What's a Home Anyway?

(Note: you may have noticed I haven't been doing any weekly blog features or posting and commenting regularly, or even replying to emails on time.  It's just been really hard to keep up on things like this with school getting tough and my husband leaving. I had no idea I'd be thrown off so much! For now, posting will continue to be sporadic until I feel the need to level out and get back on schedule.  Until then enjoy my random posts!) 

Home.  What does it mean to people? I always wonder this.  I always have.  Home is a difficult thing to explain when you're a foster child.  I've lived in Utah almost seven years, but I have a very easy to distinguish Southern accent.  Next to 'Red' my most popular nickname is probably 'Tennessee.'  Even the url of my blog has Tennessee in it.  Yet here I am, attached to the desert, and the west, and it took me years but I finally fell into infatuation and then deep love with Utah.  The more I travel around the state, the more I fall in love.  With the summer in full swing and Derik and I both doing pretty well, we've decided to go out and visit a special place each Sunday.  So far it's been amazing.  Last Sunday was Antelope Island.

It was indescribably beautiful, and we had a great time.  The wildlife there is amazing: I saw bison, jackrabbits, a little fluffy bunny, pronghorn deer, and best of all! a coyote.  Going to all these great places and planning to visit even more has really been making me think lately, about my definition of home and what 'home' in general means to me.

The thing about Tennessee is that it's almost infectious as a place to call home.  Its people may have a love-hate relationship with the place's politics and economy, but they are all staunchly and quietly proud of their home state. It's a pretty grand insult to criticize the place, even though the locals do it jokingly all the time.  My own family, and some of my friends who live in Tennessee, take it personally that I want nothing to do with visiting there.  They see it as a problem with me, despite all of the trauma I've endured.  "Home is still home," I always think to myself, when I'm not hearing it in a lecture.  No matter where you go, your home is your home.  But is that true?

I too have always harbored that quiet sense of pride and joy over Tennessee that others have.  It's a beautiful state. It's a great state.  There are a lot of awesome things about it and of course, some of my best memories are there.  But that doesn't change the fact that my throat closes up when I'm in Tennessee.  I go immediately into defense mode, my adrenal glands pump out way too much adrenaline, and I stay jittery and upset and probably in tears for most of my stay.  One of my goals has always been to burn down my parents' house (without them inside it, preferably) for all of the heartache and pain and fear that place caused me.  So, nice vacations to visit friends and family have always been put on a damper.

Instead, I stay in the desert and relish every day, the beauty around me.  Free from any pain.  And begrudgingly call Tennessee my 'home' with a sad, nostalgic note attached to the word.

Top: Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake   Bottom: Sandy City, Utah

It bothers me always having to explain myself.  "Oh, you're from Tennessee? What brings you to Utah?"  "Why don't you move back here? This is your home."  "Tennessee is great, I love the east.  It's so green over there!" "Utah is a wasteland.  What on earth could you possibly like here?"  "You're atheist? Why the hell did you move to Utah?" Yeah, that gets old.  I always felt this need to hang onto Tennessee as my place of origin, but have steadily and slowly coming to reconsider that it's okay to call Utah my home.  Home is where the heart is.  My past is in Tennessee.  My heart will probably always be in Utah.

This is a nice breakthrough for me.  It allows me to detach from the past which as we all know, hasn't been the greatest in the world.  I don't have a burden anymore of place of origin.  And for the first time in the almost seven years I've been separated from Tennessee, I'm actually going to go back this year and visit my friends.  My dearly beloved friends who have put up with me being long distance and still want me in their lives.  And the best part is that I have the confidence now to just say 'Utah is my home' instead of deal with explaining the long dilemma of my love/hate for Tennessee.   It's a beautiful place.  It really is.  It's breathtaking.  But for me, the desert will always win.  I've felt like I belonged here even before I moved, and I was right.

So, something happened last night that I have to share, not because anyone will probably care, but because it was just an awesome experience and I want to remember it for a long time to come.  I'd been feeling a little low, and decided to take a drive last night at midnight.  Just head for the mountains and ride around a bit.  Of course, I ended up getting lost and driving 100 miles into east Utah, through creepy towns and barren fields and winding mountain roads.   I didn't mind it too much, until the last thirty miles--at that point I was ready to just go home.  I found my way to I-80 (back to Salt Lake) and stepped out of the car to get a good shot of the green interstate sign.  I really like the way they light up in the dark.

There I was, standing at an intersection on an abandoned stretch of highway, around 3 in the morning.  Other than my car, there was nothing as far as the eye could see except the pavement and more signs.  A railroad bridge was nearby, and a single streetlight illuminated the other strip of signs for people who were undoubtedly as lost as I was at the time.  What I hadn't noticed before is that behind the streetlight was a sheer rock face, going up about forty feet and plateauing.  It was reminiscent of the walls of red rock in southern Utah.  Canyon edges so flat and smooth you were in for real trouble if you had to climb up them without any equipment. But the best part? The train.

The entire area is overrun with cargo trains, and tracks lined most of the sides of the highway for miles beforehand.  Here, the train apparently disappeared from the side of the road and went on its way above the red rock wall I was standing beneath: I could hear the cars echoing on their tracks.  The noise was amplified by the hills and mountains around me, so it was stadium-level noise.  Clanking of the wheels, the grinding and screeching sounds of metal, all paired with the roar of the train engine.  It honestly sounded like the end of the world.  And for the first time in a long time, I felt genuinely lonely, and enthralled, and privileged to be alive.  The 100 miles of driving paid off just in those few minutes of standing under a streetlight accompanied by signs, with the overwhelming sound of the train right over my head.