The Question of Where I'm From

by Rosemary King


The earliest memories of my life are probably similar to the memories that others have.  A hazy, ephemera of snippets disconnected from a clear sense of time. Walking around a dark wood kitchen, far below the tops of the counters. A wooded backyard that seemed very large.  I don't remember leaving that first place in the north.  I don't remember specifically moving south. I remember being down there. Wide empty roads that led aimlessly around loops of houses that all looked vaguely the same. Groups of children who biked around together and shouted things.  I remember sitting in a set of golden-silk Chinese pajamas on a circular bench that wrapped around a large tree in our front yard. It was dusk.  I remember vaguely that my father built that bench.  I don't remember the tree being cut down but eventually the front yard became treeless. 

The house was large, as many houses there were. Spacious boxes with places for everything.  There was space for large indoor trees. A room for the laundry and big dogs.  Space to walk around inside.  A room with a fire to sit close to when it was cold. A bright studio with window walls and skylights to sit in when it was hot.  Places to put all the pantry food, and drawers for the vegetables.  Walls that could hold dozens and dozens of framed pictures. Space enough for Christmas trees twice the size of my father. Spots for large looms and ping-pong tables and huge cardboard forts, all which were constantly draped with multiple children.  There was space for everything, a place for everything.  My friends' houses were the same.  It was in this material uniformity that it became apparent that the family of which I was a part did not fit there. 

People there belonged on teams and in church and down the shore.  I became conscious that neither I, nor any of my immediate family took part in those things.  I became aware that people belonged to that place.  Their father's father had been born near there, or their grandparents lived around the corner or in their houses. I knew the place I seemingly belonged was very far away.  My mother's family had always been from the north country where winters were real.  My father came from England and his accent garnered a lot of attention from friends of mine.  Seeing our extended families required trips in the car or on airplanes.  It felt difficult to get to them. 

As I continued to grow up in that spot to the south, I grew up differently from any place of belonging. It followed that I grew away from it.  In growing up, the sense of where I came from began to fade until it settled into a super-terrestrial twilight that could only be seen or felt from time to time. 

If, like Joan Didion says, we are formed by the landscape we grew up in, then my landscape is simply a question. How does a question form who you are, other than to make you a perpetual question asker?

Not knowing the place of your belonging creates a sense that you could belong anywhere.  An atom hanging in time.  You begin to carry the things that you need with you on your back and the world becomes the space that you inhabit.  Soon the flow of your life rubs against the grain of most people around you, who follow the law of physics and eventually come to rest.  Rather, perpetual motion becomes the rule. 

What is less understood is the trajectory for this slice of humanity.  It is here that nature versus nurture comes into play, but which is which?   It may be that transience is a state of rest and the intermediate is the destination. Does motion continue until final rest is forced by natural law and one rejoins that faded twilight of belonging?  Or is it the natural instinct to build one's kingdom and plant a flag? Can a location or a circumstance come to inhabit that place inside you that has until then been dark matter, known only by what is unknown?

These questions occur while you are, paradoxically, inhabiting a place, often with no outward intention of indulging the rule of perpetual motion, having forgotten that you are always in it.  But every once in a while, when you're alone, you sit and watch the light dim and the faded understanding rolls to the front of your mind like a fog.  You remember what you have to do and know that eventually it will happen.  It stays with you for a while until you start putting away the groceries and then it fades again, until it's just another vague memory rejoining all the others in a far off collection of neurons that fire faintly, every once in a while.