I’ve been in Mill Valley for almost two weeks now, and I’m slowly starting to feel a bit settled. My bedroom here is paneled with over-full bookshelves and I share it with a corn snake. Her name is Cornflake. She and I have managed to get along so far. Although it’s a bit of an odd group that I have become a part of here — my friendly boss/landlord Dan and co-worker/friend from Chicago/housemate Michael and I all living under one roof with a gang of ancient, maladied pets — it’s certainly an amiable one. At least one of us is at work listing books to sell online at any given time, and jointly we go through mass quantities of tea and coffee per day. We split up chores and errands evenly. We read a lot. Dan gets a lot of interesting messages left on his landline.
Since I’ve gotten here I’ve begun to think a lot about the word “home,” and what we mean when we say it. A lot of people will think of their hometown, or maybe the house they grew up in, as their home. I certainly have done so for most of my life. Where I’m from has always been an important part of who I am – Houston and Texas are integral parts of the identity I’ve conjured for myself over the years. But now that I seem to have taken up a more nomadic style of life, I don’t want to feel that way anymore – because it means that I’m always feeling not at home, and thus not entirely myself. And nobody wants to feel that.
As if the universe was trying to teach me a lesson by comparison, I heard a story Friday night that made me think about identity and home a little differently. I was at a storytelling event at the library here and the first person to step to the mic was a middle-aged man named Marcus. He began to talk about his struggles with memory loss.
Marcus does not have Alzheimer’s, nor the sort of gradual memory loss that happens to most after a certain age. He has a rare form of epilepsy that, throughout his entire adult life, has been consistently robbing him of his short- and long-term memories in such a subtle way that he only began to notice it in stages. He talked about not knowing what his parents looked like, forgetting where he grew up, and not remembering a dinner he had with his best friend that was just a week ago. He said that every morning when he wakes up, he looks in the mirror and realizes that he shares next to no history with the man looking back at him. He cannot identify with the events and facts of his own past.
Well, as you might be able to imagine, I felt my own identity crisis pale into white when I heard Marcus’ story. Where do I get off being all existentially angsty about my home when this guy literally can’t remember where his home is?
Because of Marcus and his story and because the past year has really been a lesson in getting comfortable with ambiguity for me anyway, I have decided to stop worrying so much. This time of life is supposed to be one of uncertainty and change, one of parting with past identities and forging new ones. Of realizing that you are as much where you are going as where you come from.