Thirty years ago, I left home on what was pretty much a whim. I’d fallen for a guy, and we both wanted to get out of Augusta, Georgia.
One trip to D.C. was all it took: He had friends there, I fell in love with the city on a weekend trip to meet one of them, and a week later Marc and I had leased an apartment and I’d landed a job.
(Telemarketing for the National Symphony Orchestra, in case you’re curious. It was epically hellish, and it only lasted a week, but it came with free tickets, which is how I saw Alicia de Larrocha from the fourth row.)
That was the spring of 1990. I was 22. And it’s been a long time since I saw either of those numbers. The years that have buried them in memories have involved a few notable lows (about which I’ve written elsewhere) and a whole lot of highs. Not least among the latter was a spell overseas that happened almost as randomly as D.C. did: I’d just started a new job downtown when my boyfriend got posted to Zimbabwe and said “Hey, shall we move to Africa?”
Uh, hell yes.
I’ve been known to blow up my life on a whim, is what I’m saying. So when my landlord told me about a month ago that he and his husband planned to sell the cute little Petworth condo I’ve been renting from them for the last two years, it seemed like a good time to exercise some of the flexibility life has conspired to give me.
About that: I work two days a week hosting a radio show, which is a gig I’m super lucky to have. I get paid to listen to music I love, and I work in a kind of blissful solitude that’s incredibly rare. And aside from Saturday and Sunday afternoons, which I spend with listeners across a broadcast footprint that ranges from Richmond, Virginia, to Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, I set my own schedule.
Lately, and I was as surprised as anyone to realize this, that schedule has involved a lot of living quietly at home with my cats. I watch a lot of Netflix, is what I’m saying. There’s a lot of DoorDash traffic to my building.
It occurred to me, as I started looking at new places in D.C., that I was spending an awful lot of money to live quietly, inside four walls, on an iffy block in a city that’s increasingly tough to afford. So I started looking in the suburbs. And then I thought: If the suburbs, why not the country? And if the country, well … how far am I willing to commute?
That’s when my brother pointed out how much house I could get for the same rent in the South Carolina beach town where he and my parents live. When I picked myself up off the floor, I realized that the cosmos was inviting me to have another fling with domestic unpredictability.
Which is how I come to be writing this from the kitchen table at my folks’ farmhouse in Little River, S.C., just a few miles north of the beachfront walkup I’ve rented for the winter. Mom and Dad are out at their weekly Bible study. It’s just me and the local coyotes here at Indigo Run. (And the gator in the pond next to the house, but she’ll be asleep at this hour.)
Like the other leaps I’ve taken, this was a curiously easy move: I just said yes, walked out the door in D.C., and picked up the keys to a furnished condo that’s costing me less, utilities included, than the D.C. place I haven’t even finished packing up yet.
Wheezer and Puck, for those of you who know them, are settling in nicely at the parents’ place. (Yes, I packed Puck’s snugglefur, pictured below.)
Maggie and Sweet Pea, the resident canines, aren’t yet quite certain what a “cat” is, but they’re being coached on their genuflexions.
And I’m adjusting, gladly, to the rhythms of a beach town where so far life feels like a permanent vacation. Like, I haven’t worn shoes in days. I’m not even sure I brought proper shoes.
I’m not done with D.C., not by a long shot. I don’t plan on giving up my Classical WETA gig any time soon. Commuting to Washington from down here is decidedly low-hassle — sure, it’s six hours up I-95 by car, but I like to drive late at night and I love me an audiobook. There’s also a daily train and regular direct flights, so getting up to town for my weekend shows is proving surprisingly easy.
What’s surprised me, given how much I genuinely love Washington, is how little I miss it so far. Maybe it’s that I haven’t entirely left. Maybe it’s that I haven’t been spending as much time out and about in the city anyway.
Regardless, I’m oddly happy to be who and where I am right now — a middle-aged urban homo back home in the weird-ass, half-backward state where I grew up. I’m actually looking forward to the next few months of quasi-rootlessness. I’m actively thinking about how I can stretch them into years — and into a more itinerant way of life. I’ve been saying for a while that I want to own less, be less tied down, travel more, live more lightly. This feels like a step in that direction.
Dum spiro spero is the South Carolina state motto. “While I breathe, I hope.” Who knew it was going to feel so apt?