THIS BODY IS HOME
I am a morning person. I hate to admit this, mostly because I think morning people wake up full of energy, raring to seize their day. When I wake up, though, I am tired and resentful of just how foolishly, often insomniacally early it is. Once awake, often even before first light, my head fills with ideas and if I don’t get up and write them down then they will swirl around faster and faster and I just keep myself even more awake worrying about forgetting them.
This morning it was the coyotes that woke me. I’ve often heard coyotes singing their amazing songs in the country, but this was in the middle of a major metropolitan city. The pandemic halt to city life allowed lots of wildlife to migrate into town. And it seems like many have stayed, a tiny reminder that just behind all of the concrete and steel, we are still part of the natural world. Early morning birdsongs act on me in the same way, and so does the sight of the moon. Despite the underlying white noise of the city, the traffic, the constant buzz of electricity, the sounds of humans pretending we are not part of the universe, these are the sounds that tease me, reminding me of where I am not.
The blackout in 2003 reminded me too. Though I guess it can’t really be a reminder of something that I didn’t have yet. So no, not a reminder, but a nudge. A little voice that said, “Do you feel this? You need this.”
It was hot. We sat on our porches that night and we could see the stars. In a city with enough lights for three million people you don’t ever see more than a handful of stars on a summer night. But when the power left we could really see the starts, and the milky way, and know what a tiny speck in the universe we really are.
And even in the middle of the night there is always noise. You don’t even notice it because it’s always there. But when the power left it was so still. So quiet you could hear a casual conversation coming from all the way down the road.
The first time I went to see the house that would become this body’s home, it was my ears that knew first. I pulled up the snow covered drive, turned off the car engine, and sat for a few moments in the most delicious quiet. My ears hummed at the sudden absence of sound. The white noise gone, replaced by the stillness of white snow.
My eyes noticed next. No grey, slushy city snow here. Just white all the way to the horizon. I have always been far-sighted and started wearing reading glasses when I was only five years old. I guess my eyes were born middle aged. Seeing anything close-up requires that the muscles in my eyes work just a little bit harder. It’s an effort I don’t really notice, because in the city everything is close up. There’s always the next building blocking your view of the sky or of the horizon. But when I got out of the car, I could feel my eyes soften and take in the full and unobstructed views of the big sky.
I never know what to call this place. “The cottage” has very specific Canadian connotations. Trees and rocks and water. This place has none of these. Well it does have a few scrappy trees, and that one big boulder that indicates where the sceptic tank is buried, but it’s mostly just an acre of grass.
Sometimes I call it “the farm” even though we’ve never farmed much more than a couple of pints of tomatoes. We are surrounded by farmland though, cattle mostly, and the hay the farmers grow to feed them. The cows are beautiful and placid. Sometimes they walk right up to our fence and stand and chew and chew. They are very good at holding eye contact. Gazing at a field of cows feels every bit as relaxing to me as sitting by a lake. But still, they’re not our cows so calling it “the farm” is a bit of a cheat. The best of farm life with none of the effort.
For a while we jokingly called it “the country estate”, though there is nothing remotely stately about the modest three-bedroom bungalow with a rickety deck, mice, and an occasionally leaky basement.
Mostly it’s just called by the name of the nearest town, who’s population is about equivalent to that of my suburban high school. Sometimes I just say I’m going to the country. It’s the least ambivalent name I’ve found.
So I was heading out to the country and my girlfriend asked me, “what are you going to do up there?” and I realized I felt a bit defensive about not having a better answer. There’s no swimming or skiing or hiking or snowshoeing. It’s not a holiday and it’s not fancy or impressive. But it is such a good place for me to be. When I’m here I feel my whole central nervous system settle. I wake up slowly and don’t dread the day. I’m not anxious or overwhelmed. Chores don’t feel like chores. The pace feels easier. The space feels easier. The space around me and within me. I expand and soften. It is the most PRESENT I ever am. I’m just here. But really HERE. Living. Breathing. Loving. Being.
This is home, like I never feel anywhere else.
I would like to say that anywhere I am in this body is home, but I’d be lying. It’s true that I am mostly at home in this body. I feel lucky that this is the case. I know people who don’t, who spend years and decades feeling like they’re in the wrong body, and then spending years more making it right through painful, expensive, and sometimes inadequate surgeries and procedures. I have never felt this. Sure, there are things I’d change about this body in a minute if I could. But mostly when I look in the mirror I know that this body, neither good nor bad, is just mine, just me, and couldn’t be anyone else.
