The Fiery One and I went to my home city to see family and friends over the Easter weekend. I feel like I have been gone for weeks, not days. As much as I do not have great fellow-feeling for this city, returning home to it last night was met with such relief/satisfaction/gratitude/snug-at-homeness.
I look forward to trips to Cosmopolis for weeks, envisioning my favourite places to eat, drink, go for walks, and shop. I think about how it will feel to sit with dear old friends and talk and how they will give a damn what I think and feel and do. I look forward to feeling popular. I will run into people that I never really hung out with or even got their telephone numbers, but they will remember me and say hello and ask me how the new city is. I will buy a large coffee at the coffee shop I once should have paid rent at, and they will miraculously be brewing my favourite flavour that weekend when I used to wait weeks for it to come around in the rotation when I lived there. The lady who runs a new-agey-ish jewellery and used clothing shop will stop me to chat with her for over half an hour, during which time I will justify buying a ring that weighs more than my finger, thoroughly rub down her cat-dog, Luna, and be educated on the specific meaning of the stone in the ring I just bought (apparently, carnelian agate will help to marry together my intellectual side with the plant world). If I make the time, I might go for a walk along the river on its less manicured side and take note of all the subtle and not-so-subtle changes that the seasons and collapsing sewer systems have made to its surface. If I do this, I will make a special dip down into the woods and find the place where I used to sit, once with an owl as a companion, and think about how Kate is buried there. (She was a kitten that Starcat and I had. I dropped a fork on her once and he may have smothered her in his sleep. We’ll never know what did it). When I borrow my parents’ car and drive around the city, I will continually point out bits of my history there – I lived in the basement of that house, that is the field I spent most of an acid trip lying in while watching weather patterns cross the sky, that is the street corner where I last kissed Annie one New Year’s, I got kicked out for life twice from that restaurant, this is the half-wall where a crazy woman cawed at Starcat like a crow. It is as though I am an alchemist, turning every sight, sound, smell, and object into food for my ingestion. I eat everything, inhaling it like one who has returned from a long fast. I gnaw on foundations, tear through rough shingles, crunch down on shop windows, and suck on the soft-centred garbage cans and mailboxes, saving the streetlights and above ground power lines for post-binge toothpicking and flossing.
It feels wrong to do it this way, to force my visits into a photo album type of memory trip. I know I am immersing myself in nostalgia. I know that I am lying. I know that I felt as connected there a few years ago as I feel here, only now, because I left that place, I let myself look back on it fondly whenever I am dissatisfied with the present. I let myself say “that place is better because it is more beautiful” and “this place is horrible because it is so ugly”, but I am confronted with the truth of the matter when I visit, which is that I am the same, was the same, in either place. I was as dissatisfied there as I am here. The aesthetics of my urban environment are not the dictators of my internal life, although it is easier to point fingers sometimes than it is to be an active participant.
I set myself up before I even arrive in Cosmopolis. I tell myself all the things I will feel and see and do, I tell myself that it is my real home, I tell myself that the visit will make me solid again. I know from experience that this is just wishful thinking. The old city is just what it is: a place I used to live in, a place I felt as at home in as any other place I have been, a place I blamed for stifling me just the same when I lived there. When I am there, I drive past houses I once lived in, and I remember the condition they were in, and I am forced to see how my criticisms of my present apartment building have nothing to do with my having lived in better buildings elsewhere. I see the buildings I lived in and remember the electrical problems, the mice, the leaking roofs, the sewers that constantly backed up. The building I am in is actually, in many ways, better than most others I have rented in but when dissatisfied with some aspects of my life, I blame this place, this city. It’s not right to do it this way, to confront my life this way. I know better. I rant about those people who focus on some things in their lives while ignoring the real roots of what matters to them. Maybe that’s why I am analyzing this so much. I can’t be that. I won’t be that. I am smarter and stronger, and I am sick of sitting back and watching life like it is episodic television. But this is what I have been doing.
