A few months ago, I awoke at night to the sound of my daughter crying. At two years old, she is still small enough to fit comfortably in my lap, and as I lulled her back to sleep in the rocking chair, my head resting against her own, I had that rare sensation of being completely present. As she drifted back to sleep, I wanted nothing more than to be tethered to that moment, that present - to listen to her steady breath and feel her hair against my cheek, hair so soft and so fine it could have been spun gold.
And then, out of nowhere, I was assailed by other memories, other moments, other presents. I remembered another night from years earlier, when my husband and I had lost ourselves on a quiet Indiana road. We had driven helplessly beneath a glorious Havest moon, through endless cornfields and rusted, shuttered towns. The memories continued to flood my mind, all startlingly visceral. I remember thinking that they were taunting me, those memories, that they were whispering to me in the darkness that, even if I tightened my hold on my little girl, I couldn't make that moment stay.
There is something painful about the way our setting is constantly changing. Even if we never leave home, home has a way of leaving us. Parents die, children grow up, customs change, ideologies shift. The place we stand is not the same place we planted our roots. At times, it seems the principle of compounding, while wonderful for our finances, doesn't apply to life experience. We invest ourselves in places, only to see not a multiplying of self, but a dividing. When I long for those places in my life that I no longer occupy, it feels like I have been fractured into bits and pieces.There is the bit of me lost among the Indiana cornfields and Harvest moon, and the piece of me holding my little girl with hair like spun gold, but nothing whole, nothing complete.
We all experience this grief and longing to some degree. I think this is why, both in fiction and in real life, there is a complexity to setting. We nearly always reside in multiple locations at once - outwardly in our physical place, and, clandestinely, in those hollowed out past spaces insides ourselves.