Home/Heart

Illustration from The Little House, Virginia Lee Burton, 1942
Illustration from The Little House, Virginia Lee Burton, 1942

I
I’ve been thinking about Home a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about where to place your heart. When does your hometown cease to be your hometown? And all these people with their houses underwater. And all those particleboard condos standing empty where Freedom Parkway meets Boulevard. There’s this statue of Martin Luther King on one side of the Parkway, and he’s pointing across the way, right at the wall of empty condos, and right at the long plastic banner they’ve unfurled down the side that shouts in sans-serif font: From the Low Something-Hundreds This and Last Chance That. Whose last chance?

II
Meanwhile, up in Brookhaven, there’s this family trying to save their house. It’s been in the family since the 19th century, since before the Civil War, since the road it was on—one Peachtree Street—was still a dirt path in a lot of places. One acre remains of what was hundreds. From the road, I’ve been told, you don’t see any evidence of a farmhouse; only the giant grey block of an Extended Stay (which brings to mind for me, evacuees from Katrina a few years ago, a whole army of people with their own Home issues).

The family whose name the house carries cannot afford to pay the taxes on their property anymore. It’s zoned commercially, and from what I’ve read, it seems they’ve exhausted just about every option to get some sort of historic protection. They’re selling. They have no choice, and they’re terrified that the buyers, whoever they may be, will raze the place or take crummy care of it, so that sooner or later, the end result will be the same: the house will be gone.

This has gone on for years now. I imagine they must just be so tired. What happens when Home becomes, not just your everyday experience, and not just your personal feeling, memory, and attachment, but the weight of generations of your own family who’ve become legend not just to you, but to your city? The weight of History. What happens when all of this becomes your responsibility to save? What complicated resentments arise?

And this question: Where to place your heart. Where does Zen Buddhism place it? I think of all those walkers-away again, those people leaving the keys to their castles with their banks. Empty pockets. Empty hands. The problem with zen, to me, is its emphasis on emptiness. What about your heart and what about your heart? I want to ask.

III
This weekend, visiting Beach Town, a friend and I were eating Mexican food, and I mentioned wanting to leave Atlanta at some point. “I just don’t want to settle down there,” I said, faltering in my tone even as I spoke, for this is a top cliché for Atlanta residents (one that I’ve fallen prey to, time and time again): to say, for years and years and years, that we don’t want to settle down here, even as we settle right on in.
He caught the hesitation. “Why not?”
And I spoke the old litany about car culture, etcetera, etcetera, but even in my response, I wound back around to our house and our happy domesticity. The garden. The porch. The yard for a dog soon/someday. All the painting we’ve done. Our neighborhood. The farmers’ market and drive-in.

And Marshall and I have all these rules:
1. I don’t want to live somewhere cloudy.
2. Marshall doesn’t want to live somewhere very cold.
3. I don’t want to live somewhere that people are less friendly and open.
4. I don’t want to live somewhere significantly less green.

“It sounds like you’ve made your decision,” said my friend.
“For now,” I said, and smiled.

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