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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I'm already gone

I’ve gone on about this before, but it’s a feeling that’s so strong, it’s hard to ignore as I do with all the other fleeting realizations, memories, potential posts that I push out of my lazy mind until they whither into forgotten possibilities, too busy with books and work and life. But this? This feeling, this moment is when I realize I need this space to eject something, and my guilt about not being good to you all is overridden by my need to slough something off, whether or not it’s even read, a need to dissect meaning and pore over fibers of sound and play with syllables and scrutinize the allegory of words until I am satisfied in my mind that what I’ve written is really how it is inside here, this place I want to understand, so my brain can call it a day and can stop being harassed by something I can't pinpoint.

I booked a flight to Phoenix (you know, to that one place where I grew up, that place I’m refusing to call home anymore), and as is always the case, from the moment I decided to go, my head has become filled with its every smell and tone and hue and nuance and I ache for it in ways that I didn’t allow myself to when I knew it was out of reach. I don’t call it home anymore because it feels ungrateful to allow myself the luxury of continuously claiming that the true fit, the realer real is taking place somewhere I am not, especially when this city is throbbing with spring like it is, true to how I remember it throughout these many years.

Besides, isn’t home supposed to be a place where there is warmth under my feet, where my sheets are blazed in sunshine in the morning, where a rogue strand of hair gets pushed behind my ear sending delightful shivers curling around my neck, where my toes get the lint cleaned out of them one by one, where daily negotiations on who will make morning tea get played out with kisses and promises of ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’? Yes.

Isn’t home where people, acquaintances I have not chosen to befriend but who have appeared in my life, have persistently gouged away at my heart by approximation until they have succeeded in finding a pulsating soft spot in it beneath all the barricades of bored sighs and disinterest due to hyperbolized cultural difference? Yes.

I felt it, home, I was sure of it, just the other day when for once it had stopped raining and the sun made a shy gesture from behind the clouds and so we (me and these people I'm discovering I might love) went outside to live in these streets again and drank and drank and we continued as the day turned into the dusk that only required a light sweater. And in changing from one bar to another, we had to stop and order beers in small glasses and bring them outside to the middle of the street. There we stood, leaning against a badly parked car, slippery thumbs fighting for their grip on cold beers, thanking Christ or somebody for having given us a sunny day, in the middle of Calle Mateos Gago, the street that leads to the heart of the Giralda. There we humbled ourselves before that radiant stone giant towering over all of Seville in all her raw beauty, the nimbus of dusk surrounding her. And as we inhaled the orange blossoms that bejeweled the trees lining the street down to her gothic door, we jumped slightly on tip toes and bumped into each other warmly, silly and cozy inside from the day of drinking, cheeks aching from smiling, and feeling, above all, lucky, and I thought, “Fuck yes this is home.” Where else on earth could it possibly be?

Tourists frantically snapped pictures of the Giralda with their cell phones trying to capture her perfection in the early evening light and they stared up at her as I would the Taj Mahal or the Empire State Building, admiringly but as a jewel in someone else’s jewelry box. But this, I own her. I see her as I turn in to bed and she lights up my skyline. Those morning teas that get negotiated? I drink them with her, quiet but there. But it’s not just now that I see her more often, from a fortunate vantage point now that we moved into the house of windows. I also have endless memories across time at her feet in the twisted labyrinth of streets surrounding her, and this time is what confirms what I already know: that this is as home as home gets, complete with a long trail of memories, good and bad, following from behind.

But why then, if this is the case, just when I hesitatingly click 'OK' to confirm the charge to my credit card for my flight purchase, does my mind open up and a flood of mountains and heat and freeway traffic juggernaut into it and a landscape, a cityscape, a housescape snaps hard into focus and reminds me that, while maybe not home home anymore, surely Phoenix is something, and that something feels like it’s bruising me as it ironically gets further and further out of reach the closer I get to my travel date, because the closer I get to my travel date, the closer I actually am to my return travel date, and thus the further away any of it is altogether (Noble Savage wrote beautifully once on this very strange phenomenon).

As Phoenix pulls and tugs and begs and pleads and scratches and reminds and blames and guilt-trips with endless memories of its orderly grid of me flying through it with my window rolled down, I realize there are more memories there than can fill these labyrinthian streets. It lectures me, telling me that it’s definitely something if not my home and it’s more than just a place in my past or a holiday. And no matter how much I tell myself that I prefer the Giralda to Camelback Mountain, the lively plazas with cervesitas to the half-vacant strip malls of neglected Subways and derelict Jiffy Lubes and the cobblestone streets over sardine-packed freeways, a visit there is still akin to breathing and eating and human contact.

