“That’s a little rough, driving all that way just for some casting.”
“I don’t mind,” I reply. “I like driving. Plus, I grew up on the South Shore.”
“Oh, well that’s good, at least! Are you going to visit home?”
A sheepish grin creeps across my face.
“I’m planning on it.”
I grew up just south of Boston — as Johnny Depp says in the movie Blow:
“A small New England village. A town called Weymouth.”
Although God bless anyone who steps into Weymouth and labels it a “small New England village”. It is a condensed, busy suburb of Boston. It’s home to George Jung, the infamous drug dealer that the movie Blow is based on. It’s also home to Abigail Adams, arguably America’s most beloved first lady.
Sharing the same first name as your hometown’s most famous resident presents an interesting set of experiences. A lot of “future First Lady” jokes. A lot of “future First Lady President” jokes. It hit critical mass when I started attending middle school — Abigail Adams Middle School.
I haven’t been called “Abigail” since the 6th grade, by the way.
A week before the casting, I get a text message from my best friend:
“How lucky were we to grow up next to the ocean?”
When discussing our upbringing, “lucky” is usually not the first word that comes up.
But we were. We were lucky.
We were lucky to grow up so close to the ocean, to be a stone’s throw from the marshlands, to be barely a mile away from the Atlantic. We were lucky to take in that salty smell, to walk the sands until our feet rubbed raw and tender. The same way we were lucky to grow up with each other, essentially two ragdolls tossed around in a sea of disfunction. We were each other’s lighthouses, each other’s buoys, something to guide the other away from rocks, something to hold onto when the waves got rough. We learned to tread water next to each other, learned the importance of swimming alongside riptide instead of fighting it, learned that even the biggest storm will eventually pass.
I reply back:
She reminds me of a Wuthering Heights quote: “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” We now live in different states in different time zones, leading lives that — at least on the surface — are complete opposites. But a quick dive below surface level shows just how much we ride the same waves, how much we are on the same wavelength. Whatever souls are made of, hers and mine are the same.
I get a message from her five minutes later:
“Man I’m hammered.”
I laugh and reply back with a smile and a smiley face. There are very few people in this world I love as much as I do her.
The casting is as cut-and-dry as they come. I sign in and greet with exuberance and shake hands and smile for some snapshots.
In many ways, it’s barely worth it, these castings. I probably go on 25-30 castings/go-sees/availability checks for every job I actually get. I always go in hopeful, but without getting my hopes up. It’s an extremely fine line to walk, the line between hopeful and getting your hopes up. I’d be lying if I said I don’t falter from time to time. But today I remind myself that I’m not just here for the go-see. I’m here to visit home.
Hopes up or not, this is the real reason I’m back in the South Shore.
When we were finally old enough for driver’s licenses and cars, my best friend and I constantly drove out of Weymouth. It was as if the town itself would suffocate us, and leaving the city limits was the only way to breathe again.
We usually drove to Hull, two towns over. Home of Nantasket Beach, Fort Revere, and some of the prettiest views of Boston. At the very end of Hull — the Gut, as locals lovingly call it — you’ll find a sturdy wind turbine and Peddocks Island.
Most people would recognize Peddocks as Shutter Island — the location where Scorcese filmed that Leonardo DiCaprio movie of the same name, where DiCaprio slowly goes mad at an insane asylum.
There is an actual asylum built on that island, including its main building right on the beach. The people who designed it believed that the ocean’s air had healing effects. Today I stand by the edge of the rocks, the wind turbine spinning wildly behind me, the sound of the changing rapids to the side of me and Boston off in the distance in front of me. I take in the ocean breeze and fill my lungs.
The designers had it right. Anyone who spends a moment in silence here would agree.
Before we could drive to Hull, we walked to Great Esker. Back when kids could walk the streets without adult supervision, when an 11-year-old could buy a Slurpee and a snack at the 711 without the cashier going, “Where’s your mother?”
These days, Great Esker Park has a drug problem. The whole damn town has a drug problem. At night, the park becomes a breeding ground for dealers and addicts. During the day, however, it is nothing more than a baseball diamond and a playground and a set of trails around the pungent marshlands.
With a group of friends, with my best friend, with no one, I would swing on the swingset and wander the trails. One end essentially brings you to my best friend’s house. The other side brings you to what was originally the mall, but was torn down in the late 90s for a Lowe’s and Bed, Bath, & Beyond.
Today I drive down a road I know by heart, past my friend’s former house, and to the dead end, cut off by a gate before spilling into the rest of the park. I’m running out of time, which automatically makes me think of a quote I saw online:
“Spend 20 minutes each day sitting in nature. Unless you’re busy. Then spend an hour.”
