As if I hadn’t been feeling displaced enough over the last few months, I had to go and get completely lost in my own backyard the other day. And I mean lost, like, I had no idea where I was. And my heart told me so, pounding out my chest.
Having moved from Manchester to Pembroke over the last six months, I must admit that the transition has not been easy. I miss everything about Manchester. I miss my daily drive down Elm Street. I miss Paul, Lucy and Nick. I miss eating lunch at Steve’s Restaurant. I miss walking home after midnight from downtown. I miss the grit, the snags, the seemingly endless array of characters in the Queen City.
In short, I miss my people.
Not that my new neighbors aren’t great people. In fact, they’re the best of the best, but they aren’t exactly new to me. I’ve been dabbling in Pembroke for nearly 30 years, crashing on couches and beds and eating delicious breakfasts my friend’s mother made and drinking in their social clubs and golfing poorly on their courses.
One of my oldest friends lives two doors down from us now. Another, just up the road. My wife has taught in the town for years. And, if I ever need to get a hold of the Ink Link’s star columnist, Nate Graziano, all I have to do is walk across the street and drag him out of class at Pembroke Academy. That would take about five minutes.
The quintessential farmhouse we seemingly “out of nowhere” moved into was owned by friends of ours, for, I think, like 50 years. At least that’s what the mice in the barn tell me. I’d been to parties there, swam in the pool I now own, tore it up in the same kitchen I now eat in and walked the same stunning field behind the house, draped today in packed clean white snow.
Calling the yard “stunning” is not meant as braggadocio. I call the place that because for the last 14 years I have been driving past that same home back and forth to Concord, a few times a week. Not once did I not look at the house, the yard, the barn. It’s an intoxicating place, full of history and life, with all kinds of critters roaming the yard and a sunset that would blow your mind, rolling in an arc over the property at dusk.
We got really lucky without really trying.
But, not once since we moved into the home have I felt like it is completely mine. I can still hear the former owner’s voices in the house, their steps on the creaking floorboards, their snores and laughter. It is what it is. You don’t just cancel out the spirits when the movers are gone. It’s going to take years to get my stink all over this place, and rightly so.
And, I’m still processing leaving a city I was destined to die in. That’s why when we were done signing the papers I told my wife, “We didn’t just buy a house. We bought my coffin. I’m not doing this ever again.” Change has never been my thing and this endeavor ate up whatever I had in reserve for my later years.
So, sure, I’ve been feeling a bit lost, what with the winter eating my face and trampling my moods. That’s why the other day when it was very sunny but very cold outside, I couldn’t stand hearing myself think anymore, so I laced up the boots, threw on a winter hat, some gloves and headed out for a hike with the dog. It turned out to be a terrible move.
As mentioned, the yard is a big field broken up by a beautiful line of old trees. Beyond the cleared land are woods, lots of them, and I’m told they lead back to the power plant in Bow on the Merrimack River, maybe less than a mile away. Up to this point, I’ve had no interest in breaking the line of trees and going into the woods. I hear things about bears, coyotes and foxes. Freak-out stuff to me. I mean, I like the outdoors, I just don’t like being out in it.
Yet, there we were, the mutt and me, stomping through the pricker bushes and acting like Edward Abbey, going on a hike down to the river. I enjoyed not a second of our adventure. And soon we were really lost. I could no longer see my yard or the homes to the left and right of our property. The sound of traffic off 3A was muted. My breathing became labored with sweat billowing down my spine beneath my bubble coat. I was losing it.
I grabbed a big stick to plod around with and protect us from wild beasts, my eyes darting in a hundred directions, listening for hungry footsteps, shouting out to Maggie to come on, come on, come on. The river was silent, somewhere out there. The trees looked starved. My mouth was dry as cement.
Finally, I saw a red house that I did not recognize. We happily made our way for it, not knowing where we truly were. Until we did, which was about a mile from our home down a street called Broadway, nowhere near where I thought we were.
We emerged from the woods and walked home with frayed nerves, and destined to never do that again.
Like moving. Never again.