So, here I am, returned from my trip, back in Cityville, analyzing. It is not only the buildings and nostalgia for an invented past that stretches my holidays in Cosmopolis out as though time were more elastic than usual. It is my family. They seem to pull me apart, and yet the Fiery One and I stayed with them anyway. Part of this pulling apart is my fault, because I have kept almost everything about myself from them – my smoking, my less-than-straightness, my real struggles with mental dysfunction, my abortion, my sexual abuse. On the other hand, though, they made me stay quiet when I was a child if I had any emotions other than happiness. I was told to go to my room until I could come out smiling, because nobody liked a little girl who wasn’t smiling, and no one would want to be my friend if I was sad. So, I was quiet. And I stayed quiet. No one wanted to hear me. They kept me quiet, I never said anything, and here we are. I am a grown, married woman who feels deconstructed in her childhood home. I always thought that when I grew up I would be able to walk away from that psychological/emotional battleground, that I would simply turn my back on it, outgrow it, slough it off like old skin. That hasn’t happened yet, and it panics me a little. I yearn for this other city as though it is the homeland of my tribe of one, and then I look back after a visit and remember how difficult so much of the trip was for me. I don’t know that I could do that again, live there with them so near. This is another sign that my feelings of displacement have little or nothing to do with the Cosmopolis versus Cityville battle for aesthetic supremacy. This is much deeper than aesthetics.
I think what I want is for things to be easy. I want to feel popular and less poor and beautiful and thin and creative and successful and well situated. I want to not have to feel so conflicted around family, to be able to write gorgeous prose and mean it, to have a job that inspires me and pays me more money, to be able to get a cat, to not have to struggle with depression, to not have to deal with dysmorphia or disordered eating or whatever it is that plagues me. . . Except, now that I have made that list of things I want, maybe I don’t want my life to be that easy. It looks too much like the little girl my parents asked me to be – the always smiling, ceaselessly conciliatory girl. I can want all I want, but wanting is dreaming, and although dreaming is good, doing is better. And I am getting better at the doing part. Finally.
Another aspect of this whole mess is the desire I have had my whole life to feel a sense of home. What is that? Home is where the heart is, home is where the hearth is, home sweet home, home is where you lie your head, home is where they have to take you in. . . None of this helps me. I have always felt that the buildings I inhabited were temporary, that I should not invest in the place where I was, because I wanted to be free enough to leave it unfettered, unbound. I had this idea that I would always be leaving at some point, that I was always already in the process of leaving. Cosmopolis was the place where I lived the longest and spent my early adulthood, so my attachment is not surprising, but this attitude of nostalgia I have adopted for the place has deluded me into thinking of it as The Place That Was Home. It was no more home than here, but I have reinvented my past there to include that sense of home. It’s if-home-is-not-here-then-it-must-have-been-there logic. That logic doesn’t work or change a thing, obviously. I think it’s high time that I accept my life without the sense of home. The sense of it that I am seeking may be no more than fiction anyway. It’s only a sense of something I am seeking, so it’s not as though I can find any actual evidence of its existence. Maybe this search is about wanting everything to be easy, too. Maybe I just want a place to lie my head without the danger of any sadness, writer’s block, or weight issues to live with (they make terrible roommates).
It is all of the above and so much more that stretches my trips to Cosmopolis out so unreasonably long. I gear myself up for fun and a sense of home and belonging, and then I am met with not quite the opposite but something very different from what I expected to find. This most recent confrontation with Cosmopolis, despite how hard it was to deal with my family, was the best confrontation I have had with that place thus far. After most visits, I come back to Cityville feeling emotionally confused and completely unsure of why I feel like I’ve been wet down, bashed against some rocks, and wrung out. I could not wrap my mind around it. This time, though, it’s making some sense to me. I can’t insert things into my past that weren’t there for the purpose of missing them because I wish I had them now. I can’t ask that everything be easy, because deep down I know I don’t want that. I must be growing up again. When you’re younger, you think that one day you will be a grown up, but now that I am technically a grown up, I see myself moving through stages of emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical development in the same way I did when I was younger. I fight it, I don’t always want to know more about myself, I try reverting to old ways. I did it when I was five, I did it when I was fifteen, I did it when I was twenty, and I have found myself doing it again, only this time I am old enough and smart enough to recognize it and be a little less ridiculous about it (at least I’ll try to stick with the cutting-off-all-my-hair thing that I just did and leave it at that).
Leave it to me to take a simple weekend trip to Cosmopolis and turn it into a huge psycho-emotional odyssey/crisis. I hope this recent growing period includes learning how to mellow out.
No news is good news today. The world sucks. Also, no surfing at work means less news for everyone. It’s good for me to not worry about the world so much once in a while.