I have an uneasy relationship with the Midwest.
A Northerner by birth, I spent most of my life on the shoreline: first in the Great Lakes industrial city in which I grew up, later along the Thames, when my family lived as expatriates in London, and finally, as a young adult attending college in Boston.
Water is a huge part of my life. The ocean beckons me every summer, to Cape Cod where I've spent every July since I was just 8 years old.
When my husband called me from the flat lands of Illinois one February afternoon and told me we would soon be living in a college town two hours south of Chicago, my first reaction was panic.
I'd long since returned to the city of my youth. It was where I wed, buried my father and birthed my first child.
It was home.
My father's death just a little less than two years earlier caused my roots to grow even more firmly into that hilly ground. I couldn't bear the idea of being so far from his grave, from the water that gave him so much joy.
I did not want to leave.
But marriage carries obligations, and my husband put forth a compelling argument: if we go, he said, our future will be brighter in the long term.
So we sold our 100-year-old Dutch Colonial—bought just a scant nine months earlier—and set out for the prairie, and our new life.
It was shocking how flat the topography is here. For days I drove the same small, circuitous route from hotel to mall to new suburban development, aching for trees and rolling hills and the shimmering blue of Lake Ontario.
Longing for the familiar, I unpacked all our worldly goods and watched as strangers painted our daughter's room the precise shade of pink that adorned her walls back East. I arranged her crib bumpers and decided where to put the coffeemaker, waiting for my mother and sister to wing her back to me, after watching the girl for the seven days it took to move to Chambana.
Our first months here were hard, harder even than the first days in a foreign country. I was adrift, tethered only to the baby and the strangers inside my computer, whose blogs and emails helped me make it through that first horrible year.
Winter was the worst. The baby gave up her nap and together we fussed and fretted our way through the short days, eyes seared from the glaring brown of the decimated cornfield behind our house. Every day I waited for the locks to click, announcing the arrival of my husband.
We flew at him, us girls, clamoring for his reassurances, his strength, his kisses.
Oh, we were lonely.
Slowly, surely, the winter waned and summer arrived, our first in the bare patch of grass outside our backyard. I counted days like sheep, until at last, the time came to depart for the water once again.
We spent three weeks at the oceanside that year, days filled with sunshine and the scent of lemons on a salty wind. But as our time there waned, the baby who'd become a girl in the 12 months of our Midwestern life begged to go home.
"Are we going to go back to Mybana?" she asked me. "I want to go to Mybana."
And so it came to be that her home was mine, as well.
Two years have passed since that fateful afternoon by the sea, when my daughter looked at me with hazel eyes and asked to go home.
My house is now as familiar as my own skin, cheerful yellow kitchen and shoddy carpentry, crooked door frames and a new nursery, bright green this time. Hopeful holly bushes line our front stoop, poking out of freshly dug beds. A Big Wheel stands at the ready, eager for a spring rider.
And this August, when the cornfield is as green and undulating as a deep ocean, we will leave Chambana for parts unknown. As it stands now, we will stay in the middle of this great country of ours, headed north this time.
North, to a land of lakes and greenery, a land notorious for punishing winters and liberal summers.
We will leave behind the physical shell of our life here in the Midwest, but will take with us memories that cannot be undone by geography: our daughter's first school days, my new career as a freelance writer, my husband's shiny new degree, and the happy smile of our second-born, a native Chambanan.
Chambana and I have not always agreed, but trust me when I say my tears for this place—this strange, frustrating, wonderful place—will be very real indeed.