And I begin to find it odd and in some ways shameful that the sense of missing and nostalgia as an expat at least in my experience and the definition of home is sometimes not at all focused on people and relationships as one would expect, as it should be, as maybe some fault in my character or some coldness in my heart doesn’t allow it to be, as I often claim it is. Rather the missing is all intertwined with a way of living, a way of experiencing urbanization, a way of merely travelling through one's day, and sadly a way of consuming. And a feeling of panicked urgency to be coddled in that urban space once more invades my mind and takes hostage of my ability to look out the window and realize what a beautiful month I have ahead of me in Seville.

I stare out at those lone palm trees that are so very familiar to me, virginal from the sad winter but now spreading up and open in celebration to be penetrated by that hot Spanish sun, that are scattered across this city stuffed between baroque churches; they are normally reminders to me of the Arabia that once dwelt here that I get to contemplate because this is part of me and this is my home but now they only yank me back to that sun-scorched desert valley where I dread going because I dread having to leave.

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The Unbearable Banishment March 23, 2010 at 2:24 PM  

I moved from Cleveland to New York City eons ago and my mother never allowed me to call NYC home, even when it became obvious that I was never going to return. How long have you been away from Phoenix? As AZ recedes further and further into your past, these slender threads of attachment will dissolve. It’s the natural course of events in everyone’s life.

I spent 18 months in Phoenix back in the 80’s. I lived on Camelback and 19th. I found the weather to be either hot, or REALLY hot, so I went back east. The most boring job in the world: Phoenix weatherman! I liked the old-timers. The ones who were there before air conditioning. Their skin looks like an old, comfortable wallet.

flutter March 23, 2010 at 9:05 PM  

You should call me when you are here. I'd love to meet you. Maybe a date at the Botanical Gardens if you have time?

Pueblo girl March 25, 2010 at 4:11 AM  

I can understand that the missing and nostalgia isn't related to people: people move around, come to visit, and you can communicate with them from a distance. But you can only communicate with places by being there.

Does Phoenix feel like home when you're there, though? After 10 years or so away, I'd expect some things you just slip into like a pair of comfortable old shoes after wearing something a bit too tight, but that other things would cause blisters, like a pair of new shoes.

Ellie March 25, 2010 at 9:47 AM  

I agree with PG about the missing places instead of people. I used to miss the hell out of blueberry bran muffins. Now it's Cairns ginger biscuits. People visit. Rarely to they bring blueberry muffins or ginger biscuits (I have found maple syrup. Shout out to Mondraussie and PG).

I think I am lucky that I moved a zillion times growing up so there is no one place that can ever claim to be more home than another.


A Free Man March 29, 2010 at 4:03 PM  

I was thinking about this just this morning. The further I am away from a place the less I miss it. I have almost no melancholy over Florida - Florida can sink into the Gulf and it wouldn't be much of a loss. But there are pockets of America - Columbia, MO and Athens, GA - that I miss a bit. But it's the people and the time, not the place itself. I just try to be here now. And for the most part, it works. Whenever I go back to the States it seems more and more foreign to me.

Rassles March 31, 2010 at 11:04 AM  

I have a dream that someday I'm going to have a wraparound porch and a shotgun and a dog. I don't need bullets for the shotgun, but it's there in my lap all the same.

And then I will call that place home.

Florida Girl In Sydney April 4, 2010 at 11:02 PM  

Yes yes and yes. And the link to Noble Savage was so right on. I hope you are actually writing a book, you are such an incredible writer.

Here In Franklin April 11, 2010 at 5:00 PM  

Are you there yet? Have a great all the foods you the friends...enjoy the family and then...go home.

JMH June 28, 2010 at 9:15 PM  

I am deeply impressed with your writing. I bookmarked this page after two paragraphs, and I'll continue to read if you don't mind.

I didn't comment up there or up there because I don't care for elevators and my relationship with my stepmother and/or stepfather seems a bit heavy for the first comment.

I was in Sevilla for a few days about ten years ago, and I am curious about this: Can you really not eat the street oranges because they're watered with sewage?

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