My favorite types of books have always been those where the character is out of place, as if she doesn’t belong in the world where she was plopped. By the end of the novel, of course, the character finds where she belongs — often with the one man who appreciates her — but we never hear the end of the character’s story. All stories end where life ends — in death. Authors simply pick the appropriate stopping place for the novel. So, as long as we imagine the character living happily ever after with her beloved, we know she belongs somewhere, but what happens to her when her beloved dies?
One short story I read when I was small affected me so much that I remember it all these decades later. (Though I don’t remember who the author was and, in fact, might not have known it. Back then, an author’s name was only important as a way of identifying the type of story, and I didn’t pay much attention to them otherwise.) The main character in the story was a young woman who had always felt out of place — the world and the people around her were alien to her. It turns out she was an alien stranded here on earth, and at the end, she was rescued and taken home.
It makes sense that such stories spoke to me since I too felt out of place. No matter how I tried to fit in, I never got it quite right, as if I were an alien trying to fit into a human situation. Then one day I stopped by a health food store, met the owner — a wise and radiant man — and all of a sudden the world made sense. If he was in the world, then the world wasn’t such an alien place after all. We never belonged to each other, but we did belong with each other. We thought alike, valued the same things, disvalued the same things. When he died two years ago, the world became alien once more, and I am back where I started, wondering where I belong.
As with many people in this mobile world, my parents left their hometowns, moved west, raised their family, then moved on again, which leaves me without a heritage, without a home. The place where I grew up has itself grown up — no longer a cow town but a world class city, and it is as alien to me as any city in the world. It didn’t matter as long as he was alive since he was my home, but now . . . where do I belong?
I’ve gotten over the hump of my grief. I am no longer in constant physical and emotional agony, though grief still stabs at me (sometimes several times a day), and I still have moments of panic when I remember that he’s not just gone out of my life but that he is dead. (That is still the worst aspect of this whole situation. I can deal with everything but his absence from Earth. How can he be so very gone? Where is he? Is he okay?) I am mostly back to being myself, though I’m not sure who I am, what I’m supposed to be doing, where I belong.
Right now, I’m taking care of my 95-year-old father, but this is not my home. In fact, I’d never even been here until my mother’s dying days. When my father is gone, the house will be sold, and I’ll have to find somewhere to live. But where do you go if you don’t belong anywhere?