That’s the title of a song written by Emmylou Harris and sung on the album “Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions,” by Emmylou and Linda Ronstadt. It tells of the objects the singer “left behind with you along the lost highway.”

What I left behind was my home. Over and over, through my life.

My family lived in five different towns–two of them twice and one of them at least three times–by the time I was 6. We lived in the same house in Cherokee, Iowa, twice–half the second floor and all the third floor of a big old house on a corner lot. The owners lived on the first floor; it was his family’s home. I loved that house, that neighborhood, my friends there, the way our family was while we were there. It was far and away the best place, emotionally, of my childhood, and I lost it twice.

Then when I was 6 we left Iowa completely, and moved to the very foreign land of Southern California–leaving behind a huge extended family, including my beloved Nana, with whom I had spent a lot of time–leaving behind “home” in every sense.

From the time I was 7 till toward the end of my junior year in high school, we lived in one house in Garden Grove. For a kid like me, who needed to escape and be alone a lot, it was great. When we moved in, our one-block tract of homes was almost surrounded by orange groves. Our lot, on the circle end of a cul-de-sac, was 1/3 acre; about half was fenced yard, and the rest was tumbleweeds. I didn’t love the house–it was a small, ordinary ranch house, and we weren’t a happy family–but the outdoors around it was important to me. Even as development grew up around us, we still had a broad railroad right-of-way on one side, all sand and rock and native plants and lizards and horned toads. I came to love the little patch that showed the desert that Southern California really is. But we moved.

The new house, in Tustin, was larger and nicer, and I really liked it. I was allowed to decorate my room to please my late-teens self. We still weren’t a happy family, but I was old enough to be out with friends a lot, and the family seemed to be a tiny bit more peaceful with more space, so we each had our own.

In my first year of college–a nearby community college–my parents separated (they later reconciled), and the house was to be sold. I, attending college and working part time, had the choice of moving to a different place with my mother and younger brothers or getting my own apartment. I chose the latter, but–it wasn’t my choice to leave that house at all.

At 20 I married, and after a couple of years we moved to L.A. for my husband to attend school. I didn’t care about the apartment we left behind, but Orange County had, over those 15 years, become “home,” and I was leaving. It didn’t matter too much, though; L.A. was just an hour’s drive, less if the traffic wasn’t bad.

I had come to love California, particularly the hills, canyons, mountains, and desert. I felt a deep attachment to its history–at one point I planned to make writing about it my life’s work. But, said my husband, now finished with school, I have a better chance of work in Minnesota–and off we went, back to his home, where his family and friends and hometown and lifestyle waited.

We bought a house in Cottagewood, in Deephaven. I put a lot of time and energy into that house–knocking out plaster walls, painting inside and out, refinishing furniture, planting flowers. As I gradually realized that I was no longer living my own life–we were living his life–at least the house felt like me.

But the time came when I knew that I had to give up the marriage or give up myself. Leaving the man was, by that time, not difficult. Leaving another home was–

Today “home” is where my husband and kids are, not a place. Maybe that’s what home always should have been. Or maybe I can’t let it ever be a place again, because I just can’t take losing it again.

I’ve come around to music again. In “I Am, I Said,” Neil Diamond sings, “L.A.’s fine but it ain’t home. New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.” From the first time I heard that, I thought–the places are different, but I know just how that feels.

(Previously published in a slightly different version in my LiveJournal.)

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