This is a baptism, I said to the empty passenger seat. I didn’t get a response. But I’m no theologian, I quickly clarified to no one.
The cornfields and pastures of western Wisconsin gave way to birch forests as I drove east. They waved their branches and beckoned me deeper in.
The drive was a familiar one. I went to college in Wisconsin and grew up in Minnesota.
I live in Denver now, but I still remembered the highways, the trees, the traffic. The way the clouds hang heavy, the sun reflecting off the snow, the feel of the steering wheel turning slowly through farmlands.
Yes, and the heartache, too. I remembered the heartache, too. I didn’t feel it, but I remembered it in my stomach.
And yes, yes, the happiness. I remembered the happiness, too.
But it felt distant. Unhinged. Like nostalgia, but without any particular desire to return or never return. It was, and I was, and the two are separate now.
I am different now than when I lived there. I have chiseled away and added on and untangled. I am better.
I was driving to my friend’s wedding. At the wedding we celebrated that love is real and grace is tangible and life gives second and third and fourth chances.
Afterwards I headed home. As I drove out of the birch forests, out of the farmlands, I understood that we are not defined by what we have done, but by what we are undoing.
And as my plane back to Denver took off, I saw the lakes and streets and homes grow smaller. I saw the forms of who I was and what I’ve done wandering about and fading.
You are a visitor, they said. You do not belong to us anymore.
And I knew they were speaking truth.