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Perspective

A Trip Worth Taking: The Long, Winding Inner Journey

July 23, 2001|PATTI DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I ran away from home at the age of 40. It was a home I had wanted for a long time, walked past when I lived a few blocks away. I finally got my wish and was able to buy it. It was shaded by tall, mature trees; a treehouse had been constructed between the branches of a huge avocado tree. An apricot tree groaned with fruit during the summers.

I was married at the time, and my then-husband and I added a new garage to the property, painted the inside of the house, transformed the kitchen. I spent hours in the garden creating flower beds, planting new trees.

The places we live seem to absorb the memories we are making. We turn a corner and collide with the past. I got divorced while living in the house shaded by trees. Newly single, I struggled through a couple of other relationships, both of them turbulent and destructive. I also rescued a baby squirrel and nurtured him into adulthood, turning the treehouse into his home.

His name was Squirmy, and he and my dog, Sadie, chased each other around for hours, bound by a mysterious agreement that neither would ever catch up to the other.

Birds used to wait for me to put food on the bird feeder; they would line up on the wires overhead and descend as soon as I emerged from the house with a bag of seed.

The sweet memories are the ones I have retained, the ones that have bubbled to the surface after nearly six years. But when I abandoned my home, left it as if my life depended on escape, it was because I couldn't find the sweetness. I believed that, in fact, my life did depend on escape.

My career, my personal life, my internal landscapes all seemed war-torn and embattled. Rather than turning inward, I thought moving--changing my physical locale--would magically fix what was wrong. I had conveniently forgotten the wise observation that wherever you go, there you are.

I was so committed to moving to the East Coast that I put my house up for sale in a declining market--a foolish move that proved costly. That's why I think of it as abandonment of something I should have treasured, why I look back on it as running away. So much was lost.

For years, I have punished myself for that decision. Even though living in New York for a few years was a positive, nourishing experience, I took my inner turbulence with me. What is so clear to me now--but wasn't then--is that moving forward in my life meant traveling inward; I could have done it in Manhattan or in Los Angeles, but I had to do it.

I have now moved across the country twice. I have ended up back in Los Angeles, a happier person, a bit wiser, definitely calmer. I had to find in myself the writer I wanted to be, I had to repair the fractures in my family relationships first in my heart, and I had to address the fact that if I was drawn to bad romances, these could be found anywhere.

Geography really had little or nothing to do with it. However, there is the home I lost, ran away from, really; there is the weight of a rash, immature choice, a hard memory.

I don't live too far now from what was once my home, and I would like to live closer; I miss that neighborhood. The property itself has changed. The new owners added on to the house, removed some of the pines that shaded the garden. But two trees that I planted as saplings are now massive. It will never be the same as it was--only in my memory, and I have been dragging my memory behind me like a ball and chain.

My father used to tell me that God will give us an answer to any problem, dilemma or wound we bring him. "If you ask God, he will answer you," my father would tell me. Here's something I've learned: Sometimes God answers us through other people.

A friend of mine who was my neighbor when I lived in my tree-shaded house spoke the words I needed to hear. I confided to her that my decision to sell is still so difficult for me to cope with, to get beyond.

"Wait a minute here," she said. "I was there for all that. I remember everything you were going through. You were unhappy, you were restless, and you felt if you moved, things might get better. You didn't set out to sabotage your life, you were trying to make it better. It's true that the cost was high, but look how you've grown as a person."

I felt chains dropping off; I felt my memory stretching to take in the entire picture. I did what I thought I needed to do at the time. And there will be another home, another garden, which I will be better able to maintain as a peaceful, calm environment.

We lose places in our lives, but we leave things behind also. I planted two skinny saplings on land that I loved, that was my home for five years. They now bend over the lawn and reach to the sky; their trunks are thick and sturdy.

And I learned an invaluable lesson. I learned that no matter how far, how fast I ran, I couldn't run away from myself. I learned it by trying to run, by trying to escape from myself in another city, another state, as if miles and jet streams were the answers. Maybe I couldn't have learned it any other way.

My friend was right, the cost was high. But there will be another home, and it will match the home I have found inside myself.

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