Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"all these places feel like home"

So I think I officially have two homes. And while this means that I'm always going to be a little bit homesick no matter where I am, I am deeply grateful that I can call both Richmond and Charleston home. I went down to Charleston for a couple of days to pack up some odds and ends and clean (I am still currently renting out an apartment in Charleston, even though I technically live in Richmond now). And in between the vacuuming and the sorting and the boxing I was struck very forcefully by just how much a home Charleston still is for me, even though it may not be my current geographical residence. I guess what scared me most about leaving Charleston last month, what made me the most sad, was the thought that it wouldn't be home anymore, that one day I would come to this beautiful city and be a mere tourist.

Charleston is great for tourists, don't get me wrong. Y'all get to do cool stuff like wander the Market and go to Fort Sumter and the Aquarium and take horse drawn carriage rides around the battery. But those aren't the reasons I love Charleston. They're not what makes me feel safe and at ease there. Charleston is home for me because of stupid, simple, completely mundane stuff, like driving down 17 in Mt. Pleasant on a random weekday to run errands, or walking out of the East Bay Harris Teeter on a Sunday evening at dusk. Charleston is home because of East Bay Deli take out and driving over the bridge at rush hour and the way it always smells a little bit like salt when it rains. Charleston is home when I'm driving over the Connector at night and the whole peninsula just sits there, glittering underneath the stars. Charleston is home when I spot the faint outline of the bridge from all the way out at Isle of Palms or when I go to my dentist in Summerville. Home in Charleston is the Barnes and Noble at the Town Center or dinner at Five Loaves or a beer at Poe's or a crowded Earth Fare on a Saturday afternoon. Home in Charleston is the beach on a cold, cloudy day or sitting on a side porch with a glass of wine. It's the smell of marsh (even at low tide when it's kind of stinky) and the smell of fried seafood (cheap and good at the Wreck, not cheap and bad at the Noisy Oyster)

See I never worried about forgetting what Rainbow Row looked like. I never even worried about forgetting the Cistern or the shops on King Street. Those things, you can find them on post cards. And they'll always be there, not much different from a tourist perspective than from that of a resident. What terrified me was the thought of losing those little, inconsequential (to most) details that make a place home. I was terrified of coming back to Charleston and feeling like I was on a vacation. To comfort me some people pointed out that I could always come back and visit. But that was sort of cold comfort. Because visiting a place and living in a place are two vastly different things. To live in a place is to know and love its stupid, boring details, to love somewhere more for its rusty, creaky bits than for its big, shiny attractions. I've lived in Charleston. I've loved it. And it would break my heart to come to Charleston and feel like an outsider, a dork with a map and a coupon for Hyman's Seafood.

And even though I've only been gone a few short weeks and I've been away much longer before, I was afraid that something might have shifted already, simply because I'd never left Charleston before without a fixed return date. But to my immense relief, the second I saw the bridge looming over 26, I felt a surge of reassurance. And then when I drove through crosstown on my way to James Island I knew. I was home. Charleston is still home, in all of its mundane, flawed, dusty and creaky glory.

It is one of my firmest hopes and dearest dreams that it will always be this way.

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