I woke up this morning wanting to go home. I want to see wide open skies, and rolling hills, and bathe in the scent of freshly cut grass streaming in through my open car windows, one of the sweetest smells there is. I want to drive out Dogleg Road, across 40, and up the gravel driveway of the house where they sell the very best sweet corn, Silver Queen, on the honor system. I would eat half a dozen ears myself for dinner, with a side of sliced tomatoes and cottage cheese spiked with chives from the yard. I want to keep driving, all the way to the Lake, and find the bar still standing and Jerry still working the Pit. I want him to make me a burger with mushrooms and onions and special sauce, layered with fat summer tomato slices, but this time when I eat it I want to know that it’s the best burger I’ll ever have; I didn’t know it back then, or I’d have ordered one to go. While the band plays a cover of Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, I want to tap the long-legged, sad-eyed waitress on the shoulder and tell her that she won’t be here long; this is a layover, not a stop. I will fold twenty bucks into her hand so she’ll remember me.
I want to go to my grandmother’s house, not the one she lives in now but the one she lived in when I was a kid, right down the street. I want to help her water her garden, the sharp green smell of tomato plants everywhere. I’ll rest my feet in the shallow little pool set into the rock garden, a metal basin painted flaking cerulean blue. I will pop the buds of those waxy blush-white flowers and watch the ants crawl out, like I did every summer, but this time I’ll commit their image to memory so I can find and plant these flowers myself as an adult. I will know the secret, that adulthood is coming to take me somewhere else, far away from all of this, but I won’t know yet that salvation hurts sharply, sometimes.
I want to take the baby to the Dairy Isle for ice cream one more time, like I did every day that summer we spent together when I was 17 and she was 4, 5, 6 months old. It was so hot I never put her in anything more than a diaper, and still our skin stuck together wherever we touched. I’ve never had ice cream that good, vanilla soft-serve with a chocolate shell, the sharp relief of stepping back under the cool canopy of the trees, a smidgen of ice cream passed on my finger into her peony mouth. I want to see it all with the eyes that don’t yet know how shabby our surroundings are. I want to whisper to her, in the long afternoons before her mother gets home, as we sit in front of the one window air conditioner listening to Pink Floyd, that she will go the furthest of us all.
I want to be back on my grandparents’ boat, eating a turkey sandwich with bread-and-butter pickles and sharp mustard and Havarti, with a towel wrapped around my wet bathing suit, my shoulders warm from the sun. I will make my Gram promise that in the morning, we’ll get up early and take the dinghy to the marina where they still make homemade cinnamon donuts, just the two of us, and that I can be in charge of the motor. I want to anticipate the boat ride to the winery across the lake the way I did before I knew that something wasn’t right about combining children with all that drinking. It was exciting and beautiful to me once, and I want to be back there, under that sun, just for a day.
I want to stop by my aunt’s house and watch an impromptu party bloom around me, one cousin with a six-pack, one with deviled eggs, three with new babies, aunts and uncles and folding chairs and barbecue smoke. I want to stand in the kitchen, wrapped in the warm chaos of it, washing vegetables from someone’s garden while the bigger little kids chase the dogs underfoot and someone squeezes by to check the oven. I want to see the faces of people who have known me since before I knew myself, and pinch the cheeks of the looming, F150-driving men whose diapers I once changed and whose little-boy tears I’ve kissed away. They have their own babies now, and we will never know each other, really. I won’t even register as the kooky aunt who lives in a far-away city; I’m too far gone even for that.
This nostalgia creeps up on me, a yearning for a time that may not have happened, a place that might not have really existed even when I was there. In the belly of that yearning is my real wish: to be a different person right now, with my own house and my own backyard and tomato plants and my own family and friends coming over to grill and eat pasta salad and watch the kids run around catching lightning bugs while the grownups play old songs on the stereo. Even that word, stereo, makes my heart seize a little on days like this. We would have lanterns hanging in the trees. Baby, get me some more ice, please. I want a kid of my own, holding the lightning bug jar, smelling like grass and clean sweat and joy. Of all the lives I ever imagined for myself, expat and city girl and strident leftist and bohemian, I could never have predicted how much I would crave the simple things I ran away from, nor how hard it would be to find them.