I walk along the red clay path past white dogwood blooms. My son spots a black and orange millipede. We stop to watch it cross the path and see a second one on the other side. My children gather rocks and throw them into the creek as I try to capture the splash with my camera. The scent on the air smells a little like sandalwood, but more than anything it smells like North Carolina, like the mountains that loom up to my left.
My mind tries out scenarios of varying degrees of ridiculousness that might bring our family here to live instead of Massachusetts. My spouse could teach at the college. I could join a writing group and maybe get my MFA. I look up homeschooling groups and flute teachers online. But I know we’re leaving the mountains tomorrow, and that living here isn’t something we can do right now. Or maybe ever.
My eyes sting and my belly feels like I’m falling, but I try to remind myself to breathe this place in, to be here now rather than missing it before we ever leave.
Back in town, street musicians—a ragged bluegrass band, a guy with a guitar and a brindle mut, a fellow smoking a cigarette while playing on a synthesizer—provide the soundtrack as we walk by book shops and head shops, art galleries and cafes. We stop by the gallery where the owner of the condo we’re renting works and exhibits her photographs. We talk about how much Asheville has changed in the eleven years since we last visited, which changes are good (an even greater commitment to green living and cleaning up the mountain waterways) and which are kind of mixed (lots and lots and lots of tourists who fill up the parking garages and restaurants but about whom we can’t complain because we’re among them and whom she can’t complain about because they rent her condo and buy her artwork).
We can’t stay long, though, because we’re meeting a friend for dinner, a friend from Salt Lake City we didn’t know was in town until my spouse bumped into him on the street. It’s just a coincidence, him being in town for work at the same time we’re in town for the first time in more than a decade, him passing our building at the same time my spouse was walking back from the ATM, but to me, this is just another bit of the magic of Asheville.
This is just what I expected when we planned this trip. The anticipation of this visit was what infused me with joy as we drove into town and what prompted my daughter to ask as we walked the few blocks to dinner that first night in town, “Mommy, would you be happy if we lived in Asheville?”
That first night when I could barely keep myself from jumping up and down with glee, my answer was an unequivocal “yes,” but now I feel less certain.
Even though I love this city and the mountains where my grandmother’s family have lived for nearly 300 years, even though I love the independent bookstore where the cashier invited me to attend a literary salon based around the book I bought and the Mexican-Caribbean restaurant where I ate transcendent fire-roasted tomato chipotle peanut salsa, would I really be happy here? Would the joy wear off? If I lived here, would the negatives start to overwhelm the positives? Would I start to hate the tourists and long for a quiet place where there are more playgrounds for my kids and where people don’t wax poetic about micro-brewed beer and locally-sourced produce? After a few months or a year, would I do like I always do and start looking for another, better place to live?
In a way it doesn’t matter. Because we’re not staying here. We’re driving back to Massachusetts and our sweet little split-level in the suburbs where we can open our windows and hear the chirping of the spring peepers as we fall asleep instead of live indie rock until 2am from the bar downstairs.
Written as part of the Weekly Writing Challenge theme, Great Expectations.