I drive to the grocery store in the evening, needing only a few things. The store where I go is called the Food Lion, and it is not a very nice place, but it's close to home. As I step onto the parking lot I hear something, something I haven't heard for so long I have nearly forgotten it and the strange effect it always has on me. I freeze in place, body turned towards the sprawling, concrete building, and feel a familiar ache settle into my chest and curl inside the four chambers of my heart.
It is the sound of frogs, which means that winter is gone, and it also means I'm going to have a very small personal crisis. I always do when I hear frogs.
Some time in the past few days, the spring frogs emerged in wet places across the south, including the marsh between the Food Lion parking lot and highway 421 in Boone, North Carolina. Starting when the sun sets, they stand with their skinny legs anchored into the muck and cry their frog hearts out: that tranquil, sad, aquatic meeep meeep sound.
Ever since I was a kid, that warbly song has made me want to do funny things. It made me want to rise out of bed, pack a few of my possessions and start walking. This is before I could drive. After that, I wanted to pack up my car and drive and drive and drive. Maybe this is the effect that the full moon has on the rest of the population. Not me. The full moon causes insomnia and spontaneous photo shoots that never turn out as well as I hope. But not this.....this inexplicable blend of emotion, something like falling in love mixed with homesickness mixed with the desire to RUN and discover something completely brand new.
It feels like part of me is moored to the harbor and part of me is struggling towards open water. And it hurts.
The same strange thing would happen years later when, driving across the city at odd hours, I would catch a glimpse of apartments glowing with a strange bluish light. A television screen, or a dimly-watted light bulb, dismal hues that never found their way into my own house. The same ache of the childhood frogs would tug at my heart cavity. I would explain the feeling like this: there was something waiting for me- something I had to get, somewhere I had to be, and I had to go forward and find it, NOW. I remember once turning to my friend Miranda, we were driving on Aurora late in the evening, and doing my best to articulate it. "Do you ever feel that way," I concluded, "like maybe you're supposed to be somewhere else?" And she sighed, her hands on the wheel, and said, "maybe."
When I was little, I just felt it and fell asleep and trusted that in the morning, things would be right again. They always were, my mom would draw back the curtains, things would be cheerful and bright, and all those unnamed feelings scurried under the bed or blinked away in the sunshine.
These days, when it catches me- either by strange lights in strange houses or by peepers in marshes near grocery stores- I try like to hold onto that feeling, see it I can't squint my eyes and make out the details. What is it that I'm wanting so badly? What could I possibly feel homesick for before I've even found it?
From what I've gathered so far, it's some place, some life, where I completely belong, where the money I put into the bank doesn't mysteriously disappear. There are friends around a dinner table, something on the radio, and everyone says the things I think they should be saying. And I think I own the house. Yes, I definitely own the house. The word that sums everything up is permanence.
It doesn't make any sense. My childhood was the picture of permanence, everything in it's place, and still I felt it, like a shred of adulthood had fallen through the cracks and found me: a glimpse of things to be, where elements of life melt away when you're not looking, and answers don't exist to questions you haven't asked yet.
I stand there in the food lion parking lot, listening. On the highway, cars rush towards me as diamonds and fly away as rubies. I'm 25, I think. Is this where I thought I'd be.
I move through the halogen glow of the parking lot, and think, I'm going to buy lots and lots of food. I'm going to throw it in the car and take off. The dog and I will drive and drive and drive.
That's where you'll find me if you're looking for me. In Pennsylvania. Or Maryland. On the side of the interstate, asleep with the keys in the ignition. Just some number of hours and some number of miles away from that thing I'm looking for.