My usual walk is to Lake Mansfield, through the neighborhood we call “The Hill.” I occasionally see people but not many. It’s a quiet neighborhood, and even quieter along the lake until you get to the beach (busy this time of year). But this morning we needed milk so I walked down the hill to Main Street, to the Berkshire Coop. I had other on-foot errands (dropping boxes of cereal the no one likes at the food pantry and returning hangers to the drycleaners) I could do. More important, I saw two friends for the first time in months. Diane has a gift for being outside her house at important times: the first time she introduced herself, she told me about a yoga class that turned out to be transformative; later, she was getting out of her car one early evening as I walked slowly up the hill. It was the day after I told my then-husband I wanted a divorce and sadness had struck. I was realizing just what a change I had undertaken, and how lonely the road might be. Meeting her that evening was a bit of serendipity I was grateful for and will, I hope, never forget.
Today, I again learned something from our encounter, brief as it was (unlike the post-divorce conversation, which quickly moved from Castle Street to Diane’s attic study, where we sat on a mattress in a window alcove with drinks and Kleenex). “Welcome back,” she said. Back?, I thought, but I’ve been here. For almost a whole week straight, in fact. And I’d been here before that, after I flew back to New York from Beijing on the 12th of July, for most of each week. When I’m in Great Barrington, though, I’m usually working. My daughter does most of the grocery shopping and my walks take me to the most remote spots I can find, so who’s to know that I’m in town even when I am? But this neighborhood, I thought, is home, and it bothered me that my friend and neighbor think of me as always being somewhere else.
On the way back from the Coop I ran into Tim, another friend I haven’t seen for a long time. “How’ve you been?” seemed a little feeble, considering the complications of his work with the Community Development Corporation. “Things are fine,” was not exactly what I wanted to convey, either, about everything that’s happened in my life in the past year. He wanted to know how my book project was going and whether I’d written anything about the local development issues we’d talked about over a sunny lunch at the Coop. “I haven’t got there yet,” I explained, and we promised to meet soon. “There’s plenty more to tell,” he said, and I’m sure there is. This, too, felt like a kind of homecoming.
But as I walked up the hill, I remembered an evening last summer when I arrived in New York after having been away for what seemed like a particularly long stretch. As I trundled into the lobby with my little pull-back, our favorite doorman said, “Welcome home,” and at that moment that was exactly what I felt, that I was back at home in the West Village.
This is my quandary: Can I really be at home in more than one place? Will I ever be truly at home?