Many times over the past five decades, I have asked myself, “Where do I belong?” I know that is isn’t in the crowded spare bedroom in a friend’s house that I have called my dwelling, but not my home, for the past two years. But it is somewhere out there, a place that I have to find, or that I will search for forever.
A sense of belonging is an elusive thing. Is it a physical place or a mental one? Even though we can’t belong to a certain person or persons, we can belong with them. Maybe we belong in a certain situation, one that inspires and nourishes us. There are few places and times that I have felt like I belonged, but I remember them all.
Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina
I love the mountains. Not the grandiose peaks and pillars of the West, but the rolling hills of the southeast, especially the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a child, I remember riding through the mountains with my parents on the way to my mother’s North Carolina birthplace. The blue fog rolling over the morning mountains like a magical brew always felt like home. As I pressed my nose to my back seat window, I felt like I belonged to this world – this world where my ancestors toiled and died. Daddy would never stop for sightseeing, but one day, I will return to those mountains and discover their secrets.
My Back Yard, Lawrence (Hills Station) Pennsylvania
My hometown was on the top of a hill. I remember lazy, sunny afternoons lying in my yard, looking up at the cloudless sky. It was the place I had called home for all but the first three weeks of my life. Most of my memories and milestones happened right here. After my parents died, it was all mine – my private oasis. I knew every inch of this place – the garage still filled with my father’s tools, the bedrooms where I played, studied and dreamed, the yard where my mother used to grow beautiful roses. As I felt the sun warm my face, I thought about how lucky I was to have a place where I belonged.
A year after I sold my house, I went to England with my best friend. I loved London, where everything old was new to me. I explored the historic streets and buildings, finding a surprise in every corner. Walking along the Thames was a treat that never ceased to enthrall me. We spent a cold, rainy day in Cornwall before heading back to London on the train. A few minutes after passing the city of Plymouth, I looked out the window at a town with houses built on its rolling hills. I was overcome with a feeling of peace and calm. I’m going to live there one day. I didn’t know where the thought came from, or what the name of the town was, but it felt like home. A tiny town in Devon was speaking to me though the glass, as the train rolled back to London. I kept staring out of the window until the town faded from view and then I started to cry. I belonged there – but I didn’t know why.
Living Colour Concert, San Jose, Calfornia
A few years later, I was living in San Mateo, California. One evening, I drove my car down to San Jose State to see Living Colour and King’s X in concert. By then, I had been to dozens of rock shows, and I didn’t expect this one to be any different. But when I walked into the hall, I was engulfed by the positive energy. For once, it wasn’t a scene filled with white boy testosterone and attitude. There was color all around me – men and women of all shades, excited that for once, here was a show for all of us. From the soulful drawl of Dug Pinnick of King’s X to the searing guitar riffs of Vernon Reid of Living Colour, the bands and the audience were connected. This was what rock and roll was all about – a place of aural rapture. I was happy – crazily, deliriously, happy – surrounded by my people. I belonged in this place, in the groove that Pinnick calls, “The Church of Rock and Roll.” It may not have been the best concert that I have ever seen, but it was the one that claimed a place in my heart.
Santa Monica, California
Being homeless on the streets of Santa Monica doesn’t sound like a great place to me. But walking along the beach as the first rays of sun light up the sky never failed to buoy my spirits. I would spend hours sitting on a bench, looking out at the waves. I felt like I could do anything, be anything, in this dream-like setting. Even if I could never afford to live there, to have a condo where I could be greeted by this sight every morning, I belonged there. No matter how dire circumstances seemed to be – looking at the waves of the Pacific always calmed me down and gave me strength to face the day’s adventures.
On Stage, Sacramento, CA
Who knew that it would take fifty-seven years for me to discover that I like talking about myself on a stage in front of strangers? When I recently read an essay about my mother at the Guild Theater in Sacramento, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t nervous. I was the girl who Daddy called “too backward.” I was the student who stood in front of the room in Spanish class and forgot every word she had ever known in any language. But as I walked to the podium and the spotlight hit my face, I was empowered. I felt like Wonder Woman. I belonged on that stage, telling my stories, bringing to life Momma and the house on Hills Station, and sharing them with the world. When my five minutes were up, I didn’t want to leave.
So where do I belong, after all of these years? So many locations, situations, and people have captured a piece of, and a place in, my heart over the years. I never knew I would find home in so many places. I look forward to the next connection.