Chapter 17: The Tin Woodman

Some nights, many miles away from California, I would awaken after only a few hours. Around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, tired of lying in bed trying to will myself into a more peaceful state, I would slip out of bed. I had nowhere to go, but in those moments it seemed as if anywhere else at all would be more welcoming.

I would pad softly into the living room, where my options were limited to a love seat, a desk that wasn’t mine, and a dining room table. I would curl up in a ball on the stiff leather of the small couch and lie there, staring into the dark, street lights glowing beyond the windows. I might try to read a little, to let the words carry me back to a drowsy haze, or I might simply wait until exhaustion caught up with me. The nights it did, I would creep quietly back to the loneliest place in the world, the right side of the bed.

They tell us home is where the heart is, and they tell us this wherever they can. Songs, movies, inspirational posters. I suppose, like many clichés, it holds an element of truth. But it does not tell the whole story.

Sometimes you give your heart to a place, or a person, or even both. “That’s where my heart is,” you say, and you mean it with every ounce of your body and being. But to whom or to what have you entrusted your heart? Is your faith to be rewarded? Sometimes you discover the place or the person does not want your heart, does not care at all for it. Anything that holds your heart so carelessly cannot possibly be welcoming to the rest of you.

Home is where the heart is, but sometimes that home is a lonely place. It is not the home you dreamed of, the home where you would be happy and at peace, safe and loved. Not the home you imagined you’d want to return to over and over, no matter how far you wandered to find it. So maybe it is not home at all.

I never gave much thought to the Tin Man until one day I thought about home and heart and my aching loneliness. In the quiet of night, I wished to go home, wished for it as much as Dorothy came to wish for Kansas. But where is home when your heart is broken?

Sometimes we are Dorothy, far away from home and wishing to get back. Sometimes we are the Tin Man. Rusted and hollow, under some enchantment or other, unable to love. The nights we are both are the darkest nights of all.

I thought of Dorothy’s wish to go home and of the Tin Man’s quest not to heal his body but to find his heart. I thought of how they wandered and what they found. Home for one and heart for the other. In my long nighttime hours of solitude, I realized I could not have both. Not this time.

And so I came back to California.