When I was eighteen, I walked into a tattoo parlor with a friend. We were going to get matching tattoos on our wrists. Tiny little black birds – an outline, merely – of wings – this was what we sought. I didn’t believe in tattoos – I have never believed in anything so permanent. But if permanence, then this. An exhibition of our ability to take flight. An exhibition of the impermanence of our presence.
I had my wrist splayed open for him, when I looked up and saw the back of her head. She was walking out of the front door. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t do something that permanent. I stood up, shocked. This was all her idea, at least in my head. I apologized. I left.
That was twenty years ago. The tattoo hasn’t haunted me, but impermanence has. I keep flying in, sticking a landing, collecting things – and then, almost silently, lifting my wings back up again. I have moved twenty times in those twenty years. My wings are so tired.
I started watching HGTV when I got to Iowa, four years ago, with a fervor previously reserved for food. I stayed up late watching renovation shows and first-time-home buying shows and tiny home shows. You know what I never watched? Vacation home shows. I wasn’t interested in the temporary nests. Much to my own shock, I was interested in the stuff that lives were made out of.
I told the man I met that I wouldn’t be staying here. Staying was not what I did. I was prepping to fly again. I wanted him to know.
But I was falling in love. I was rooting down when I couldn’t even see it. I folded my wings and started planting my feet. Iowa became my friend. Iowa was the place that grew him – this man I had met. He, in turn, grew me. Into a different person. And then we grew a little one. Our baby.
Home can mean a million things. Our mothers. Our fathers. A nook in the world that knows us well. A city. A food. A structure with walls. An idea.
Home is now split in my mind into two things. Nic. And Iowa. Can a place that changed you by way of love ever not be home?
It came to me in a flash. I saw it, there, on my wrist, in a vision. It surprised me, but it was mine.
The wrist that had waited for a bird to land so many years ago, now outlined with the shape of a state. A state of grace. Of understanding. Of the welcoming of love. The outline is rectangular in shape, and permanent in my heart. The shape of Iowa.