Full Moon Virgo ~ Home Seeking from Walla Walla
The sound of rain on the windows of the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla is subtle under the chatter of guests in the elevator next to my dog-friendly room. But it’s there, soothing like fingertips on my anxious shoulder. It is late September, and the pumpkins were piled high in barrels out front of the Idaho co-op where I last bought groceries. I am almost done with this leg of my trip, and feel a strange sense of homecoming. I have slept in twenty nine cities in two months. I am looking forward to a night of Netflix without the coordinated guilt of not going out to explore a city I don’t know.
The moon is now full in Virgo, and that means we must align our hearts with the details, discern the path which is not the easiest, but the most pure. The work is sorting through what matters and what doesn’t, trashing knickknacks and polishing keepsakes, both physical and metaphorical. I don’t need all these maps or tickets from places I’ve visited. But I do need to remember the names, the stories. I do need to wear the atlas bone earrings I bought in a Kansas City. The counter clerk told me the atlas bone connects the skull to the spinal cord. What better talisman for a woman who’s been moving over the land as if she were an eagle? A full moon is a good time to revisit rituals, to keep in mind the perfection we seek, and still be kind with ourselves when we don’t reach it at the pace we want.
I have been writing here because it is writing that keeps me grounded, this, my meditation, my yoga, the road, the friends I’ve seen, the dream I have that one day I can actually stay put and feel like I belong. I write because I have to. But haven’t been telling the whole story. The whole story is longer than this journey, and I have to sort through which parts matter and which parts don’t.
Last fall, before I had all my students’ names memorized, I took my seventh period to Holy Name of Jesus Church for our back to school liturgy. I looked up at the tiny panels of stained glass above the clean white panels of wall and thought about escape. The church was built in 1941, and unlike other Cathedrals, it harkens the midcentury modernist tendencies. Clean lines, hints at gold. Father Reese stood at the pulpit, delivering a homily about how much we are all loved. I sat next to my students, unallowed to have any personal reaction besides supervising them. I thought about the months before that, the writing guide project I had spent all summer supervising and generating, yanked because of one word; I thought about the home I loved so much, where I had hosted literary and music salons, turned toxic from threatening roommates; the collection of poems I’d sent out to contests twenty times, and received back with twenty rejection letters; the last man I’d begun to fall for, who’d spent twice as much time texting away from me as he had moving towards me. How different I was from the adults monitoring pews next to me, wildly unattached, eccentric florescent in my attempts to find the thing they all so effortlessly had. How easy it is to use passive voice around the word love.
“Jesus’ work,” Father Reese had said, “is loving us. In return, we are asked to love one another.” My cheeks flushed red, and my chest grew tight. How dare someone ask me to give something I felt so dreadfully withheld from me? Who is it that is going to love me through this? When you give all you know how to give, and you can’t manifest a relationship, a home or a book, to then have that halfway-to-goal life fall apart, what kind of failure are you? It makes sense to belong for a while, and then break. That’s divorce. That’s my parents, many of my friends’ parents, and now a number of my friends. But to never belong to anyone, or anyplace, what is that? How can you be loved if you aren’t seen, if you don’t belong? Father Reese continued, “His benevolence is never ending, and he invites us to give the same generosity and care. Love one another like your life depends on it.” I sat there in the schism between teacher self and true self, holding space for my young students. Okay, I thought, can we do this like an assigned partner activity? Who is supposed to love me? Who am I supposed to love? I remember thinking, yes, my life does depend on it – and I’m afraid that under the surface, I’m about to lose it.
In the year my father died, I read an essay by Augusten Burroughs titled, “How to End Your Life.” The essay was in his book This is How, and like all his other writing, thick with dark humor and brilliant insights. After I read it, I wanted to assign the essay to anyone who dealt with real depression. Later the month of this homily, after making my way through my short list of good friends, I would call the 800 numbers to make sure I didn’t melt into the abyss. How can you live without love, unknown and invisible, or so visible that no one sees the truth? But Burroughs essay was my first set of instructions. He wrote that, “If you believe suicide will bring you peace, or at the very least just an end to everything you hate- you are displaying self-caring behavior. You are still able to actively seek solutions to your problems. You are willing to go to great lengths to provide what you believe will be soothing to yourself. This strikes me as optimistic.” He goes on to say that “You are allowed to be alive. You are allowed to be somebody different. You are allowed to not say goodbye to anybody or explain a single thing to anyone, ever.” The solution is to leave, to walk out your front door, keep walking, and never turn around. If you need an exit sign so badly, choose a different one. If your day to day feels like swinging a hopeful butterfly net around swarming gnats, it’s time to go.
That was how I felt. In a community where most people my age were Catholic, married with two or three kids, I didn’t belong. In a house where I tried to be both manager and tenant, I didn’t belong. In the world of poets, where I’d been splicing together metaphors and rhymes, I didn’t belong. In the city where I was born, but didn’t work in tech, or make a gobstopping amount of money, I didn’t belong. In a group of friends all partnered and unavailable or twelve years younger and partying, I didn’t belong. Shit, at most restaurants when I looked at the menu, I felt pretty clearly that I didn’t belong.
How had I made it this far? I sat in the pew next to my students, listening to a priest talk about love. And I felt ill. In the rows around me, I imagined all these young people whose lives would be rich, who would know successes I wouldn’t, who would figure out how to be alive, to be together in the mess of life. I felt like home was anywhere but where I was. I didn’t know it then, but the seed of this journey was already in me then.
As I’ve pulled the black zipper around my cobalt rolly hardcase every few days, placed my bags into the trunk like a game of Tetris, I’ve felt a smattering of comfort. I don’t have to stay here, or anywhere. I don’t have to try to belong. I don’t have to burden anyone with my truth.
But I do. And I will. Just not quite yet. The comedy of this is not lost on me. If I keep running, no one will ever see more than my ass as I leave. I am running towards a solution to this problem of running away.
I am after the Exit sign. I see the way I’m loved. There have been butterflies everywhere on my journey. But I am about to drive over the rain or snow at Snoqualmie Pass to get back to Seattle. I will leave for a New Orleans wedding two days after I arrive in Seattle. Five days after I return from that trip, I will board a flight to Egypt. And then Jordan. And then Athens. And then who knows. But I am craving a place to be my own mess, to stop being a mess. Homecoming. I have sat in church pews, tree branches, ergonomic office chairs, the laps of men who wanted me to stay, and the drivers’ seat of my car. I know the salvation I seek is worth seeking, but I don’t know yet where it is.
I know many names for the Old and New Testament god, for the man who I was told died for my sins, for animal gods of shamanic tribes, for Roman and Celtic deities, for the forces we don’t want to admit we worship in my country. But I just have to believe under all these names, these faces and stories, there is one. And that is the one who heals, who takes me as I am, why says stay here and makes me feel like that’s a good idea. That is the one I seek. It is to this god I belong, and for this god I live.