If nature could absorb what is going on in your head and heart, these trees would be besotten with adolescent and teenaged angst and anger, sadness and confusion and stress. Clique gossip and first love woes and music from an antiquated Walkman. These days, it would take in the grips of addiction and systemic flaws in our society and an epidemic that only now people are starting to talk about.
And of course I visit my parents’ house.
There’s an extra sense of importance on visiting these days: although things have finally settled and plateaued out, my father’s health had been on a steep and steady decline for a while. Enough to make each phone call, each visit, slightly different. Slightly more weighted. Like we had been confronted with something we couldn’t turn back on and every step forward was a reminder of that.
It’s an interesting experience, going back to my parents’ house. My old bedroom is now essentially an office. I’ve got a few childhood toys in the eaves, but that’s about it in terms of my stake in this land. I’m not exactly sure when visiting my parents stopped feeling like a homecoming. I think it was long before I packed up my things, long before my furniture was moved out and a brand new desk was moved in.
I do love these two. It’s a careful, cautious type of love, but I love them in a complete way. These are the people who introduced me to hiking, to camping, to fishing. To Rat Pack music and Ella Fitzgerald and tapping out a staccato beat against the steering wheel while driving. I inherited my mom’s bleeding heart for anything with a heartbeat and my dad’s love of the open road. She taught me how to knit and he taught me how to drive stickshift. They love to the best of their abilities and with everything they have, and I cannot ever fault them for that.
There are two pictures hung up just outside the living room. Both taken on top of Mount Washington. One of is my mom, a vista of central New Hampshire behind her, a pair of thick, 70s-era glasses and the biggest, most carefree smile on her face. The other is of my dad, his jet black hair blowing in the wind, looking off in the distance with a slightly world-weary look on his face.
Even as I stand in front of the real versions of those people in the photographs — photographs I was not even alive for when they were taken — I choose to envision them as those versions, on top of the mountain, wind in their hair, a sense of accomplishment in the air.
My parents’ dog — adopted sometime after I moved out for college — raises onto her hind legs when I give my hugs good-bye. She wants in as well. Her love is simple and straightforward. There is no nuance. She just wants a hug.
“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
Whatever souls are made of — if I had to guess, I’d say souls are made of changes in the wind, the simple feel of water at your feet, the horizon at your fingertips, a high noon sun that’ll eventually ease into a pink sunset.
We’re made up of the light and the shadows that light casts and the changes in hue and brightness. We’re made up of reversing currents and receding tides and the distant noises that mimic the sound of home.
We are made up of cherished and fragile memories, experiences we’d kill to relive and experiences we’d kill to have wiped from the slate.
We’re made up of the people we hold in our hearts. We’re made up of the love we give out, no matter what the return or personal cost is. We’re made up of those we influence and those who influence us.
We are made up of a sudden inhale and a weightless exhale. We are the moments when we forget to breathe, whether the reason is good, bad, or simply unexpected. We are the tangible, the intangible, the simple and the complex. Whatever our souls are made of, in a way we are all the same.
The drive back is never easy. There is no good time to be on a Boston-area highway on a weekday. Even with good music on the radio and that staccato beat drummed out on my steering wheel, I can’t help but get antsy.
There’s a certain level anxiousness these days, a lingering restlessness, something that serves as the baseline to almost everything I do. I’m grateful that my job fits perfectly with my current personality — come in for an hour or two, find balance, find harmony, breathe, dammit, breathe, now hit the road with the windows down. Let every concern and needless worry melt onto your mat, and the remainder can become untethered by the highway winds.
Home is where the heart is. If that’s the case, then my home base is as scattered as my own heart. Home is on the sands of Nantasket, the pebbles of Wessagusett, the rocks of the Gut.
Home is the dirt paths of Great Esker and the skyline of Boston.
Home is the skyline of mountains, a white house with a farmer’s porch and a chicken coop in the back.
Home is my best friend’s place, an apartment I have never even been to in Chicago, Illinois.
Home is a place that I cannot properly pinpoint or categorize, and I know that I would drive myself crazy if I tried to, so I don’t.
Home is a place that simultaneously hurts and heals. Home is the undeniable, even when it would make life easier to deny.
It means I’m perpetually in a state of homecoming, perpetually in a state of longing. It means no matter how full my heart is, it will ache for something else. There will always be another place I would like to also be. There will always be a part of my soul that I am away from.
The traffic breaks, I pass the New Hampshire border, and I’m greeted with the first set of vistas Route 93 provides. The green trees and the gentle hills and the arcing roads before me.
My heart flutters. Welcome home.