Home(r): My story on these stories
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy. Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds, many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea, fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.” — “The Odyssey,” Homer
Other than that day I got a cow shit shower, this whole going home thing has gone pretty well, I guess.
I moved to the Midwest in the summer of 2011, driven back here by my family, a job change, a girl, and a love of casseroles. I’d been away for 22 years, mostly heartsick on the open sea of a self-imposed exile out West.
I’m a journalist and lucky enough to still be making my living in the craft. On the cow shit day in 2012, I was on a tight deadline to get a story done on the upcoming “dairy cliff,” just another arbitrary deadline set by the Farm Bill when an old piece of the law would kick in, making the milk market go haywire. Editors love to panic when they think food prices will go up.
It was the end of December and I was out on a dairy farm east of Kansas City, Mo., the sun just starting to reach over the horizon, setting a sparkle fire to the frost. I was bundled up in my ski clothes, microphone in mittened hand, ear buds in place under my stocking cap. My work boots clicked on the frozen ground.
I was interviewing Chris, a young farmer, as we walked by dozens of black and white heifers, small white puffs steaming from their pink noses as they slowly crunched on their breakfast of hay. Chris was showing off his efficient dairy, high-tech and energy-efficient, complete with a system that recycled water around the farm.
I heard the shower through my headphones before I felt it hit my frozen jeans, landing on the hard ground from high above. Chris interrupted our tour with a groan, and mumbled something about winter and stuff freezing up. A stream of water was coming down from the top of a 30-foot-high silo, which Chris told me was flush water that’s used to clean barns. Translation: it’s water full of cow manure.
“It’s supposed to come out there,” he said, pointing to the other side of the huge silo. “What it’s not supposed to do…”
“Is rain down on us?” I said.
“…rain down on us,” he said.
Despite getting covered in shitty water, it was a good day: I got an OK story out of it, the one for NPR and the backstory to entertain my friends. I was out of the office and out in the country. And when I got home with my smelly clothes, our dog thought I smelled delicious.
That’s my point here: coming home has been a little shitty, a little out of control, but mostly for my greater good. I’m planted back here now, forcing an end to my “pathological longing,” as one of my shrinks once called my searching. Turns out, when you’re not spending your time wishing for things — whatever random rainbow that day — you have the time and perspective to see the journey in the rearview mirror.
My story is certainly not as heroic as Odysseus’. In fact, I’m probably the anti-hero of my life, a dirtbag Dorothy on the way to my odd version of Oz. This story will not be, as I have often promised friends, my autobiography titled, “I Was a 200-Pound Cheerleader.” But it will most certainly be about hunger, of all kinds.
Like all archetypes of this genre, my story will have a call to adventure, lots of challenges and temptations, revelation, and a reward in my return (hopefully, at the very least, for my reader). My siren call was and remains being a reporter, so I’ll offer the many datelines along my journalism journey.
I read somewhere once that being brave is not about the absence of fear but about facing the fear. I am certainly smackdab doing that here, as I’m scared out of my mind about putting my story out there. As a writer who has taken her licks and indignities on the Internet, I also have the terror only trolls can inspire.
But I have a little faith that there might be some people who want to hear the story of an Irish Catholic small-town fat girl who rises above her polyester underpinnings to become exactly who she wanted to be.