“What is Ocala like?”
“It’s like Rachelle’s backyard, only everywhere.”
There’s a comfort in each step I take. I walk across the millions of fallen pine needles to an outlet of water that remains the same temperature all year. A blow-up raft is being held still in the dreaded marsh near the shore. It’s the same green vegetation that used to lock my fishing line on week nights with my dad.
The pines stand tall and close to each other the way they do back home along the river.
When I think of my mom’s cooking, I crave it. Being away for long periods of time reminds me how much I miss it. She isn’t the greatest cook, but it’s hers, and it’s mine. I don’t get the pleasure of eating other’s home cooked meals and though I am satisfied in every way, it still isn’t my mother’s. She used to make home fries as a side dish to steak, hearty and heart clogging. Seeing them on my plate made me miss her immediately, and my dog under my feet waiting for the accidental drops of food. As I take in each lump of potato, I feel something else. My tongue knows the difference in the patient cooking hand of Rachelle, each added step made while cooking is one my mother may not have had time to take. In this spot on the couch with a dog sitting close by, I feel welcome.
After eating one thing, cooked the same way every single time, you either learn to love it or shudder at the thought. Eggs have made me cringe since I was about fourteen. My dad added eggs as a side dish to anything. He put them in burritos for breakfast, made them over-easy with steak, and scrambled and mixed them in the gravy on biscuits. The scrambled texture in my teeth makes me shut my eyes and force the weightless pieces down quickly. I meant to avoid them altogether at Rachelle’s breakfast feast, but with fear of offending her, I placed the small muffin like egg on my plate. I kept my juice nearby and full, ready to swallow it quickly with a smile on my face. I wasted that first bite. My taste buds chased the flavor down my throat and craved another bite, and another.
Ever since my arrival in Jacksonville, I’ve been digging for a reason to stay. I’ve been looking in every separate part of this city for a place that feels like Ocala, or smells like my mother’s cooking, and looks like the river behind my dad’s house. If my standards lie in Ocala, I’ll never feel at home. I’ll always be chasing the impossible.
In Rachelle’s living room, there are writers with minds similar enough to call them friends and open enough to feel the sense of family, like home.