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  • Writer's picturemaggiehsmith07

Go Out to the Places You Will be From

Last weekend, we closed out my mom’s first visit to our home in Virginia. Although she denies it, I think she envisioned us residing in a rural setting where we had to drive half an hour to get to a grocery store and that store was a Piggly Wiggly or an IGA. And, although there are a lot of deer in the neighborhood, the humans still out number them.

I drove mom, aka “The Bertinator”, back to Illinois. The trip is 11-ish hours. The kind of road trip that can have your mind busy with crazy thoughts before the hours even hit double digits and even if you have company for the ride.

Although I grew up in the Midwest, I’ve lived most of my life away from it at this point. The first time my starter spouse traveled to Illinois, I asked, “What do you think of Illinois?”

He responded, “It’s flat.” I remember not knowing what to think of that – I think I may have been slightly defensive of Illinois and responded with an incredulous, “That’s it?” Now that I’ve been away for a few decades, I can understand how one might be struck by the flatness of Illinois and its neighboring states.

Indiana is long, flat and brown in all directions and you for miles because of this. And, if you’ve never understood the term “corn rows” the corn fields, past season, look as if someone has dragged a comb tight through them. The billboards along the highway conflict with one another. One proclaims, HELL IS REAL, in white letters against a black background. For some reason, this elicits a chuckle from me. Or perhaps I’m laughing at a neighboring billboard urging passersby to stop at the “Gentlemen’s Club” or the “Adult Store.”

Growing up, there was a commercial on TV where a cartoon crow sang that there was “more than corn in Indiana”. The crow urged you to visit the amusement park Indiana Beach. The amusement park announced its permanent closing early this year. The crow’s still right – there are gentlemen's clubs, adult stores, and black cows peppering the countryside.

Ohio is less hypnotic than Indiana. I attribute this to the fact that they have trees. When you’re close to West Virginia, substantial hills begin to appear. My car needs gas inconveniently – I’m forced to exit at a “town” that lures passersby with the promise of gas a mere two miles off the highway. I exit and drive along the Rattlesnake River until I come across a Loves Gas Station which is a truck stop. A squat hotel across the street from Loves makes me feel simultaneously creeped out and sad that people stay there. I drive on to another gas station. This one’s across from a Starbucks – which is a shock to see. I get gas and then in line at the Starbucks drive thru that moves slowly. At the window, there are 2 tip jars. One that says, “Plays Christmas music before Thanksgiving.” The other says, “Does not play Christmas music before Thanksgiving.”

The plays Christmas music before Thanksgiving jar is surprisingly full. I can’t help but wonder if this crowd is generous or numerous or both. I’m in the latter group – which is may be comprised of cheap ass grinches or people who don’t carry cash or both. I think how highly unscientific this all is and that my thought process is getting a little wonky and I still have over six hours to drive. After the drive-through, I briefly consider listening to Christmas music (“Take that OH-HI-OH! I’m in the goddamn Christmas spirit!”) but opt to keep listening to a book called “Hell in the Heartland” which is not about a road trip through the Midwest as you may suspect. I recognize the town Chillicothe as I continue down the road - but not for any reason a town wants to be recognized. Instead, I recognize it from a series called The Vanishing Women which depicts six women who have gone missing from there. Four have been found murdered.

The last hour plus of the trip, I find myself on a dark, winding road. People flash their lights at me and I wonder if they are warning me of police? I later realize they are trying to communicate to me that one of my headlights has burnt out. What is one to do with this information after 9 PM on a Sunday night in the middle of nowhere? I press towards home, my one headlight straining into the dark night. I arrive after 11 PM – grateful and hopped up on caffeine. I sleep restlessly and work the next morning. I’d scheduled the day off but the rain poured on – postponing our plans to cut down a Christmas tree.

We get the tree the next day at a “tree farm” in Roanoke – which is approximately an hour from where we live. Andrea and I have cut down a tree for 10 years running. This was our first time doing so in Virginia. I expected the tree farm to be much like the ones we’d grown accustomed to – with cozy barns serving up cider donuts and cocoa, selling wreaths and other holiday wares. This farm was in someone’s sprawling backyard. The man had a quiet drawl – like Buffalo Bill’s in The Silence of the Lambs. And? There was no bathroom. The man told us that the tree was $25. As we walked away to cut it down, Andrea asked, “Did he mean a foot? Or for the entire tree?” Thankfully, he did in fact mean for the entire tree. This is a bargain. Perhaps the fact he doesn’t has someone schilling wreaths or scrubbing a toilet keeps the overhead down? As we pulled away from his home, Andrea observed Buffalo Bill’s car in the driveway, a BMW Z4, and said, “Tree cutting must be a lucrative business.”

My certification package was due this week to lead mindfulness in the workplace and our final class was Thursday. The teacher included the quote, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” While waxing poetically about Semisonic. I wanted to point out that it was actually a sentiment expressed by the Roman Philosopher Seneca but I’m awaiting review of my packet so I opted to keep my mouth shut. Semisonic. Pbbbt.

But yeah – every new beginning does come from some other beginning’s end. This weekend was my final coaching class. I’m going to miss the people in that class and the space we held for one another to learn - mostly about ourselves. Until I took this class, I'd never realized how much I said "I think." In coaching, you and your client don't want to be in your heads - and "think" is a one way ticket to your head. I wonder why I say this so damn much and, as I walk away from my office, the answer finally comes to me.

When I would visit my parents in Illinois when on leave from the Army, I'd shout at them, "NO CRYING!" as I left. A colleague of mine tells me that she cries now when parting from her daughter who's away. I try to imagine the daughter yelling, "No crying." but I can't because it's a crazy thing to say. I know this now and can hold space for feelings of others - it's my own I'd prefer not to deal with. Later on, in life, I attempted to drown any uncomfortable feeling. But - it turns out - that those fuckers could swim. Thinking is preferable. It's expected of you. College, workplaces - they reward your thinking. Nowadays, when my feelings build up, they sometime burst forth in a torrent of tears that last hours. Maybe days. The problem with awareness, with learning, is you can't un-know it which means I have to deal with my aversion to my feelings. Damn.

I feel (see what I did there? Uh huh. Old dog, new tricks) this group will stay in touch and continue to learn from one another and partner together. And now, we go forward and hold that space for others so they can learn from themselves.

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