I’m Keri. I’m originally from New York. Queens to be exact. Not far from where Doug Heffernan drove his fictitious IPS van and spent all his life driving home to Carrie (and her father Arthur). And I too recall sittin’ there in traffic on the Queensborough Bridge…it’s part of my childhood! Worth mentioning: my name is not the same as Doug’s wife’s name. It’s spelled differently and pronounced differently. I’m “KEH-ree.” I’m not “CARE-ree.” My birth certificate reveals my official name: Keri-Lin. I use that for signing important things. But since I grew up when class role sheets didn’t show hyphens, people thought I was Kerilin and pronounced that as “Carolyn” which I didn’t respond to. So I guess I have two names like many people do: my official birth name and the name I go by. For the record, I love the name Keri-Lin.
For those who don’t know, Queens is on Long Island, but it is considered part of New York City. This makes Queens urban and suburban. True to these roots, I grew up knowing city life and “country” life. Parts of Long Island definitely feel suburban, yet parts of Queens surely have a city vibe. My parents, sister, and I ventured out the Island a lot; relatives hosted parties…best friends lived out there…and the beaches – oh the beaches! We also took subways westward and explored Manhattan from one end to the other. By the time I was ten, my socks-in-sandals feet must have traveled hundreds of miles around that city. So I guess I can say I’m an urbanite and a suburbanite. For the record, wearing socks and sandals was a short-lived quirk.
The Midwest is more readily associated with all things country. My family relocated to a suburb outside of Chicago just before I entered my teens (and just before a brutal winter). The only things I knew about Chicago at the time were that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow burned it down and Bob Newhart lived in a cool apartment building there. I entered junior high with braces, a Dorothy Hamill hairdo, and a thick New York accent. Not conducive to making friends in a new place. I had a huge family and tons of friends in the Big Apple; the Windy City, however, felt empty for a long time. Our particular suburb was rather isolated back then; gone were the days of walking to the corner for a slice of pizza or around the block to explore the library. But soon enough, humid summer days brought out the banana bikes, Otter Pops, and cute boys. So I guess I had great friends but still felt lonely for family. For the record, I wanted to move back to NY but never told anybody.
I suppose it was that secret feeling which led to a decision to go to college in Connecticut. I was near Queens but hardly visited. Close to Manhattan but only went there for some concerts. With divorced parents, I tried making dorm friends into family. But “Facts of Life” it was not, and there was no Mrs. Garrett to mentor me. I was an unhappy psych major who wanted to write but thought there was no living in that. In a spontaneous déja vu type of moment at age 19, I abandoned southern New England and set sail for southern Wisconsin. With one suitcase and a Sony Walkman, I walked into a new dorm and a new life. I was trepidatious but tremendously excited. For the record, my favorite Walkman cassette was Stevie Wonder’s “In Square Circle.”
College dorms are a lot like “The Love Boat;” people get assigned to rooms, unpack their suitcases, run around like life’s a party, and, in a magical TV moment, fall in love. After the journey ends, and the passengers leave the party boat for the real world, they take with them some momentos. Mine came in the form of a boyfriend turned fiancé turned husband, whose goal was to own a Porsche and live in southern California. At the time, I thought that sounded pretty swell. So California Here (there) We (I) Come (went). And just like every Love Boat episode there was a complication. Some topsy turvy plot twist that threatened the happily ever after. It would have been good to know the plot twist before the I-do’s, but alas, there was no foreshadowing. Or if there was, a feeling like love (it wasn’t love) blinded me. I guess you could say my Love Boat became “The Poseidon Adventure.” For the record: I survived the capsizing with my self respect in tact.
Time performed its healing powers. In the spirit of finishing what I started, I stayed in school (I was pursuing a teaching credential), and in the spirit of kicking assholes to the curb, I divorced. I began teaching, got an apartment for my golden retriever Bo and myself, and worked part time as a leasing agent. It was all very “Melrose Place.” When I finally got my own classroom, life felt stable. It’s amazing what both a paycheck and a purpose can do. I felt grounded. Life was good.
As poet Robert Frost wrote, “knowing how way leads on to way,” there followed friendships, courtships, memberships, partnerships, ownerships, and kinships. Two years becomes four, four eight, eight sixteen. In those years I became a teacher, married again, and had a baby. Having a residence where the earth ruptures randomly did not bother me, until it bothered me. A rocking 6.0 quake left me reeling and resulted in more relocation. The reality is you are never as grounded as you think. For the record, I never want to watch walls wiggle, furniture fly, or ceiling beams snap again.
That is how I got from one side of the country to the other. There were starts and stops. Trials and errors. Gains and losses. Triumphs and tears. A girl with two names. She’s city and country. Sociable and solitary. Scared and psyched. Rising and sinking. Stable and unsettled. The dichotomous nature of life is perhaps what gives it significance. We are never all one thing and not the other; we are this and that. Old and young. Wise and foolish. Bored and inspired. We are all very much the same, no matter our names, our hometowns, our ethnicities, our troubles, our loves; yet our paths are so different. One important lesson which life has taught me thus far is that home is within us. We will leave one place and go to the next, but we don’t go with emptiness if our sense of home dwells in our hearts.