Sight Unseen

A and I spent January and February in a state of decision. Think of a bag of sugar left in the damp basement too many months, how the crystals fuse into one big brick. And then how dropping it hard once on the concrete floor will knock it all loose and pourable again.

A was offered a job in another city. A good job. A faraway city. A job with more or less double the salary he makes now. A city in the mountains. A city with a strange political scene.

I’ve said before that where we live is not where we intended to end up forever. And this was a good chance—maybe the best chance we’ll have—to move on.

Looking back, the decision seems quick, but inside it felt long. We treated the choice like an athletic event or the SATs, reminding each other to get enough sleep in order to be in top condition. Still, sleep was hard, and we skipped lunches and dinners and then ate huge cheesy enchiladas at weird times like 9 a.m. and 11 at night.

We (all four of us) became obsessed with the adorable dad and kids’ Everything Counts  video, and I searched for omens in my weeks-long earworm. Everything counts. What counts? Money, or friends? Knowing where the best loaf of bread is, or looking up at the sunrise over a ridgeline? The asparagus patch and the friends you’ve come to love slowly over years, or the college fund and the ability to fix the roof? From a contract, there’s no turning back. Everything, everything, everything everything.

A and I were both shocked at our visceral inclination to stay. It’s almost impossible to talk about without bringing up roots, transplanting, the most hackneyed of metaphors for home and for leaving. There’s hardly a way to tell you about it without mentioning those tiny hairlike roots that rip right in the soil, whose breaking sound is magnified through the little drum of the earth.

We set times to talk and times not to talk about it, times to make ourselves take breaks from thinking about it. We talked about what we know we would have done five years ago, and whether our five-years-ago selves deserved some loyalty. What we might have done two years ago. What we might do ten years from now, if given this same opportunity.

On the phone, I pressed my mother for her perspective and she said, in the voice that is supposed to conceal preference but does not, “Money isn’t just money—it’s opportunity.”

For days after that conversation, I’d feel my deep heart-want for staying, and then I’d think of the crappy sweater I was wearing. How in fifteen years I’d still be wearing the same crappy sweater, which would become shabbier and shabbier along with my face, hair, and body, and our roof, and our awful lawn, and the back door of our house, which won’t stay closed unless you slam it so hard all the neighbors hear it and jars of rice and beans rattle on the shelves.

But then the thought of starting again in a new place. The thought of the months and years we’d lose to loneliness and making something new work. The sense that when certain kinds of love and friendship are in place, a kind of progress I can’t name is made. Not to do with the siding or the shoes. To do with building what is really richest.

And then I’d think: Come on. You are deluding yourself, you fucking spiritualist. Money isn’t just money.

We were on the verge of booking a trip to visit the city to make a final decision; I’d never been there, never seen it, and how could I say no to an opportunity I hadn’t even looked at?

But we’d have paid for our own tickets, and as we waded into the logistics of the trip—engaging the grandparents for an intense weekend’s babysitting; the expense and time and separation—we both became grumpier and grumpier. In the middle of hashing out airline schedules I stomped into the kitchen to breathe and make a cup of tea, and the teabag was the kind with a little fortune printed on the paper hanging label. It said, Wherever you go, go with your whole heart.

We are staying here. We did not even go to visit.

It’s not easy to explain this to friends. The teabag did not make the decision. But I would miss you. Who is it ok to say that to? It is true of more people than you might think. It’s true of acquaintances and of old, deep friends, and of many in between. And yet it’s a creepy thing to say to someone. We are not supposed to be reasons for each other’s location, for the turning points in each other’s careers, are we?

But we are. Not any one person. But everyone. Together, like a rope.

I think of the asparagus in the back yard, the plant that takes three years to establish itself well enough to be harvested and used. We are like that, our family, all four of us, I think. We don’t come to know and love people quickly. Which is to say not that we are deficient, but that these things—when we reach them—are precious.

There is violence in moving away from a place. There is value in staying still, in deepening. Something is accomplished in just a day of living. In making memories of the same places, the same streets, the same corners. These things are as valuable as dollars, mother.

This will be our home. There are tiny blue fireworks in my heart when I think about it, still.


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