Saturday, May 24, 2008


The moon is strange and stunning tonight: a round body, hanging low, with a directed look on its face, almost as if it positioned itself here in order to look through my window. (Do not think I am not hyperaware of the narcissism inherent in writing this, as well as of my recent passage through the weird halls of . . . of . . . well, I won't name it. Only a little while longer, I pledge. To myself, to you.) Maybe it has something to tell me. Maybe that something is that I will never understand what it has to tell me. I don't speak moon.

Yes, it's another 3 a.m. night. (And why, please tell me, it is always 3:00, and not 4:00 or 5:00?) I tried to get back to sleep--after all, I'd only had three hours--but lay for an hour debating gains and losses of moving to this town, or that. A fabulous elementary school vs. a place I know no one. A safe place for Nelly vs. a 45-minute drive to a decent grocery store. Uh, a fabulous elementary school vs. leaving behind everything we know and love: a library that's like our second home; our activities; the people who have saved our asses over and over and over again in so many ways; our friends, oh, our friends. Versus houses and taxes that will feel like carrying that moon on my shoulders.

I don't know what to do. I don't know what I can do. (Will you tell me, O pudding-face moon?) I don't know where to look, so I look everywhere and find nothing. Nelly sits at my feet, wondering why, since I got out of bed after a period of being in it, I am not moving to give her her yogurt and kibble. Well, not at 4 a.m., old girl. She lies on top of the map of the Catskills I have unfurled, and whines softly. There are some things she can't understand, either.

But maybe she too is trying to tell me something: Just pick a spot, it'll be OK. Is that it? Is that it, Nelly? Well, I myself do prefer the wilds of the deeper mountains--more things to chase, you know. But suit yourself. Do what's best. I'll be with you.

The weight of two dependents leaning against me, counting on me to do what's best for them, has given me a permanent limp. I don't know what's best! And I'm supposed to! Help! Back and forth I go; back and forth. I am dizzy. Turned around. On Thursday I had the actual sensation that my head was going to explode: I tell you, it was the oddest, most fascinating thing I have ever experienced. There was still enough going on in there for me to realize that it was unlikely to literally splatter its contents on the roadway as I walked Nelly to the little patch of woods that we regularly poach walks from. (I stay low behind a silent stone wall so as not to alert the nearby property owners; I practice what I was told was the Indian way of quieting the footsteps in the woods: walking pigeon-toed. Even though I suspect this was specious schoolkid gab. And it doesn't work for me anyway, though I'm no Indian, notwithstanding my childhood desire that I was adopted.)

The real estate broker who's trying to help me find a house thinks I'm bonkers. Well, aren't I? Especially with so little shut-eye. Yes, yes! I'll confess to anything! I transported those illegal aliens across the border. Just let me sleep!

It is time to consult the Magic 8 Ball. Shall I move to Phoenicia? Reply hazy, try again. See? It is always right. Hazy. It is all so hazy.

Even the dawn, breaking now outside the window, is hazy. Trees emerge from the mist like soldiers, steadfast.

Try again. So this is what I do. I become lost in despair and anger, then I remind myself that I have been given a gift, a chance to change myself. Today is election day: vote for the forces of light, or darkness. I have this choice. Sort of like Democrat or Republican. Or Green.

And so I pull myself up. I am ready now to move forward. And then it feels like I've stepped in gum carelessly thrown to a hot sidewalk. My heel is suddenly reluctant. It is the thought of leaving my friends. Everyone I know that I depend on (and who, when the tide turns, I long to have depend on me). Even though the list of people to whom I can turn for help with Nelly has dwindled considerably, what with all the little kitties and big chickens she would love to have at.

A friend reminded me of the fact that if I base my decision on where to go on not leaving my friends, there's nothing to stop them from leaving me. I mean, people move, yes?

If dogs had their way, no one would ever leave anyone. This time we put in together, these walks, these meals, these talks, would form a bond as strong as any chain. Dogs have their loyalties. Deathless ones. But we are people, and we leave. That's what we do.

Will all this turn out OK? Very doubtful. I don't like this answer, so I cup the ball once more and think hard about my question. As I see it, yes.

There. That's better.


Tina in Cleveland said...

Ten years ago I moved from New Haven to Cleveland. It took a long time, but I learned to like it here--not just accept it, but actually, actively LIKE it. Cleveland! Ohio! And yes, not only do other people move, too--time changes things. If you stay put, the places that loom large now won't anymore, as children get older, you get too old to do yoga or ballet or rock climbing or whatever, places go out of business, the old people in the neighborhood die, familiar structures get torn down or burn, shopping plazas sprout up close by. Well, let me stop. It was very, very hard for me to move--with 2 kids, 4 and 9--questioning every minute whether I'd done the right thing, the 4 year old inconsolable for his old house. But it all worked out--much in the spirit of "pick a place." It would have been fine back in New Haven, too. Except for one thing: had I not moved, I would still be afraid to. Now, I look forward to where I might move next, when the kids are launched. Make as rational a decision as you can--but even if you think it's not rational enough, it will still probably work out. People move for all sorts of insane reasons, and it works out. I hope this is somewhat encouraging--I do intend it to be!

