What I moved to Brooklyn was: three of my paintings, my great-grandmother’s dresser, three busts (Schumann, Chopin, Shakespeare), my yellow foo dogs (look it up), and the lamp I bought the day that Grandma died in an effort to make myself feel better, the lamp which I immediately broke on the threshold of my apartment building and spent the evening gluing back together.
Somehow this filled a van.
What did not fit in the van is in the storage unit in Lenexa. My boxes and I, we hadn’t seen each other since September, when I was so dazed I would say I was only sort of alive. I was, in the clinical sense, alive.
I’m enjoying “Walking Dead” now because I get what it is to be only sort of alive.
My box of Bastille Day supplies happened to be up front, too, so I took three tiles of scenes of Paris and my cheese plates. I found two smaller paintings whose compositions I still liked, and a finger bowl made of blue and white ceramic that I used to keep rings and necklace charms in. I found the red lacquer tray that was one of my ex’s best gifts to me.
It was chilly, fifty degrees and gray, and I had chatted a bit with the people who worked there, about payments and codes, and changing my address. The roll-up door was orange. Very orange.
I felt so sad for my books. There was no reason to open any of their boxes. Books are dead technology, now, anyway, but my books remind me of what I’ve read. And they are good insulation. When I had a grown-up sized bed, there were usually books in bed with me. I liked knowing I could run my hand along all their spines to find some idea I had forgotten and needed.
And there are a few special ones: my autographed Cider House Rules and my autographed Frederick, my Oxford Study Bible with many notes, my green Complete Works of Shakespeare, a ridiculous book, but one I did use to read most of Shakespeare when I took that class, my many-times-read Two Part Invention, with ideas about love I used to love, Katharine Graham’s autobiography that I have and could still read over and over, Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing that I can’t read anymore because they taste too much like me now.
Yes, they also show and prove that I am a literate and educated person, that I have read quite a bit, and it’s hard to separate my egotism about them from the comfort.
The metal of that rolling door was cold, I was chilly, it was grey. To leave, I pulled up to the gate, and sat there a minute. A guy in his car nearby pointed out the place to enter the code.
“Thanks,” I said. “Last time I was here, I was moving, and I didn’t know what was going on.”
I thought I might go hunt down, grab, and hug my cat until he whimpered, but I happened to drive right near the Shawnee Indian Mission. I wrote about it a few months ago. Although the whole area I grew up in is named after this place, I didn’t know much about it.
I pulled up to one of the brick buildings, and there was a sign in the window that said, “PRIVATE RESIDENCE. See museum for admittance.” The area around the mission is now some of the ritziest neighborhoods in Kansas City. It’s the capital of getting pulled over because your tags have expired. It is rolling hills, curled and braided residential streets, lots of green, many pretty little creeks, lots of big pretty trees.
There was one of those creeks running between two buildings of the mission. I forgot how that was part of where I grew up. There was a creek behind my elementary school, next to my middle school, and these were places foxes lived, and there was a little cheerful bit of water. A creek (not a stream or a crick) is the size of water I enjoy. Lakes are too big, the sea is certainly unnecessarily large.
I walked over to another brick building, and that was where the museum was. I opened the door and walked through the museum shop. A man walked in and asked what I needed, and I told him I wanted to pay someone the $5 admittance fee. He got an old lady to come over. She told me there was a wonderful 20-minute video, led me to a hard wooden pew, and started it up before I could tell her I was not sure I intended to spend 20 minutes there.
Johnson of Johnson County, a Methodist minister who got the grant to open a mission school near Westport. His previous mission was not a great location. They boarded Indian boys and girls, made them speak English, taught them to read and write and make shoes and do farm work. Mostly they were Shawnee, east coast Indians who had been moved at least once, and were about to be moved one last time, to Oklahoma. There were kids from other tribes, too, and white kids went to school with them. For a little while, they also had a high school.
The ethics of having a mission at all, the idea of this government education for those kids, and how the students were treated, was there to be read about. Maybe not enough, or maybe not well enough, but I don’t know enough about it to judge.
For a little while, in those buildings, they held the first Kansas Territorial Legislature, known now as the Bogus Legislature since the Union won the war. The Bogus Legislature set up some laws forbidding the aiding of escaped slaves. They, like Johnson himself, were pro-slavery. Johnson had six slaves. When Kansas went free and the war got going, he changed his tune and got on the right side of things. Two of his sons fought for the Union, and one for the Confederacy. For a little while, Union soldiers were stationed there just in case something happened– a lot happened on the Kansas-Missouri border– but nothing happened there.
For a while, one of the buildings was a roadhouse with fried chicken and (then) illegal liquor.
It made sense to me that I remembered so little about the place. I had gone there in fourth grade, and the history is confusing enough for adults.
It was as confused as I felt, and troubled with loss, which also felt right. People displaced, not sure where they belong, things beautiful like little spring streams and the daffodils up, but also the fields still dead, still brown.
I had planned to let myself be sad during Lent. I had thought a lot, before I moved, about “losing your life to save it.” I am still amazed at how great my life was in Kansas City, and how I had to walk away from it. I still don’t really understand.
Good Friday today, and I got my cello and kneeling and cross-kissing and candle-lighting. I’m always awed by it. I’m always relieved to be able to go somewhere and be sad without feeling ungrateful or like I’m bringing someone else’s party down.
I feel like New York and Kansas City have joint custody of me. I’ve done that before. Much as my parents regretted it, it wasn’t all bad.
Getting older, you can feel sadder at Good Friday. I have parts of my heart open now, it echoes in me now when people talk about missing home, students who miss their home countries or home towns.
I know about feeling torn, from when I was a kid, and the good news is, it makes you bigger.