So yes, this body is home, but where is this body’s home?
I have been a city dweller for the vast majority of my life. I have benefited from access to particular kinds of community, particular kinds of art and culture, particular kinds of privilege. I am used to it. I know the streets and the neighbourhoods. I fit in. I fit in so well that I don’t even notice the stress it puts on this body every day.
In the early ‘90s I put on a much too heavy backpack and some very ugly walking shoes and travelled with my then new boyfriend, eventually ex-husband. It wasn’t a good relationship. It wasn’t the great love story of my life. We fought. A lot. We fought when we were at home and we fought when we travelled. But one thing I realized when we travelled was that we had our biggest and most horrible fights when we were in cities. We didn’t fight when we were in rural places, ocean places, mountain places. Did this mean we could have stayed together if only we’d moved to the country? Definitely not. But it did give me my first lesson in how my body needs the peace and stillness that only comes outside of city life.
And then in 2020 we were all introduced to the concept of lockdown. If I’m completely honest, I was never particularly scared of getting sick. Mostly I was just overwhelmed at the thought of how to keep two very active adolescents from killing each other in our very small urban townhouse even for what we then thought would be just a few weeks.
The solution was to swallow the guilt over the incredible privilege we had of owning two homes, and turn “shelter in place” to “shelter in two places”. My partner and the thirteen year old stayed in the city. I took my ten year old and the dog and we headed to the country to divide and conquer. I didn’t know that this would be the start to six of the best months of my life.
After the first few days I realized we both needed a schedule. So I channelled my inner homeschooler/unschooler and posted one in the kitchen. It had no times listed so we could keep it a little bit loose, but had enough structure to keep me from feeling like a lazy failure, and to keep my neurodivergent kiddo from floundering.
We danced, we did puzzles, we tie dyed, we painted our nails. We baked and stacked wood and jumped on the trampoline. I learned how to make dance videos. He watched movies. We walked the dog and got a daily dose of Tim Horton’s from the no contact drive through. I pulled out an unfinished piece of needlepoint started by my mother and discovered its relaxing, meditative effect. He found his own kind of meditation outside, staring across the fence at cows, across the road at wild turkeys, across the field at deer, and tortured frogs in the tiny swampy pond. I invested in wifi. We discovered zoom but it wasn’t for work. Not yet. It was for moments of special connection with our friends and family. His teacher logged on with his class a few times a week just to see how everyone was doing and read a story. It was sweet and tender and so full of the love and fragility of this moment.
I felt like we’d gotten a ‘get out of jail free’ card. All the stressors we normally lived with, so ubiquitous that we didn’t even notice them, were gone. We went to bed when we were tired and woke up slowly when we were rested. We moved at a natural pace. We didn’t have to be anywhere at any time. There was no rush, no pressure to be on time, no late. There was none of the stress of figuring out too many other people all at once.
It was so good for his brain. It was so good for my body. Even the dog seemed more relaxed. We slowed to mirror our surroundings. And the environment, in turn, gifted us with space and sun and breath and peace.
I am not generally a hopeful person. I’m not an optimist. I spend a lot of time despairing that nothing will ever improve. But during those early months of the pandemic I felt the tiniest glimmers of hope brewing. Not only did I feel better personally, but there were so many things in the world that were better. We were all learning the value of slowing down. We were prioritizing taking care of one another, keeping each other safe as best we knew how. People seemed kinder, friendlier. Even the government came through and proved that it could, in fact, proved a guaranteed income to those who were financially vulnerable.
Maybe, I thought. Maybe this will end up being the best thing that could ever have happened to us. Maybe this will cause the massive cultural shift need to increase our greater humanity.
Or maybe not.
In the end the lessons didn’t get learned. It was just like one giant, enforced vacation, at the end of which we were all expected to hit the ground running and come back to work with a vengeance. The zoom we invested in for fun changed everything and now we were expected to work even more.
I still haven’t really gotten over the mild agoraphobia that seems to have developed during the three pandemic years. I can happily stay home working for days on end. Whenever I do have to go out, regardless of whether it’s for work, or errands, or even pleasure, I feel the anxiety rising. I just want to be home.
And maybe that’s really the best name for that nothing special house in the country that calls This Body back again and again. Home.