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Thank you, Tina--that was exactly what I needed to hear today. (And echoed a friend who just reminded me: "You will look back on this one day and say, 'I got through that!'") For, last night--yep, 3 a.m. again--I realized I was about to make a big mistake in buying a too-expensive house that I didn't like very much. So I stopped that. Back to square one. Another silver lining here has been my friends--oh, golly, my friends. Four of them hurried out to be with me this morning as support, & helped me make my decision. One told me, "Of course--you're broken, we want to fix you." And I burst into tears tonight in amazed gratitude because someone (not even a close friend) called to say we could stay in an apartment she has if we needed it. I haven't let my son see me cry in a very long time, but I decided it was OK now, that in fact I was so very sad to leave here, and I knew he was too. He began crying and asking, "Why do we have to leave this house?" Let's just say I soft-pedaled the answer.

And I hear you. How truly daunting to think about moving to Cleveland . . . and then you discover the West Side Market, and University Circle, and the parks. Thank you for providing a very good lesson. We will be OK wherever we go.

When we get there.

tina in cleveland said...

My older son was 9 when I told him we were moving, the house going up for sale, all that. And one night while reading Harry Potter to him (yes, he could read, but we still did this)--he started to cry and said "I don't want to move." Broke my heart. He had his best friend in the world 2 doors down, Mike. The day we actually moved, months later, the two of them dipped their hands in a mud puddle in the driveway and made handprints all over the side of the house, which was white. Then we drove off forever, Mike waving on the sidewalk. I thought, I wish I were dead. When we got here, things were much easier for him than for me. He made friends immediately.

I wanted to say the other day one word of warning, but then I thought, mind your own business--but on the other hand, how does one do that with a person one does not know? Nevertheless, since you brought it up, the one piece of advice I'd have would be don't pay too much for a house--even one you like (never mind one you don't). Don't get yourself in a financial bind of any sort, or even near one. That's the one thing that could make a big difference. So I was relieved to hear that you backed off a too expensive house. When it seems you can't hang on to anything else, you can at least hang on to a few bucks.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Once again, Tina (et al.), good points you make; I'm hearing lots of persuasive opinions these days. Too bad so many of them conflict.

Your description of your son and his leavetaking made me gasp. Yes, this too is what I face: every day a new heartbreak on my child's behalf. So it's good to know he'll do better than me. After all, he now instructs me more profoundly in how best to live and act than anyone else. He has the most highly developed sense of compassion and ethics than anyone I know.

I just wanted to report on a bit of Skinnerian observation. I realized that lately, I've felt about going to look at houses the same way I feel about reaching for an electrified fence: I am avoiding a highly aversive situation, where I've received a shock before. It causes me to hyperventilate. Because it often ends as it did this morning, when I went to see a house that was so darn perfect I wanted to cry. Absolutely gorgeous. I could live there, work there. Ideal for Nelly. Affordable. Low taxes. And 17 country-road miles from anywhere. We'd be spending all our time in the car, to get to everything we do. Burning fossil fuel that's approaching the price of gold. Or else the two of us, isolated & alone. GAH! Stuff like this--and it happens again and again--hurts like heck. And time is short. Growing shorter. Gotta do something. But what?

tina said...

That persuasive opinions conflict is just more evidence that life is pretty much all trade-offs. Yes, you've got this, but then you haven't got that. I've always found this way of looking at it less infuriating than the glass half full/half empty way, since I tend to the empty view.

You just have to pick your trade-off, she said helpfully. I've never lived 17 miles away from things, so don't really know what I'm talking about there, but here's one thought if you do end up out there. I have sons who were constant chatterboxes until puberty, when they both clammed up. EXCEPT when driving in the car on trips of longer than 5 minutes. The car is the place I find out about them nowadays, perhaps because with me looking out the windshield they are less self-conscious. I hear their views on life and love, some of which are breathtaking. This is so dumb, but there are good and bad things about ANY place that you would choose because you're not an idiot and you're not going to move anywhere that was more bad than good. Also, trust your instincts, if you can locate them!

Urbanist said...

May I respectfully suggest that you reconsider your need to live 17 country-road miles from anything? I mean, the state of the planet being what it is.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

YES, Urbanist. Quite right. That is why I just declined to buy the house of my DREAMS--the exact one I have been longing & looking for, even though I am still about to be homeless. It is 17 miles from anything; I simply cannot justify this. And you should hear the flak I'm getting from some of my friends, who are desperately trying to find me somewhere to go, but who are becoming as frustrated as I am. (And, to be frank, it's not only the utter wastage of fossil fuel here; it's also the wastage of life, in a car; and the remoteness for someone who is apt to feel lonely at a point in her life when she doesn't want to.) This whole subject gave rise to a discussion about local stores, with my friend a mile down the road who lives in what used to be the general store for these parts. They used to exist every mile or two. Now I have to drive 8 miles for groceries. (And I'm considered centrally located.) Well, that's about to change, innit?

pierre d'alai said...

Have you considered Mauritius? It seems so much more appealing than Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, or Madagascar.

Some of the other M's, like Monterey, Monaco, or Mykonos, are such a cliche at this point.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Exactly, Pierre. The chic factor of the anti-chic is why I am currently considering Missouri.

pierre d'alai said...

They're always looking for new people there. They even have a saying -- "Missouri loves company."

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

I've packed my bags.