“The House That Built Me”
“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it’s like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.”
–lyrics from The House that Built Me
written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin
The first time I heard Miranda Lambert sing “The House That Built Me”, I cried. I listened to it again, right away, and I cried harder, one of those ugly, sobbing, senselessly over-the-top cries that hurts so good. It’s a song about a woman going back to the house she grew up in, and it somehow manages to tell a genuine story without being hokey or overly sentimental. I grew up in, and subsequently moved away from, a small Texas town, and when I hear those lyrics I can’t help but relate.
I don’t honestly go to my hometown very often. I often fly one or both of my parents here to visit, or Scott and I meet them at some other location that we can all enjoy, but occasionally we do make our way there, to that little community and to my parents’ house, where I first started figuring out what I wanted in life, and to a greater extent, what I didn’t want.
I do want to know and embrace the person I was there. But I’ve spent so many years running from that girl – reinventing her, hiding what I saw as pathetic and lonely and without worth, and creating another, “better” version of myself. I joke about the embarrassments of my past, a lack of sophistication and worldliness that makes for good comedy but is tragically difficult as a teenager. I was the naive girl that people talked about behind her back, the quiet girl who saw too much that couldn’t be unseen, the class valedictorian who so desperately wanted a boy to hold her hand.
I couldn’t wait to go away to college. I couldn’t wait to one day start what I considered to be my REAL life, the life I chose rather than the one I was born into. I was realistic about money and I was more than willing to work for the life I wanted. I was anxious to finish school and move myself very far away, both geographically and culturally, from all I had known as home. I wasn’t sure where I was headed just yet – but I knew it would be dramatically different, a big, bustling city filled with dreams and life and love.
If you’re wondering what exactly I was afraid of, or running from, or wanting to avoid, listen to a different country song, Merry Go ‘Round by Kacey Musgraves, which is spectacularly accurate.
Of course, I got to college (still in Texas) and realized that while life was different living away from my family, and while I could reinvent myself a bit, it still seemed relatively insular. And of course now I know that where you go to college is certainly still tied to your family, connections, and wealth. But – baby steps into the world, and I suppose that’s useful. After graduation, I threw myself off a cliff by moving to New York City. I had friends from college here, which was nice in the beginning. I was so in love with the city. Despite the fact that I was waiting tables, barely able to pay rent, living with roommates in a laughably small hovel of an apartment – I was here, and everything seemed possible.
A while back, I was talking to a friend from high school who still lives in Texas, who told me he loves the pace of his life. I can understand that. Going back to visit, it’s nice to slow down for a few minutes, to look up at the stars in that huge night sky over the plains, and give my brain time to wander and to wonder – but I need something different. I need the complications. I need the stimulation of the push and pull. (Although manners and common courtesy should have a place in all society, despite the population density.)
It’s been more years than I care to admit, and I’ve changed, of course, but inside of me, both people exist – the person who lived there and the person who lives here. I know now that both are valuable and special and I couldn’t be here, doing what I do, living this life, without that little girl with the giant glasses and crooked teeth who liked to read books and write stories and act in plays and who believed she could do whatever she set her mind to.
I wouldn’t be here without my dad, who believes that dreams are worth chasing but require a heaping helping of luck and hard work (not necessarily in equal measure). My dad and I don’t share the same political views, to say the least, but we share a fundamental belief in the right to express them. I know that he loves me, is proud of me, and will always be there for me. I have have never doubted that for one moment of my life. Not to mention, he knows how to tell a story, loves a good joke, and could probably sell water to a drowning man.
I wouldn’t be anywhere without my mother, whose tolerance and grace taught me to be independent in both thought and action and showed me that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. My mother is a survivor in many senses of the word, not the least of which is that she beat breast cancer when I was about 10 years old, and then again when there was a recurrence a couple of years later. I don’t know what I would have done if we (meaning, the world) had lost her. Her love and guidance and support were so vital to my existence and growth as an individual that it’s not something I can even imagine. Every time I think of it, I am more thankful than I know how to express that I had, and still have, my mother.
I have always kept too much inside – not sharing enough of my own brokenness with the people who love me – but for so long I have compartmentalized, locking away the bad stuff until I can be alone. Suffice to say that I wouldn’t be the person I am without that locked away bad stuff either. New York City can be hard, and at times I feel like giving up, giving out, giving in – doing something, anything EASIER – simpler – but I haven’t yet. Steel is forged in fire, or so it goes.
And as I gain perspective and appreciation for the past, I’m going to do my best to love that little girl, for all her flaws and her brokenness and her naive optimism. She was pretty damn extraordinary after all.