Remember When and Maybe Then

We walk in a loop, gravel beneath our shoes, trees looking over our shoulders. We huff up hills and smile our way down them. Our voices carry. You'd never guess we met only months ago, that this is but the second time we've talked for more than five minutes. We are mothers, lonely and tired of feeling like strangers in the place we live.  She moved here last summer, and I, a year before that. We nod our heads at the mention of sidewalks, how we miss having them, how this small, sprawled out town makes it too easy for us to disappear. Will this ever feel like home?


I walk up the stairs from the dingy basement, past the silted bootprints on the blue tiled stairs, remnants of the recent flood. I hand them the toys I discovered in the mislabeled storage box, the one I only unpacked because water seeped through cardboard. They squeal, delighted. "Oh this one! I LOVE this one! Look, these are the puzzles we had in Maine! Do you remember, Dani?"

He walks to the kitchen, tugs on my sweater. "Mom, where did you even find these?! Playing with all these toys makes me feel like I'm back in Maine again, like we're playing in our old house." He turns to his sister. "Don't you feel so happy, Dani, when you remember Maine?"


My sister texts me that the orders are in. She's moving to Germany. My very first thought is to hope I can follow her there.

I thirst equally for adventure and community, knowing how slim the chances are of ever finding them in the same glass. I'm overcome with wanderlust one moment, aching for roots the next. Sometimes over pancakes on Saturday, we ask each other, "Where would you go, if you could live anywhere?"  The kids always answer without hesitation: "Maine!" But my husband and I just stare into our coffee, thumbing through a mental rolodex of possibility. The answer is always, "I don't know..."

I'm realizing even as I type this out that when I feel most torn between the lure of possibility and the pull of the past, it is when I'm feeling most disconnected in the present. These notions that things will be better when..., that things were better back then..., they loop together as a noose around the neck of this moment, choking joy. How quickly I forget that life is right now, not last year in Maine, not next year in Germany, or DC or Dayton.

The contented, wiser version of myself shakes the shoulders of the restless, foolish me, holds this present life high in front of my face, points to it and says cherish this. Sometimes I listen and obey. But not today. Today I rebel like a melancholy teenager and stay lost in daydreams about Germany, adrift in memories of Maine. Today I sit idly as the remember whens and maybe thens take my present life captive. Today I don't even try to escape.

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