Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Leaving Des Moines: 1987

Throughout the Eighties I'd always kept my Iowa drivers license and kept Iowa plates on my car (when I had a car). Officially, I should have had a New Mexico license, a California one, a Washington State one, Illinois (maybe even Alaska and New York), definitely Florida. I never did switch until Montana in late 1988. But in the summer of 87 I was back in Des Moines trying to find work. I did my usual temp jobs--at warehouses and offices, a stint moving things around downtown where I showed up the first day still drunk and everything swayed and shimmied as I toiled). But then my old friend Kevin got me a full time job mowing lawns with TrueGreen and I was set until I left--heading back to Florida once again.
But I was down, felt rotten inside, but was writing. Living in the basement but working, seeing some woman--women--I knew and had met that summer in the bars. The difference, this time, was that I was using a computer, was rewriting about all my stories and my novel and starting new stuff (some of which eventually showed up in scenes of my third novel--the one that got published many years later). But my parents--though I didn't quite see it--were a bit dismayed. 
Here I was, a grown man in my late twenties, a college grad and a capable human being, romping about and returning to the parental nest and, basically, going around in my own static circles. 
But I worked the summer, got physically fit and saved a chunk of cash, got back on the writing trail. I got back in touch with my longest of friends, met new ones, stayed in touch with Matt and Brock (to some degree--these, my deepest friendships of those years, were beginning to fray) and with some people in Iowa City.
In fact, Roger--from the first Grayton days--was living in Iowa City (as he had when I came back for grad school in 86) and I went over to see him a couple of time, him and others I'd met less than a year ago. But eventually the time came to move on and that meant going back to the panhandle, to south Walton County FL.
So I made my plans, let some people know. I was going to drive straight south--take small roads down through Missouri, down through Arkansas and Louisiana and over: see some new country. But then I heard from Margaret--out of the blue--a letter or maybe a phone call and she was living in Champaign, Illinois and wanted me to come out and see her. Margaret was a friend, she had been Cin's roommate in early Iowa City college days. So, I decided I'd go see her, which meant a different route to Grayton, which also meant a stop in Iowa City.
All of which I did.
(And in Champaign I met her friends and co-workers, one of which was Fru; but that's a longer, different and involved story.)
But before I left, my mother came to me and wanted to talk to me. She seemed nervous, concerned, a little grave. She said, "I don't think you can come back here. You can't keep coming home."
That was all. And in many ways, it was a big statement. My father had always run a rather open family home, raised us to take our time and be practical to some degree, but mainly that our lives were our own yet the house would always be our home. But I quickly surmised that they had been discussing this--not exactly kicking me out (I was leaving on my own free will), but that this avenue of my indirection was now closed to me. I knew it had been a topic of deep concern and contemplation between them and that my mother had been sent to give me the bad news. But I didn't take it as such.
"Okay," I said. Was all that I could say. I mean, I interpreted it that quickly and understood it and thought it was--really--a good and necessary policy. So I had no complaints or quibbles. It didn't shock me and maybe even pleased me or satisfied me in inner ways. And we never discussed it further, never said more than those few words. It was understood and accepted and not an issue.
So, I left. Drove away. Left Des Moines for the last and final time--as far as living there goes. Of course I came back and visited, even stayed at the house for a few days, but never worked and lodged there again.
I really hadn't lived in Des Moines--saw the city as my home--since I went away to college and spent my summers in Iowa City in the early 80's (if not 1980 itself). I really wasn't even an Iowan anymore by then. I was just some itinerant gypsy vagabond nomad wanderer writer driver kind of strange guy, living mostly in my own head. . . Yet, that's not entirely true, because in my mind Iowa was still the center of my world, and Des Moines the center of that center. It was my home port, my pinpoint of comparison from which everything else was judged. So leaving it--essentially for good--had its profundity. It was--or should have been--a watershed event.
And it probably was.
But I refused to recognize it as such. Maybe I still refuse to do so.

I returned to Des Moines just a month ago for my Mother's 80th birthday (my father passed away in 2001). I spent about a week there, some of it on my own. My three brothers and my lone sister came into town for two to three days. I stayed on Grand and hung out on Ingersol, just west of the downtown core--even saw Scott and Larry, high school pals who are still there--and then downtown itself, east of the river near the state capitol, and got to see, re-learn the city while I was there. I was strangely impressed. Des Moines has grown up. It has its own level of sophistication yet still retains its Iowa-ness--a good Iowa-ness. I like it.
Who knows, maybe I'll go back someday. Back to stay?

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