My family watched The Wizard of Oz recently. My sense of the movie has changed every time I’ve seen it, but one thing has always stayed the same:
… if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?
Oh hell, no! There’s a whole big wide world out there and it is full of things you can’t even imagine till you get your ass out of Kansas. You only get one shot to explore it. Life is a story that you write; it should be worth reading. Your back yard is just a little old back yard.
I have always needed to find out what’s on the other side of the rainbow. When I was Dorothy’s age, I filled a drawer with tour brochures requested out of the back of National Geographic. I took the first opportunity I found to get the hell out of Dodge, and to this day it doesn’ feel like travel if you don’t need a passport to get there. But I’ve never quite become fully nomadic. Some string has always pulled me back to a home base and sometimes I am reminded there’s a reason home base has always been Seattle.
I was walking my daughter to school, when I smelled the rich aroma of the Theo Chocolate Factory. Inhaling deeply, I thought, “Holy shit! I live down the street from a chocolate factory. No one lives down the street to from a chocolate factory except for Charlie Bucket.”
You know how you watch romantic comedies and think to yourself, “How does a single mother afford to renovate a fire house in the Haight?” or “Who actually lives in a floating house on Lake Union? There are only like a hundred of those.” The people in stories never have lives as prosaic as our own. If our lives are stories, they desperately need editing.
I remember telling myself a few years ago, “This is the part of the story where they say two sentences like ‘The next four years were dark for our heroine, and then one day…”
And then one day, I smelled chocolate in the morning and realized I had a life worthy of fiction.
A ship’s mast sailed past the kitchen window as Dee bid farewell to her preschooler, the dog, and the nanny. The ship itself, cruising through the canal from Puget Sound to Lake Union, was hidden from view. Dee left her tumble-down post-war cottage just as the sun was rising. Not that you could tell the sun was rising, because the cloud cover would give the sky the same Ansel Adams-gray cast all day. She walked her third-grader down their street with the polka dots painted down the middle. (Someone repainted them in the middle of the night every year in June; she had her ideas, but had never figured out who it was for certain.) They talked about Shakespeare. Third-grader X believed that all love stories ended with a marriage, but the two of them had press tickets to see Romeo et Juliette at the ballet. Dee was expected to write for a parents’ magazine about taking (ahem) “tweens” to the ballet, and she would rather not have to leave early with an eight-year old in tears.
The smell of chocolate cooking at the organic, fair-trade factory down the street filled the air as she explained the difference between the tragedy they would view next week, and the comedy they watched at the neighborhood brewery/theater at Christmas. The British-style pub hosted a panto every Christmas season. The cross-dressing fairy godmother and double-wedding ending from this year’s panto had been exactly suited to X’s taste.
Dee kissed X goodbye. She watched her little girl cross the street to school and walked to the corner to wait for the bus in the icy wind. It had only been a couple of weeks since New Year’s Eve fireworks over the lake had wakened the whole family, but she already couldn’t wait for summer. Then the neighborhood would close the streets to celebrate the Solstice with a parade in celebration of life and art. In honor of the sun (whether it showed or not) hundreds of belly dancers, dozens of body painted bicyclists, and everyone else in fairy wings, festival clothes, or birthday suits would march from the canal to Gasworks, the city park ornamented with the rusted sculptural remains of industrial process, where they would put on a pageant that Dee had never yet managed to attend. When you could see the origin of the parade route from your crumbling back deck, it hardly seemed worthwhile to walk all the way to the park for a show, especially with little kids in tow. Instead, they would join their neighbors for a block party with vegan burgers, drum circles, kegs from the brewery, and a cover band. The kids would play in the street and practice circus arts with the neighbor who juggles knives.
And for just a couple of days, Dee would forget all about the wide world and really believe that there’s no place like home.