The other day an older couple stopped to smile at Madeline’s bouncy curls. The man asked me casually, “Where are you from?” This simple question always leaves me tongue-tied.
How do I quickly explain that we’ve spent many summers here in Newport, RI, even lived here year-round at one point, that we own a house here, currently rent another house here, but don’t really live here? And if not here, where are we from? Boston? New York?
Since I don’t know where we’re from, I told him where we’re going instead: “We’re moving to Providence.” This, of course, prompted the whole Why Providence question, which I answered masterfully. Not satisfied, he still wanted to know where we were from. So I told him. Poor guy, but he asked for it.
I realize it’s odd when you can’t answer basic questions like “Where do you live?” “Where did you grow up?” “What do you do?” It’s like when someone asks, “How are you?” They don’t want to hear your life story, they just want to hear “Fine.” So over the years, I’ve learned to simplify. If people ask me what I do, I pick something — usually writer, filmmaker, or publisher. If they ask where I grew up, I say Riverdale (or the Bronx to sound edgier) since I did at least go to first through fifth grade there. In Paris, I told people we were from New York because it was a place foreigners knew (and we did still own an apartment there).
If I do delve into the details of how we’ve spent the past decade, people assume there must be a good reason (“Military?” the old man asked us). No, we’re not in the military or the CIA or the witness protection program. I’m convinced we’ve been on the run from only one thing: ourselves. In my defense, I will say that I was trained to move as often and as cavalierly as one might change their favorite purse. By the time I was 11 years old, I had lived in nearly as many number of places. At one point, I went to five different schools in five years. And despite the fact that I vowed never to do this as an adult when I had the power to choose such things, I found it actually became part of my nature. For Geoff, I think it was the opposite. He spent his whole childhood in one Midwestern town where most of his former schoolmates now raise their families. His grandparents literally went on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls 60-something years ago and haven’t taken a trip since. But despite our different backgrounds, we’ve both tacitly agreed: If you keep moving, you can’t be stuck. Which also might be seen as: something better might come along.
And that’s exactly how it hit me. Because the first time I saw our new house, I didn’t want anything better. I’ve never fallen in love with a house before, and it seems quite silly since it’s just a house, but I do love this house. Geoff hesitated, but I knew that if we didn’t want this house then we must not even want a house.
So here we are, 10 days away from our closing date. I am still careful how I phrase things to Geoff, and even myself. I deny that we will acquire any clutter despite the fact that we’ll have more rooms than we can fill. I convince myself that a house is not that much work after all. And I most certainly, under all circumstances, refuse to call it settling down.