Pieces of Home

Dad,

I’ve been taken away from home. I don’t know where I’m going. They won’t tell me. Heart throbbing, bones aching, hands writhing–all I see is open road.

I only had time to pack one backpack.

How do I fit home into a backpack? How do I package scooter rides around Buffalo Avenue? And zip up the song of an ice cream truck, the quacking of ducks, the weep of a cello? I wish I could close my hands around Balboa Park and tuck it into my pockets.

The real world—that’s what they call it, the place on the other side of the open road. But it doesn’t feel real, none of it. All shadows and distortions and unknowns, like the nightmares I told you about when I couldn’t fall asleep in my own bed and you still tucked me in at night.

When we moved to Northridge, I didn’t cry. I didn’t kick. I didn’t scream. I danced with the boxes into our new neighborhood, into our new house, into my new room, because we were together, and we were happier.

More things to pack: TV humming in the other room. You, on the phone, in your office. Sizzling meat on a hot pan. Percussive beat of my high school’s marching band, three blocks away. Another corner of the Valley that we called home.

When I moved to UCLA, I didn’t kick. I didn’t scream. But I did cry. I marched with the boxes into my new school, into my new dorm, into my new room, and I cried, because we weren’t together, and I wasn’t happier.

Until I found a nook by the window in the office where I worked. And a patch of grass in the Sculpture Garden and a seat in the English Reading Room and–kind eyes. Until I found kind eyes. More to pack, so much to pack, too much that I can’t pack.

(You always joked that I packed my room with me, wherever I went. This time, I tried.)

Tell Mom not to worry. I have the essentials. And a few additions—not too much. She always said that I’d become a hoarder, the way I’d refuse to let go of any and all tangible hints of a memory.Ticket stubs, receipts, birthday cards, trinkets—my room, a walk-in scrapbook—but I hope that I’ve left you with enough pieces of me. Tell Mom not to throw too much away.

  1. I take with me our family photo.

The one that has sat on mantels in Van Nuys and Northridge.We’re all in it, together,before time unraveled us. I sat on your lap, three years old with curly q’s. Your thumb’s on my chin, nudging my bewildered face towards the camera. You were always there to guide me in the right direction.

  1. I take with me my diaries.

Elementary school chronicles penned with glittering gel and big brother’s commentary scrawled in red (a mean color, with the words to match). All of these stories, blacked out by years of growing up, fading with each step forward. I keep these flower-spotted journals and bring new leather ones so that I may walk without fear of…disappearing.

  1. I take with me a paperback of Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl.

It’s the only book that I’ve read more than twice. 208 pages that remind me of the possibility, the existence of unconditional kindness. Goodness. Sincerity. Mom’s favorite childhood book was also called Stargirl. Not the same one—she hasn’t been able to find it since. But she still searches (a glint of hope in her eyes, scanning spines). I’m not going to lose my Stargirl.

  1. I take with me the Chicago Bulls teddy bear.

Mom brought it home from an out-of-state conference like she often did—a shelf-full of dolls, defying geographical bounds. I left Seattle and Minnesota on my bed, to remind you, to remind myself, that time and space aren’t as important as what we take with us.

  1. I take with me the charm bracelet that you gave me for Christmas.

The one that matches Mom’s. And I’m also taking the leather bracelet that I got in Venice, the one that matches yours. I’ll wear them on my wrists, pressed against my pulse, keeping you close, wherever this open road takes me. While I don’t know where I’m headed, I know where I’ve been.

It’s here. In this backpack.

Loves Always and Anywhere,

JoAnna

 

 

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