of the boxes. I am certain it was thrown out at some point.
We flew back to Kentucky. I swallowed the painful lump in my throat as the plane skimmed over a sea of white clouds. There were hours of sitting in my seat, resisting the urge to scream and pretending to be excited to arrive in Kentucky. Instead of being happy as I was swept into the arms of my aunts and uncles who cried happy tears we were home, I was lost and would remain lost for a long time. For months, I carried a baggie of black rocks we had chiseled out of a mountainside when we first arrived. They were that touchstone to what I left behind.
We moved in with my grandparents where we stayed for months until we rented a small house. We would move several times, one house after another, never a home. This nomadic wanderlust carried over to my adult life. I have moved more times than I would like to count and never felt I belonged anywhere. I had left my home. It was not just a place; it was a state of mind.
My sister and I as adults talk about Arizona as if it were a shared dreamed. She remembers less, but likes to hear the stories of our adventures there. We prefer to file away the painful moments, the reality of what our family really went through. We sit together and look through the pictures, capturing only a fraction of the moments etched on our brains.
I can close my eyes and see the tall sunflowers that grew beside our trailer. I can put out my hand and feel myself petting my beloved dog Peppy who had come home to say goodbye. He is still there, buried in the earth, beneath the sun he loved to lay in. I can stand outside and inhale and it’s there. That indefinable scent of the mountains, of the fresh water streams and of the heat in the soil. I can throw my head back and taste the snowflakes on my tongue or the taste of freshwater from the springs we would swim in. I can hear the wind blowing through the pine trees. I am forever grateful even at a young age, I understood enough to take it all in, to hold it close because I would need it again.
There is no happy ending. My mother did not move back to Kentucky and become happier. My parents remained married, they weathered the storms of her depressions, and resigned themselves to the life they have chosen. Just recently, she is once again a victim of her own life. I watch my father, my heart breaking, sad that moving back did not fix all that was wrong with her.
As soon as I was old enough, I moved out on my own. I worked hard and then I moved away. I took my daughter on my journey just as my parents had taken me on theirs. We lived in New York and she saw her first Broadway play. We lived in Pennsylvania and went white water rafting and rock climbing. We lived in Massachusetts and every weekend ventured out to the historic sites and the aquarium. We lived in Rhode Island and she splashed in the cold water of the ocean and made a sand castle. I’ve made sure her life, if not secured by belonging somewhere, was filled with memories to sustain the life she would want to build for herself.
Like my parents, I have returned to Kentucky, except this time I did not feel I was leaving anything of me behind. I am still on that journey to find that home again. I wish I could say it is wherever my daughter is, that would be the beautiful prosaic thing to claim. My daughter is my life, but something else is a home for me.
I know I will find it again. It is not out of reach. I was offered an opportunity to move out West for work sometime in the future. I felt a surge of something I wish I could describe. One day I will stop moving around. One day I will stop yearning. One day, I will stand beneath that big sky and smile and be thankful for the journey that brought me there. I know one day I am going to end up exactly where I am supposed to be.
This time, I will bring my daughter along and we will talk about the places we have lived and the life we have led. Then one day, she will leave on her own journey. There is something I‘ll make sure of, something I never had. She may wander to find herself, but she will know I will have a home waiting for her. Always waiting for her to find her way back.