A PEEK INSIDE
I’m always telling people that I love reading for book clubs. “It’s the intimacy of the group,” I tell them, “and the fact that they chose my book feels like a great compliment.”
Last night I read for a book club where the women went way, way back with each other. Most of them were born here. I almost felt guilty for interrupting their closeness. It wasn’t that they didn’t help me feel welcome, but the opposite: They were inviting and warm.
And they got me to thinking a lot about transience on my drive back to my side of town. I was happy to return to my home, but a sense of isolation started to creep in. No matter how many years I live here, I thought, I will never be of here. “Not in the way they are,” I said aloud.
I thought about how so many of us settle where support is built in and natural. In other words, we settle where family lives. Others … where family does not. And how I fell into the second category right out of high school when I went looking for “something else” and never turned back.
And because I don’t have family to turn to, the people I have learned to trust have become my family. In my building, it matters little that we come from different cultures that test not only our communication skills but also our memory — there is so much to remember about cultural differences. We look in on each other’s pets and plants and children. One of my neighbors calls us “birders.” Because we keep such good track of each other.
The most unexpected outcome is that my friends have taught me how to be a better family member. By accepting me as I am, they teach me how to be more true to myself when I’m around my real family. No small solace.
The first time I saw the island from overhead, I felt breathless, the air knocked out of me. This kind of connection is powerful, and I couldn’t let anyone talk me into coming home. I thought, that’s behind me now, I am home.
It’s difficult to put a name to what I started to feel even before I put my key in the ignition. As if part of me was already floating away, searching.
It wasn’t only the book club. The upcoming holiday season always does this to me. I should be used to it. This sitting here trying to capture how it feels to have a recurring homing impairment. Half of the reason is due to the fact that I live in a free culture with a dizzying array of choices. The downside? My imagination tends to out-pace the reality of where I live with the possibilities of where I could live.
The other half is part of a larger story. I’m a daughter of immigrants. My parents moved away in order to move forward. They stuck their necks out. And I am a little more rootless because of it.
I think I was meant to visit this book club. It reminded me that by sharing my work with a tight-knit group of wine-sipping strangers (to me, anyway), I’d stuck my neck out, too.
Maybe not as far, but still. And you can’t stick your neck out without getting a better peek inside.
Mary Lou Sanelli is an author whose latest book is A Woman Writing. When not working as a literary speaker on the Mainland, she lives in Honolulu. For more of her work, visit marylousanelli.com.
“A SHARED SPACE” is an ongoing reader-submitted column.To share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org