08 August 2008

Leaving for the Rest of My Life

Tomorrow I'll be headed back to New York. As you can imagine, I have very mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, I want to get back to the things that are familiar to me now, including my cats. On the other hand, I feel as though I am just getting to know my parents, just a teensy weensy little bit.

Then again, these past few years have been about getting to know myself. And during the next eleven months, I may learn things I can't even imagine now.

And I have learned things that I never could have imagined before. For one thing, I never realized how sand on one stretch of beach could differ so much from sand on another stretch only a few miles away.

Furthermore, I even entertained the thought of moving here. I was thinking mainly of my parents and their advancing age and declining health. I didn't want to move in with them; they both agreed that none of us could live with other people again. And my father pointed out that the adult children of friends and neighbors came here, thinking that they could make it. "But you'll never make anywhere near the kind of money you make now," he said. To which my mother added, "And it costs a lot more to live here than you think."

Still, she said, "Your father's been better since you've been here." Hmm...I didn't know I could have that kind of effect on anybody--especially my father. I can't think of a single thing I've done that he's approved of.

All right, so that last part is an exaggeration. But it certainly felt like the truth for much of my life.

Right now I wish I could spend some more time here. There seems to be so much, still, to catch up on, whether or not the words or the emotional context exists for doing so. For one thing, this has been my first visit here in nearly five years. And it's the first time I've seen them since we spent an afternoon together in New Jersey three years ago.

Of course, they have aged. But that is not the only reason why they look different to me. Actually, lots of people and things look different. I remember seeing Elizabeth for the first time in ten, maybe fifteen, years. She hadn't aged a day, or so it seemed, since I met her during my sophomore year of undergraduate school. I remember feeling, in a way I couldn't explain, that her apparent lack of change was the reason why she was, in some way, oddly unfamiliar to me.

I guess I'm starting to feel something like that about my parents. My father has always liked to hover over me to make sure I'm getting packed in a timely way, or even to see that I'm doing things that I know better than he how to do. He's always done that--to me, to my mother, to my brothers. Yet I have had to learn that about him all over again.

It seems that I have had to re-learn almost my entire life over the past few years. Even with those things I have done best--reading, writing, teaching and cycling--I feel as if I've had to start over. So sometimes I can't hide my physical clumsiness or social ineptitude.

So what does all that have to do with the prospect of going home? Well, I've seen how much they've accepted me as their daughter and, at the same time, echoed words and behaviors from times past. It's funny: They have habits that I don't expect them to change, but they have learned new ways of seeing me. Or, simply, learning to see me as I've seen myself. Somehow it makes sense, but I'm not sure of why. Will I have the opportunity to learn why?

I want to learn why those rides along the ocean--I took another the other day--mean so much more to me now, and why I enjoyed them so much more. And I want to learn why the bright colors of this place no longer seem alien to me.

Maybe that all seems a little obsessive or fey. But I get the sense that time is running out. It's not just that yesterday marked both 11 months until my surgery and one of those round-number birthdays for my mother. (I won't say which; I'll say only that Dad reached the same milestone in April.) I feel that there's so much I need to learn, and that I'm really going to need it. For one thing, I sense that the time until my surgery--during which I wanted to make as few changes as possible--will include change that I can't anticipate now. And, yeah, it's a little scary.

I guess leaving really means, somehow, starting those next eleven months: the rest of my life as I know it now.