It’s been a couple of weeks for nostalgia. Mostly since I left for New York in the fall of 2006, I’ve been on a breakneck run for Future, Next, More, Speed but through a conflux of events and influences I’ve been put on the slow train to Past, Reflection, Wander. I’m not a huge fan of that, as you’ve probably guessed. The past is flawed and embarrassing on a micro and macro level (Sailor Moon fanfiction, no discrimination protection for LGBT persons), and I’d like to run away from it as fast as I flip through photos of the time I had orange hair. (Orange hair plus yellow undertones in skin=not a good look, although the obliviousness that has served me well for the last 27 years was a lifesaver on that one.)
In the last six weeks, I was at the old homestead for altogether almost three weeks, and since the two visits were for three weddings, I was, for the first time in many years, in the bosom of family and old friends. I was in my old bedroom, which is no longer the incredible craphole I maintained of burned CDs, plastic jelly bracelets, and pages of handwritten notes and homework, but a lovely guest room with gauzy curtains and a wrought iron nightstand. Even so, my old books were there, and even though the dog is haunting us now (seriously–she’s dead but not gone), the weather is the same and the cars are parked in the same place they always were.
In the interest of habit, I started feeling that the life I was living in Los Angeles was a bizarre fever dream, and I had stepped into my rightful life, home and a child forever. I had no bills, no concerns beyond the days in front of me, no troubles but those that ripple the social pond and then disappear into the way things are. I had a dishwasher, a refrigerator that was purchased a decade or two ago and maintained, rather than discarded, and a basement filled with the odds and ends that preclude buying for projects.
A few days after I arrived, I found myself walking in the soft constant mist that feels like nothing and forms silver beads on your clothes and hair, and soaks you quietly and gently. I had a bag of clothes for the drycleaner, the same drycleaner that had been on the same corner for as long as I can remember, and the same smell when I stepped inside. An old classmate was there, of course, just like there would be an old classmate at restaurant we went to later in the week. I dropped off the clothes under my father’s and, and as I walked the four blocks back (four blocks being the long way around) I was arrested by the feeling of walking both in my life and in the shadow of what used to be my life. If I am walking by the library now, I am also walking by the library after getting my first library card, joining the summer reading club, or going to Girl Scout meetings. I contain multitudes, I am all, I am loose in time and I am anchored by the sound of my sneakers slapping the pavement, which smells cleaner and than it ever could in my other cities.
There are no homeless people in the neighborhood where I grew up, and there is only one cop on patrol at any one time. We are almost all white. We are almost all educated. We are almost all the second or third generation there. I come from a place where everyone has been there twenty years and they all know your grandmother, first grade teacher, and high school principal. I ran as far as I could, so no one would know who I was and I could start without a history. I did it twice, once all the way to New York, and once all the way to LA. What I didn’t understand at the time of running was that you are only unknown for a second, and then your life begins again, embedding you in history and relationships. What I have come to understand is how necessary it is for human nature to be embedded, to be known, to be seen and recognized. What I was looking for, at 18 and 22, was the chance create my own terms and my own society.
But just in the way it was comforting to smell the unique perfume of my mother’s spice cabinet, it was comforting to fall into the routine of being Chris and Elizabeth’s youngest daughter. It was comforting to once again be a known quantity–she’s a vegetarian, she’s an artist, she’s selfish but she’s smart and she was friends with our daughter/son/niece when they were in school. She’s a Petrich. She’s a Catholic. She’s the one who fell asleep at her own birthday party. She was in my English class in eighth grade. Los Angeles is all about the pitch (let me tell you about who I am and what I make and why you should hire me/recommend me/be my friend/go out with me). My hometown is about history. People who live there, stay. People who leave almost always return. Those of us who are permanent ex-pats meet in bars in Glendale and gather on holidays to shelter in our self-exile. We no longer belong but we are never excommunicated.
The sun came out in the seven minutes I took to meander past the elementary school, the old kindergarten building, that house that is always up for sale, and the massive evergreen that had been cut down. There’s a quality of light unique to the Pacific Northwest in the fall, that outlines the dark grey of the sky and fills up the space between sky and ground with gold tones, making the outside feel like a movie set, a room bounded by tall green-black trees and flat opaque clouds. Somehow, I’ve never quite left that room.