I had a beautiful gift of a Labor Day weekend.
I was fortunate enough that I had the time and the money to go home over the long weekend. My darling girl Molly put a bug in my ear two-ish weeks ago that an event I was sorely sorry to miss had been planned for the long weekend. And while I have the work ethic of a draft mule, my workload remains light at the beginning of this semester, so I was able to take four days off from my reading schedule and hie thee hence to home.
I had wondered idly if, after only being gone four weeks, I would have the same reaction as when I return to Oregon—tears the second I cross the border. Well, dear reader, I did. Yes, I had been driving for twelve hours, yes, I was tired and a bit cranky, yes, it was very late at night. But the second I got off at my exit, I burst into tears. Big, heaving sobs of happiness and gratitude. Staunton is the first place that's ever been mine, and I built a life there that I love among people that I love. I was home, home where I wanted to be, and that was dandy.
This is a lot of preamble to a weekend of love that I don't have adequate words for. I saw my dearest loves in ones and twos, feeding my soul and filling my heart. Wine with the girls, dinner with the boys, love and communion at every turn. I remain unconvinced that Alabama is the best or right place for me, and I loathe the climate/ecosystem, but things here are good. There's plenty to like, and some things even to love. But home, as they say, is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in dear old Staunton.
It's been a year of transition for me. Some of those transitions have been bitterly hard. Others, though, have been joyous. Quietly, kindly, I've been able to shift a handful of important relationships from teacher/student to colleagues to friends, and I am just so.damn.grateful. There are four beautiful people in Staunton who I value as colleagues and collaborators, but also as friends, and I feel desperately lucky that they have taken me into their hearts. We had a long Saturday night of pizza and wine together, in a new home surrounded by unpacked boxes and half-furnished rooms. There were pups and laughter, and I felt just as at home as I do anywhere else in that town. I was not concerned about appearing intelligent, or contributing meaningfully to the conversation, or being so intimidated that I said nothing at all. We laughed and we loved and we ate much and drank deeply. These people, who will modestly demur it if I say it out loud, have more or less handed my career to me. Most everything I have, I owe to them in some measure. My PhD placement, my first publishing contract, my most recent article, my certainty that I am in the field where I belong—all thanks to them. I love them, both for their brains and their hearts, and as they were showing me their new home, they pointed out the guest room as being "Jess's quarters". My poor little heart could just burst with love. Seamlessly and graciously, we've moved from colleagues to friends, and I'm so grateful.
It's become clear to me, from my summer at home and upon my triumphant return this weekend, that I am part of an incredible community of women. Men too, of course, some who are very dear to me and who are 1000% supportive of my life and ambitions. But the women are the reason my soul sings. In particular, Staunton is home to five women, a mix of academics and practitioners, who are my biggest fans. They love me, first and foremost, and they challenge me and support me. I'm always trying to be better—for them. They are smart, talented, capable, and beautiful inside and out, and I want to keep up with them and be worthy of their time and company. They are champions of my soul, they don't shy away from my intimacies, they accept my foibles and my fortes. They are the best friends a girl could ask for. Some are old, some are new, all are dearly, dearly loved. They will listen to me talk myself from one end of a decision to the other and back, they read my work and make it better, they share my stories, they cheer my successes and comfort my failures.
After a long drive back to the Deep South on Monday, I sent a quick email thanking my Saturday night host for making time for me in the midst of a busy weekend, expressing my gratitude for the friendship extended to me, and querying a term used over dinner that I wasn't remembering (because wine). The email I got back, though brief, was enough to set my soul on fire. Two sentences, one answering my question, the other: "We love you—come back soon and often."
Oh, my heart.
It's early days in Alabama and the weather is still terrible. But if my home and my friends are so wonderful, how can my life be anything but good? I am so lucky, so loved, and so happy.