Unlike some other adoptees, who grew up under a cloud of abandonment issues, my “rootless” status always left me with a feeling of absolute possibility. My borders were not defined. I did not look at my parents and see my future self. I could be anyone. I could possess any number of genetic talents waiting to surprise me. I could be from anywhere. I was the definition of a blank slate and I loved it.
For a while, as a child, I was convinced that my biological parents were aliens or, at the very least, intergalactic travelers. One day they would return—in a spaceship, naturally—and take me away to explore the universe. To aid their search, I would sometimes leave notes in the backyard: “I’m inside, in the middle bedroom.”
I loved my adoptive family with every cell in my body but I wanted desperately to know the world (or universe) beyond 119 a Street.
I found other avenues of escape through books and movies, family vacations, my overactive imagination, and every opportunity I could find or make to travel. This drive to move has never left me, though it has mellowed.
A friend recently noticed that of all the deeply personal ground I’ve been covering in these Chronicles lately, I haven’t spoken about my move from Nelson. Indeed, this is unusual for me—The Coconut Chronicles began as a kind of travel blog, after all.
Nelson has been our mailing address since November 2009. We also lived there for one year prior to moving to the Cook Islands. For 7 years, we thought of Nelson as home. Or, at least, home base. We came and went a lot but there was always a bed, a kitchen, and a bathroom waiting for us when we returned.
More than that, Nelson was the place where we found an entire city full of people that we enjoyed being around. For a population of only ten thousand, Nelson has a shockingly robust arts community, a bustling downtown core, and citizens that are physically fit, environmentally aware, and politically active. The scenery is gorgeous, the traffic is light, and the vibe is relaxed, fun and inclusive. Short of an ocean, Nelson struck us as the closest thing to paradise we could find.
Short of an ocean. I’ll return to that later.
I should be grieving for my lost home. I know that.
When I consider the number of friends I made in Nelson and the Kootenays, I am overwhelmed. Good friends. The kind of friends you feel as if you’ve known your entire life or longer. Friends who would rally together on a moment’s notice to send you off to a science fiction convention to cheer you up. Friends who inspired and encouraged. Friends who made me laugh loud and long.
I should be grieving for my far away friends.
In Nelson, I found opportunities a big city would have never offered to someone with my paltry qualifications. Chair a literary competition, compile an anthology, and plan an awards gala for over 200 guests? Sure, why not? Co-host a radio show where I get to interview some of the most interesting and influential people in the city? Yep. Make a connection that gets you a contract with a NYC literary agent? Uh huh. Teach a workshop through the local arts centre? Done. Launch a novel to a packed house at the local library? Check.
There was more than one Nelson moment when I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Why are they letting me do all this stuff?”
I should be grieving for the loss of those rare opportunities.
It is fitting that Nelson was the destination of so many 1960’s war resisters. When I think of the city, peace is what I feel. To walk Nelson’s streets and back alleys is to step back into some fictional past, where “free range children” were the norm, grand old houses had personality and charm, neighbours eschewed fences for fruit trees, and everyone knew the name of the main street’s resident cat. I loved living in a place where everything I needed was a short, peaceful, and visually pleasing walk away, and on each of those walks I would run into at least one friendly face.
I should be grieving the loss of that oasis of peace.
In the weeks leading up to our departure from Nelson, I made arrangements with friends for one last cup of tea, one last lunch, one last glass of wine, one last walk in the woods. These meetings were full of love but absent the pang of grief I knew I should feel. I knew I was going to miss these friends dearly; what was wrong with me?
It was during one of these “last lunches” that my friend Dana so perfectly articulated what I was feeling. She had endured a stretch of chaos and tragedy of her own, and had undertaken similar big moves in the middle of it all.
“Do you feel as if everything is happening and you’re just riding along, going along with it? You don’t feel good or bad, you’re just doing the things you know you need to do?” she asked.
That was it exactly. That is where I am still.
In a word, I am numb. My gas tank is empty. I have moments of happiness and sadness in my day-to-day life but the big picture and the larger feelings have vanished. The furor of the recent bombings in Paris and Beirut only left me wanting to get away from it all—to shut my ears and eyes. Even other people’s heightened emotions are too much. All I want right now is stillness and silence, routine, even boredom.
You see, I made a mistake. All those years, that delightful feeling of rootlessness that came from living without the defining borders of genetics, led me to believe that I was a truly free spirit unbound by family, career or religion. That was a lie. I had roots. Deep roots. They anchored me to the earth. And when they were torn away, I was not free, I was adrift. Lost.
I am not in Nelson but I am not really in Campbell River either. I am neither here nor there. I am floating, drifting, waiting for the wave that will carry me home.
The decision to move to Campbell River was something Prez and I have been talking about for a few years now. For all of Nelson’s charms (and they are legion), we have missed the ocean. And, now that we have returned, it is the ocean that whispers promises of better days ahead. I see this in the eyes of my husband—eyes that spark to life every time we walk on the docks or along the shore. He is home.
And he is my home.