Indiana is flat.
Flat, like, the flattest table you’ve ever seen kind of flat. You could put a pencil down and it wouldn’t move for centuries, but for the wind that blows straight on through because there’s nothing to stop it.
I spent 15 years in the midwest, but now that I’ve been “back east” for 10, I’m always surprised when I see just how flat it is there. When the plane approaches the airport in my former homes of Columbus or Indianapolis, the downtown buildings stand up like Lego structures on a plywood board covered with that green stuff that’s supposed to look like grass in architectural models.
You can see to Kansas from these places. You can smell a dinner that’s cooking the next town over.
I went to Indy to visit my godson. And his parents, who are still obligated to live with him, since he’s not quite two and a half. His father and I went to high school together. Happily, we are friends who have changed toward each other instead of away from each other since we left the halls of our Catholic (but impressively forward-thinking) school. By this I mean that most of our beloved friends got more conservative, more religiously indoctrinated, less likely to explore the world beyond Indiana’s borders. Matt and Jeannie thought differently, believed differently (though no more or less deeply) and eloped to Canada. They’re something other than Republican. If all my friends are the incomparable John Mellencamp (except I’ve just compared him to my friends), Matt and Jeannie are Springsteen. Humble roots, happy to claim the small town, but born to run.
And they’re raising this dynamite little guy. I call him Boy Wonder, because Jeannie had a lot of reproductive issues and all understandings were that children weren’t possible. She was 39 when she found out she was 20 weeks pregnant, and that kid doesn’t have a single problem except that he has no butt to hold up his pants. Also, he’s a damned genius. Which actually might be a problem – his mother and I are debating that. At just shy of two and a half, the child can hold an entire conversation without once misunderstanding so much as an idiom. Verbal? Verbal doesn’t begin to describe it. The lisp is the only thing that makes one realize he’s not walking around with a grown-up brain in his little head.
We figure that’s down to Jeannie, because Matt frankly is more of the Grunt and Stomp method of communication. He frequently speaks Cave Man to drive that point home.
Also? Boy Wonder never throws fits.
Matt and Jeannie think he’s melting down if he gets a teensy bit whiny. And by “a teensy bit,” I mean it lasts about a sentence, they speak to him and he immediately becomes completely amenable to whatever they suggest.
It made my 48 hours at their house much, much easier than it would be if he were a normal toddler.
And I really like the little town they’re in, outside of the state capital. It has a charming “downtown” full of old brick buildings. There’s a fantastic coffee shop Jeannie frequents where they know her and Boy Wonder intimately and their photos are on the walls. There are trunk sales at the little shops and the owners tell Jeannie to come early. They know their neighbors, and, more than that, they know the folks who live three streets over and a block down. And everyone lives in fantastic old Victorians with wrap-around porches – not showy, just well-kept. Nothing cookie-cutter, and few of the squat, bland ranchers I find so depressing, which are so prevalent in that part of the country.
I think there’s something very sweet about what I find to be a very simple life. It’s unflaggingly virtuous and honest and unassuming and unpretentious. It’s about home and family and staying close to where you came from. It seems people are happy, or at least not so unctuous as to complain.
But it’s not for me.
I found myself wondering, as I stared out their kitchen window on a typical Indiana morning, who I would have become if I had not left the midwest. If I had not moved back east with my family for my senior year of high school, I might not have chosen my career path, which has been anything but boring. If I had not moved back east after six years in Ohio for college and work, I might still be there, looking out across an unbroken plain under rolling gray skies and wondering where it met its edge. I might be married with three children, trying to keep up a home while my husband drove a truck or surveyed roads or worked at the corporate bank office. I might be plump on the steady midwestern diet that’s heavy on carbs, turning my words with a bit of a twang and never even thinking of the things that occupy my mind in my place in the world.
Or I might be restless, frustrated by something I understood within myself just enough to know that I did not belong in this place, that I should find the spot far away and perhaps beyond my imagining where I could more naturally grow to be who I was meant to be.
Oh, how I have changed. Of all our friends from all those years ago, I have changed the most. Ten years ago, I was much more like them, but my life led me to different places, different experiences, a hometown I made for myself rather than stayed in, unquestioning, since childhood. And while I love all those friends, and I smile at their happiness and content life, I know I could not live it. As much as I had grown to love the midwest after all those years, and as hard as it was to leave at 17, I believe I was meant to go.
As my plane approached the East Coast city I call my home, the endless patchwork of unvaried land had given way to a topography that felt warm and lush. I saw my place in the world laid out below me with hills and valleys and waterways and dense woods, changes in light and inconsistencies in terrain. It occured to me that my plane left a land of steady people whose lives never waver and traveled home to a land where the people move in jagged lines and the earth throws curves.
With warm memories of a former, more constant life, I touched down where I belong.