I spent the winter before I graduated with my master’s degree alone in the Pennsylvania apartment my husband and I shared with another couple and their baby daughter. My husband had already found a job back in California and had left to start it. Our housemates were Canadian and were spending the semester doing research back home in Calgary.

I missed my husband and our friends but there was an achy beauty to the emptiness of our apartment, the stark black trees outside the windows covered with snow. All during February, March, April, when my classes were over for the day and I was back at home I sat in the big rocker our housemates had brought, gazing at the white landscape outside and feeling deeply identified with it. I was also bare on the outside but on the inside there was this new thing growing, my life after grad school.

That winter and spring of 1997 I carried around a deep, effervescent feeling in my gut – the sensation of having served a sentence and that the date of my release was fast approaching. I’d only vaguely registered the beauty of central Pennsylvania during the three years we’d spent there, immersed as I’d been in getting through the program. Sure, there were things I enjoyed, especially for their contrast to California – the thick yellow sprays of forsythia that lined the back fence behind our apartment complex in the spring, the electric red of the sumac leaves in the fall, and the almost tropical lushness of the surrounding fields in summer. But the place didn’t feel like home.

My husband and I had entertained the idea of staying in Pennsylvania, or moving to some other East Coast city, like Boston or New York or Washington, D.C. But we just couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. I remember one cold night in December, before that spring I graduated, talking through our options in bed in the dark. “Let’s just go back,” I said, and we both laughed. Of course that’s what we would do.

I graduated in May; my husband came out to celebrate with me. We packed our things and sent them back to California on the moving van and he flew back to the Bay Area to work. But it didn’t seem right to me to just hop on a plane and, five hours later, be in California — my time in Pennsylvania, however foreign, just over.

So I took the train back. The journey lasted three days, during which I wrote and read and drank gin-and-tonics to help me sleep. All those miles, the train clicking away — carrying me farther and farther from Pennsylvania and closer and closer to California — I had the same sort of feeling I’d had that winter, sitting alone in the apartment: an almost-there excitement that grew the deeper west we traveled.

By the time the train reached Seattle I was stiff and dirty and ready for the trip to end. I flew down to San Francisco and into my husband’s arms. We’d had an adventure. I was different. I was glad to be different, and to be home.

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About Kate

Things are weird in the wide world -- and like everyone else, most days I'm used to it. But to shake things up for myself, I like to notice and write about stuff that strikes me as both beautiful and strange, fascinating and repulsive, sweet and sour -- like how the steamy, stinky air that comes up from the BART vents at 16th Street Mission reminds me of being twenty-two, apparently immortal, and in love.

7 responses »

  1. danette says:

    that is exactly why i drove myself here from new york. i couldn’t imagine just flying from one life into another life; i needed time. it was the best 6 days of my life! i loved every minute of it!

  2. Shirley Holley says:

    How deeply felt and expressed. You bring me there with you. Thank you.

  3. Susan says:

    Wow, woman….on this beautiful fall day, I drove out to the country to take the dogs for an morning walk after dropping Joya off at school, I have been longing for a change to accompany Rod’s physical transformation and the inner redemption we both felt long before this transformation every happened…..I lost my car key on the walk and so I did the walk 3 times before calling Rod to rescue me…thank God he can do that….we have been discussing change ….in the night..after the lights go off….and we both have the sensation you describe. “I carried around a deep, effervescent feeling in my gut – the sensation of having served a sentence and that the date of my release was fast approaching”…release into a new life that we have the opportunity to define..

    Thank you for providing this reminder…this insight…into the end of the chapter we shared together in our apartment with the forsythia bushes….

    • Kate says:

      Thanks so much for this, Susan. That was such a bittersweet time in all our lives…will always treasure it. Would love to hear more about the “inner redemption” you mentioned. Blessings on you both.

  4. Cheryl Garlick says:

    Not that you asked, but I think if you titled this something about ‘home’ you could publish it as a very short essay maybe in something like Sunset or maybe Oakland magazine…

    Just saying…

    Cheryl

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