Three months ago my car died in a church parking lot. I told a friend about it, and he said it couldn’t have happened at a better place. It’s true, but it was still embarrassing. The service was about to start. There was a line of cars behind me—nice rust-free cars that still shine and have both side mirrors.
My friend helped me recharge the battery long enough to drive it back to my place.
It was sitting in my driveway until yesterday, when I watched it disappear behind a Windy City tow truck.
My car still has Minnesota plates. I moved from Minnesota to Illinois nearly three years ago. I never got new ones. I also never got an Illinois license, not even after my Minnesota one expired a month ago.
Maybe this isn’t telling. Maybe it doesn’t reveal a thing about my feelings about Illinois and my time here. I may have never made it to the DMV, but I put down roots in other ways. I filled my wallet with library cards, formed close friendships, got a job I liked. I wrote and published. I even became a member of a church (a first).
I know it is human nature to put off unpleasant, menial tasks. I have friends in Illinois who waited as long as a year before they switched their out-of-state licenses and plates. I guess the point is that they got around to it, and I didn’t. They adjusted, more or less, and I didn’t. I decided to abandon ship, to go home.
I have my new address in the notes app in my phone. It also happens to be my mom’s address. Yeah. You heard right. I will be living at home with my mom.
I’ve never been to our place, but I have seen a picture of the kitchen, the crystal chandelier mom’s boyfriend, Dick, installed above the table. I don’t need pictures to imagine the rest: White lace curtains framing every window, artificial flowers twinned around curtain rods, arranged in baskets on bookshelves and coffee tables.
If it’s dainty, shiny, or dipped in gold, my mom loves it. The Minneapolis Institute of Art houses a pair of Torchères. If you’ve been to the museum, they are hard to miss—nine foot tall gold candelabras held by elegant female figures draped in gold robes. Before they were donated to the museum, they flanked the entrance to a mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota. My mom adores the Torchères. She would put them outside our front door if she could.
Now, I should clarify, I’m not staying with my mom indefinitely. I have a job in Minneapolis and if everything goes as planned, I’ll be moving there in the fall.
That’s an hour or so south of my hometown. Don’t worry. You’ll enjoy familiarity for a while, regroup, leave the nest. Individuate. So I tell myself.
My new place has a spacious yard. I have seen pictures of my nephews hunting eggs in polo shirts and shorts, squinting in the sun, heads tilted to the sky. Mom sent the photographs in an e-mail on Easter morning with the subject line We miss you today.
I wrote back, I miss you too. And it’s true. I miss my family and friends. That is mainly why I’m moving home. I am homesick.
I don’t know if that’s a good reason, if after three years of beginnings and unexpected challenges it’s ok to pursue what’s comfortable, familiar. I want to grow and change. One of my biggest fears is falling into a rut, getting stuck.
I moved to Illinois because I wanted to live near a big city. I could picture what my life would be like if I stayed in Minnesota, and I didn’t want to know what I would do when I got up in the morning, who I would hang out with. This pull toward unpredictability isn’t new. I have always been like this. I lived away from home at 16. I have tried to move out-of-state for years. Never in my life have I felt tied to a place. I get this trait from my dad, an outlier in a line of predicable and conservative Brennemans. Brennemans don’t usually stray.
When my family moved to Minnesota in 1994, we lived on a hobby farm in the middle of nowhere. For the first time I didn’t have community. I was swimming in land, in space, and I took it all in, the cold and lonely brightness of it.
All those years I was putting my heart there. I just didn’t know it.
I know it’s easy to romanticize people and places when you miss them. There are clichés for a person in my situation. There’s no place like home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. There are writers who say it better. I’m thinking of Edgar Albert Guest who wrote It ain’t home/until somehow yer soul is sort o’wrapped round everything.
Maybe it’s true. Maybe places grow on us like people do. Maybe it is as scary as love. And perhaps it’s ok to admit that, to own it, to say goodbyes that hurt, to pack up your little life because you can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Tiffany Brenneman teaches writing at North Central University in Minneapolis. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University’s MFA Creative Writing Program, where she studied poetry and taught writing. Her most recent activities include sleepovers with her nephews, reading bad love poems to friends, and running in fields with her terrier, Scout.