Very few things have the power to shock me anymore, but last year I learned something that was the emotional equivalent of a paper football to the eye. What could possibly sting me so much and grab my attention so quickly? After nearly thirty years of living in the same house, my parents’ address has changed from Richmond to North Chesterfield, Virginia. What?!? I grew up in Richmond. My parents don’t even live in the northern part of the county. Of course, they don’t really live in the city, either. Have I confused you yet?
Virginia is the only state in the union with independent cities; of the 62 independent cities in the country, only three are elsewhere. This means that the county and city governments are separate entities (which is why my in-laws live in Fairfax County, not Fairfax City – it’s an important distinction as they are two totally different places). Given that my family is physically thirty miles south of the city, this probably makes more sense, but I’m still in shock. For thirty years, I’ve claimed roots in Richmond, Virginia, whether or not that geographically makes sense. When someone asks me where I’m from, I have always answered with Richmond. Everyone has a general idea of where Richmond is, but Chesterfield isn’t as easily identifiable to someone who isn’t a native Virginian. Having lived away from home for 14 years now, I find myself identifying more and more with the sense of place which comes with my childhood home. It’s why I say where I live and where I’m from are two different things. I suppose that when I think about it, it’s probably pretty ridiculous (in a House of Sand and Fog kind of way) to let this get to me, but I can’t help it. The feeling of being “misplaced” by some random government official is still too strange. Perhaps in time I’ll get used to addressing letters to my family as going to North Chesterfield, but it will take a while. For now, I’m just going to sulk and try not to think too hard about where my roots used to be – after all, home is a state of mind, not a state of geography (but only to a point).