Fic: “Mappable Territory”
They had two maps on the wall in her second grade classroom: the United States and the world. One day, the teacher had them each take a different colored crayon and write their initials on all the places they’d been. Dana put her initials on California, along with everyone else. She put them on Maryland, where she’d been born. She put them on Missouri, where her grandparents lived. She put them on Japan, where they’d visited when she was very little, even though she didn’t remember it. There it was, her DS in red on the map, there with everyone else’s initials. More places than some, fewer than others.
That afternoon, the teacher gave them homework: to go home and find out all the places people in their family had been. The next day, they each got the same crayon back; now they were supposed to put their initials on these new places. Dana took her red crayon and wrote her initials all over the world. Three different continents, lots and lots of countries, all the places her father had sailed. There was one boy in her class whose father was also in the navy; his initials were everywhere too. No one else was like them, though. No one else was connected to all these spots in the world, to all these places they’d never been themselves.
Dana had been used to it, for as long as she could remember: to her father going away and coming back. She went home every day after school, but her father didn’t get to be at home all the time. He always said that made it more special when he did. That made sense. At the school concert last fall, they’d sung “Home Sweet Home;” she didn’t really like to sing, but she liked that song. It said that there was something special about home, something that you couldn’t get anywhere else in the world. Her father had been there then, just back from a tour. He’d hugged her after the concert, and she’d asked him if that song was how he felt about being home now, and he’d said yes.
She always liked it better when he was home too. He could read to her and show her how to do new things. One time, just a day after he’d gotten home, he was helping her build a birdhouse. “I missed you,” she told him.
“I missed you too, Starbuck,” he said.
“I like it when you’re here,” she said. “You like being here too, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” he said.
She thought about that for a little. He liked being here, but being in the navy meant going to all those places, and being in the navy was his job, and she knew it was a job that he was proud to have. “But you like going around the world too,” she said. “Right?”
He nodded. “Sure I do,” he said. “I like the sailing. I like seeing new places. And I like knowing that I’m doing a job worth doing, Starbuck.” He smiled at her, and she smiled back, and he showed her how to cut the sides of the birdhouse even and where to put her hands so she didn’t cut her fingers.
She didn’t get to see all the places he did, of course, but sometimes he brought things back to show them. Pictures. Little trinkets. He brought her a doll from England once; she didn’t really play with it, because it was so nice, but she liked having it on the shelf. If you looked around their house, you could see that somebody who’d been places lived there.
She thinks about it a lot, these days. She thinks about what it must have been like for her father to travel so much, now that she’s a traveler herself, crossing the country as their cases take her from state to state. She’s not in exactly the same situation as her father was, of course. He traveled by sea; she travels by land. He had a family waiting for him back at home; she returns to (sometimes welcome, sometimes jarring) solitude. Still, there are things she understands now, things that she thinks he must have understood too.
She understands what it’s like to spend so many nights in strange places that it doesn’t really seem strange, and she understands what a joy it can be, after all that, to return to a room arranged as you’ve chosen and to sink into your own bed. She understands the curiosity to see parts of the world you’ve never been to, and she understands that sometimes you just don’t feel like going. She understands that there can be a kind of peacefulness in the traveling itself, although she doesn’t know how much long hours watching highways and fields are like long hours watching water and waves.
She understands, she thinks, why he liked it. That there’s always something new about it. That it breeds a certain kind of companionship: when you travel with someone like this, going from place to place together, dependent on each other, you form a bond that’s hard to find anywhere else. That it’s part of something necessary, something that gives satisfaction.
Sometimes she wishes that she could talk to him about all of this, to find out what he thought. Sometimes she feels like she knows him better than ever now, even though they can’t talk. But she almost always thinks about him in those quiet moments in the car, when she’s on her way to another destination, adding another spot to her map.