15: Right Back Where I Started From

15: Right Back Where I Started From

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Right Back Where I Started From

And I have loved thee, ocean!

~Lord Byron

When I turned five, I received a copy of The Runaway Bunny. The message it conveyed was that elsewhere was better than right here.

“I’ve got to run away today,” I announced.

Mama nodded. “I understand, honey bunny,” she said. So she wrapped a peanut butter sandwich in wax paper, tucked it in the pocket of my red boucle coat, and kissed me goodbye.

“Remember, you aren’t allowed to cross the street,” she cautioned.

I trudged to the corner, about three houses away. I peeked over my shoulder. Yep… Mama stood there watching me, so I dared not attempt to cross. I contemplated my options and decided to set up camp right on the corner and eat my lunch there.

As I nibbled, I raised my face to the noontime sun. I’d have loved to have flopped down and snoozed for a bit, but knew I was only supposed to take a nap in my bed. I took a final bite, stuffed the wrapping in my pocket and trudged home.

That night at supper when I recounted how I’d run away from home. Daddy and my first-grader sister didn’t look impressed. “Looks like you ran right back,” they observed.

They were right, of course, at least for the time being. For several decades, I pretty much stayed put. I married, worked, raised a son, and took care of a variety of houses that never quite felt like home. It all was just… California. I always imagined that home was out there somewhere beyond the horizon beckoning me. It was someplace else… across the street… around the corner… across the continent… on the other side of the globe.

So at age fifty I ran away a second time, this time joining the Peace Corps. At long last I’d have the opportunity to explore those faraway places I’d always dreamed of. Now I wouldn’t have to stop at any corners. And maybe I’d find my home.

“You’ll come back in two years, and won’t ever want to venture far again,” friends warned.

“I doubt it,” I’d replied. In memory of my late mother, I packed a peanut butter sandwich to take on my first flight to Miami for a Peace Corps staging.

That Runaway Bunny would have envied my worldly adventures. I joined, joined again and rejoined. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I hacked open coconuts with a machete outside my house in Belize City. I clung to my counterpart as we raced on her motorcycle to get across streams before they flooded in the province of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic. I helped paint murals on the Youth Center fence with teens on a rare dry afternoon when the monsoon winds had died down in Mont Fleuri, Seychelles. Vacationing in Singapore, I sipped Slings at Raffles and stuck a toe in the South China Sea.

Later, I continued to travel as a health programming specialist for Peace Corps. I heard gray wolves howl on the steppes outside Ulan Bator on the spring equinox in Mongolia. I thrilled to the spontaneous singing of Samoan chiefs and missionaries at a training session in Apia. I explored the corners of the earth in Guyana, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Saint Vincent, Bulgaria. I was still looking for home, though I’d been to more than fifty countries.

When I remarried during the millennial year, my new husband Ken began to talk about his vision of a dream house. “It’s got to be somewhere with four seasons,” he insisted. “I love sweater weather.” So we settled in the far northeast corner of Washington State, and for a few years we shared what began to feel like home. And then Ken died.

I’ve continued to live in this huge old house, plodding through the seasons. I’ve hired handymen, gardeners, snowplowers to tend to the property, acres that I can’t handle on my own. I’ve dragged my vacuum up and down the stairs. I’ve mopped, scrubbed and dusted until my aging muscles ache.

And I’ve shivered. Friends who’ve lived here all their lives perk up in the winter, wandering outside to cheer on mittened children who barrel down hills on cookie sheet sleds. Me? I huddle by the fireplace, sip hot chocolate and wish it were iced tea. I’d rather be basking somewhere on a beach.

But it’s impossible, I decided, to attempt to move. I’m too old to be starting over somewhere else. Just thinking about the time and energy required to move again wore me out. Hopeless, I thought. I’m stuck here, and have to make the most of it.

Then I visited family in California last fall. I rambled across the beach to the edge of the Pacific. Suddenly, as the waves washed against my toes, I realized that this was home. Always had been. I’d grown up by the ocean. I’d gone fishing in it off a pier when I was a child. I’d sailed on it as a young adult. All my life I’ve loved the salty taste of my fingers after they’ve dipped in it, the delicious shock of the water’s icy bite when I first would dive in to body surf, the distinctive scent of seaweed and sea spray.

“I never realized how much I miss being close to the Pacific,” I told my son that night.

“Have you thought of moving back to California?” he asked.

“It would be overwhelming to even think about it,” I said, shaking my head at the impossibility.

He raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were the lady who at age fifty set out on an odyssey that took her to the remote corners of the earth.”

I stared at him, ideas clicking away in my mind. Yes, and I braved my way to the corner of my block when I was only five. I took a deep breath. Have I ever been too young or too old to refuse a challenge?

I’m ready to run away again. Challenging? Sure. But I’ve made a list and I’m checking it twice. I’ve already called the real estate agent. I’ve written to senior apartment complexes in my old hometown for rental estimates. I cashed in some frequent flyer miles for a ticket for a stepson to come and help clean out my garage and shed. I’m asking friends if they know of an art dealer who might be interested in the paintings and sculptures.

Each day I sort through a drawer, a closet, or a bookcase to determine what to donate, what to trash, and what to pack. I wake up each morning humming, “California, Here I Come.”

I’m crossing the street. I’m going home.

~Terri Elders

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