We rolled into the Chuy's parking spot, the car heavy with our most important belongings and a lop-eared bunny. My husband and daughter ducked into the restaurant for a final stop. After a full day of loading boxes and bags for our cross-country drive, we felt the need to acknowledge the moment with some kind of ceremony. The best we could come up with was buying three "Keep Austin Weird" T-shirts before we hit the road. It felt both cheesy and profound.
I could hear the bunny rustling in the back as I bumped on the radio to KUT. Leaning back, I closed my eyes as a familiar song rolled in like fog.
The San Francisco Bay seemed very far away, yet such a delicious adventure when my husband was offered a position there. As a former military brat, I prided myself on my adaptability and sense of adventure, and thrilled at the idea of our moving cross-country together. What's more tantalizing than a fresh start? Even my daughter, a few months shy of high school, was intrigued by a new beginning. Our newly-rented condo in Tiburon seemed exotic compared with any place we had lived before. Inconceivably, it would have floor-to-ceiling views of the shimmering Bay, Angel Island and the San Francisco skyline.
Hot tears rolled down my cheeks. Nonchalantly, I pushed sunglasses onto my face to begin our 25-hour cross-country trek. My last views of Austin were in a blur.
Incredibly the soothing rumble of fog horns did wake us in the mornings, and we would stand together, transfixed by the ever-changing views of the bay, in sunshine and in fog. We would marvel at the rounded shapes of Angel Island as a wall of afternoon fog overtook her, cascading over the hills like fingers. As we eagerly unpacked our boxes, I wondered what our life would be like in this new place -- surely to be filled with laughter and happy memories. Like the most predictable guest on every HGTV show ever, I chirped that our place would be "great for entertaining!" I imagined the view of our condo windows from the boats at night, showing animated silhouettes of our future visiting friends and family.
But first there were some adjustments to be made. My daughter would return to Austin to be with her dad for the rest of the the school year, to finish middle school. Nine months. 1,774 miles. One day in the grocery store the tinny strains of "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" filtered through the aisles, and it almost knocked the breath out of me.
In Tiburon we learned the universal truth of living in a place with spectacular views: all homes point to The View above all else, and one's status is based on how expansive their home's view. The very architecture of buildings facing a prominent view works against a sense of community. Garage doors glide open and closed, the only evidence of life inside. We found that transient neighbors seldom made eye contact, much less warm conversation.
And...there was the couple downstairs. The husband described himself as a "writer and painter," and, with exaggerated modesty, mentioned he had even published a book! That information must have spilled out in that awkward, over-animated first meeting of neighbors, as we never heard from them again, at least socially. But we soon became familiar with The Author's "anger issues," and stormy visits in a purple rage. By day I was starting my own business, so spent many hours at home alone. I learned to be utterly silent in the condo above theirs, guiding cabinets to softly close so I wouldn't set off The Author by making too much noise. Sulking about it one day, I googled his name and easily found his paintings and blogs online...which reminded me why you don't look up that sort of stuff. He did in fact have a book listed on Amazon. Apparently the novelty book was popular as a gag gift for bachelor parties. Ew.
As we closed in on our first year in Tiburon, my husband and I often talked about having a party for new friends...but who would we invite? The guest list kept circling around the vague "Everyone Who's Been Friendly The Past Year," topped by the two girls at the dry cleaner, my hair stylist, and maybe that one checker at the grocery store (who was more courteous than friendly). Those days I began to imagine the view of every Tiburon window from the boats at night, each with a lone silhouette gazing out, hands clasped behind their back.
Just as the fog rolled in each afternoon, my moods became gauzy and thick. In the evenings I could sense my husband's concern, and felt for his air of helplessness. I had been raised to believe that as long as you're with the ones you love, you can call any place home. But this didn't feel in any way like home. My daughter was going to return soon, and I couldn't wait to wrap my arms around her, jump up and down in thunderous celebration, and giggle as loud as we wanted to. Even turn up the music! Things that wouldn't meet our neighbor's approval.
It was time to find our Home. But I had been beguiled before...is the longing for Home ever something we can satisfy? Were we really in the wrong place in the Tiburon condo, or was it just my slow-motion funk that kept me from realizing its charms? Was Home something that I could actually find, or was it something that I had to create? If so, wouldn't that make this condo, which felt soulless, my own failure?
We rolled into the parking space, our car heavy with groceries -- but not as heavy as it had been earlier in the day, when we moved the final boxes into the house we just rented. Eight miles north, we no longer enjoyed the sparkling Bay view, but this hillside house was embraced by a leafy cul-de-sac, and the kitchen window had a serene view of Mt. Tam, rising on the horizon like Mount Fuji. The woman who owned the house was an architectural contractor who had raised her children in the house, but built a ship-tight home and office for herself downstairs. She was lovely and warm and gracious and shy; her kind blue eyes flickered a hint of the sadness that I will forever recognize.
As we juggled the grocery bags up the stairs to the entry, we stopped in our tracks...the aroma rose up like a prayer. At the door I found a package neatly wrapped in aluminum foil, still warm. On top was a sticky note, "WELCOME HOME!"
I could not have known, while cradling that warm pumpkin bread, the memories that we'd share in that house the next five years: giggling teens baking raspberry squares at 3am, seasonal block parties with friendly neighbors, earnest song-writing sessions, tiny deer romping beyond our windows, swishing dog tails while we were a Guide Dogs' foster family, tall slender calla lilies growing wild after winter rains, and celebratory pre-prom gatherings. I could not have known that yet, but holding that warm bread close, I knew that this was already Home.
*Credit to Van Morrison - Into the Mystic