Compass

“Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for”
-W.S. Merwin

This winter, the kid is telling me that his best friends are on vacation and home sick.

“Who are you hanging out with at school?”
“Other kids.”
“How’s that going?”
“Mostly fine. But I have to explain everything to them.”
“How do you mean?”
“I have to explain everything I say. I never have to do that with Madison or Gavin. They know what I mean. It’s easier with them.”

As a military kid, my life was nomadic. What I remember of place and time is experiential, subjective. The past only exists as the way I remember it. The kids I grew up with were bound to a single military assignment. I didn’t know them across states or decades. Only now in the age of the internet do I have people to compare my memory with.

It isn’t like that for my wife. She grew up forty minutes from where we live. This summer, we detoured during a canoe trip, and she showed me her childhood home. Kids like that have a shorthand. That’s not to say that they don’t argue about the way things happened, but there’s someone to argue with. She’s still friends with many of the witnesses.

Sometimes I feel like I got to invent a past for myself. Sometimes that feels liberating. I’ve lived in Spokane for nearly twenty years, and like all places, I’m always asked to claim it. “Are you from here?” “Did you grow up here?”

I am a person obsessed with home. For me it’s a story. I have been telling myself a story of a white house with green shutters and a long sloping yard with a wild garden since I got to pretend to be a civilian for fifth grade. To live next to retired people. To help old ladies shovel their sidewalks. To live in one house long enough to remember what your neighborhood looked like before that street was paved, or that tree chopped down, or the fire. To remember your neighborhood before the fire.

I told myself this story of home, and of people who see you. You talk with them, and they see you. You as you are. Seen. This seemed like the pinnacle of love to me. To be seen.

But to be seen is not far enough.

If we drive through a neighborhood, we might see the remains of a tree that has come down. We might notice the wooden fence, newly raised. We notice all kinds of things. We see.

Last night I was reading a book to my wife and I was struck by the way she fidgets when you read to her. Fidget fidget fidget. Like a child.

“Are you enjoying this story?” I asked.
“Of course!”
“You’re fidgeting.”
“Am I?”
“Yes, you always fidget.”

I said it, and knew it was true. And knew that while I’d read, I’d looked for her to fidget. For her to raise her bare feet and wiggle them at the ceiling. For her to rock and stretch and laugh at all the funny parts of the story. I’d looked for her the way you look for that one goading squirrel who loves to tease the dogs. There it is! Calmly waiting for them to sprint outside so it can leap just out of reach. Leap and leap and leap as they chase beneath, hollering at it.

To see is lovely. To see and be familiar. But it is another thing entirely to be known. My son already understands this. He has grown up with these kids and they have a shorthand. And here, so late, so perfectly late, I have it as well. To be known. To be known. To be loved and looked for and seen.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *