It’s strange; I came back to this site I’d forgotten about, and it’s still here. Like a room I didn’t know was locked, and when I opened the door, I found it unchanged.
Last time I was here, of course, everything was different. I was worried about her illness, but my mom was still alive. She died at the very end of last year, two weeks ago; it would have been her 52nd birthday this coming Sunday.
I miss her so much. I don’t see how people can say that if they have their lives to live over, they wouldn’t change a thing. There is a great deal I would change, and I would start by coming down to Mississippi a lot sooner to take care of her.
I feel like I came too late. Better than never, but still…it is bitter. I cannot justify my actions to myself; I wasn’t paying enough attention. Everything I was worried about seems trivial now. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
and my palms were floating
persimmons and orchids
offerings of candles. see
tilt of my legs
like a madonna hands spread
face turned down
body not, as expected,
asphodel, not horn, not ivory
not magnolia, not marble,
neither tooth nor tusk, not rot
i looked and i did not melt.
everything held silent
then the shadows stirred,
they buzzed and crept up each flank
stretching toward my ribs.
i closed my eyes
and heard: unseen
some guitar, the fingers upon it
calling out nine or ten crystalline notes
that poured through the ceiling or the pipes
and each molecule of water until they came to me
in this body
where i carry each of my inadequate senses
So, New York. One sunny afternoon, my sister and I walked to the park. We could see the house our mom grew up in, across the street.
I was saying something about how I feel weird talking to our cousin’s kids, how they have grown up in the place where their parents and grand-parents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents lived, and if our mom had stayed put we’d have full Long Island accents.
And my sister goes, yeah, they have roots. Her baby asleep on her chest. She says, we don’t have any roots.
I couldn’t speak for a minute. And when I could, I didn’t. My sister has an apartment, a long-term boyfriend, a baby. What are these things if not roots?
We went to NYC a couple of days later, my sister and her boyfriend and their baby and I. We walked down Canal, through Chinatown, and the familiar signs, the street vendors, the press of bodies, the music of tonal languages, the smell of exhaust and incense and roast duck enfolded me. And for the first time in weeks I didn’t feel that familiar ache, the sense of displacement.
We were resting on a park bench and I said to her, doesn’t it make you feel homesick? even though that wasn’t what I meant at all, and I was going to say something else but she said, No. China wasn’t home. I don’t feel that way. Do you?
And I said no.
Which is true in some ways. I don’t feel like China is home. I don’t feel like anyplace is home, but I get homesick for the places that used to feel like home.
I used to feel like Chicago was home. For about three years, I was content. I loved biking and cooking and my loose-knit community of queers and artists. I felt relieved every time I came back from visiting my folks in MI, felt that ache in my throat ease.
I started getting restless again two years ago. In the winter. Everything grey. That was when I switched my major, figuring, among other things, that as a teacher I would be able to travel.
This spring and summer, things were all right for a while. J. came back, and I was really caught up with her and with bike taxi. But since the season turned, I ache, like I’m rusting inside.
There are these ads on the outside of the El. I’ll see it fly above me, on my bike or walking, and I’ll stop in my tracks: a long picture of Shanghai, the Pearl Tower, the glittering riverbanks. I don’t know what I would find if I went back, I’m a little afraid to find out. I’m worried about leaving my sick parents, my kid sister who’s now a mother, about missing J. so much that I can’t enjoy my surroundings. But I can’t stay here much longer. I’m crawling out of my skin.
I’m leaving for New York tomorrow. Eight days without my home, without J. or my bike or the cats or her dog. We are going to baptize my sister’s son in the church she and I and our mother and our mother’s mother were baptized in.
I haven’t been to church since I was a child. I kept asking J. what I should wear, and she was amazingly sweet and helped me find a dress and cardigan at a thrift store on Devon. I am 90% certain that I will look appropriate, and, despite what my friend Alex claims, pretty much entirely certain that I won’t actually burst into flames in the doorway.
The title is a lyric from one of my friend’s songs. When I was in London last spring, I kept thinking of that song.
I met a girl last night who was born in Germany to American parents. We share this thing that marks us, even though it’s invisible. We might have talked all night without discovering our common difference.
Her friend was teasing her about her Wisconsin accent. And I said, when I get together with my sister, I get my old accent back a little. Then her friend asked me where I was from. And I said, like I usually do, Well, I was born in California.
And the friend goes, Oh! Where in California?
And I told her, San Francisco.
I’m from Fresno, she said, excited.
I have no idea where Fresno is. I have no idea where anything in California is, except San Francisco and L.A., and I’m pretty sure Sacramento is somewhere in the middle. This is why I don’t say I’m from California, because inevitably I run into people who really are from California, and then I am revealed as an interloper.
I left when I was eight, I explained, I don’t know where Fresno is. So they asked where I moved to and I said, Sweden.
So she told me she was born in Germany. I could tell she was excited to tell someone who had been overseas, but we almost never knew. There is nothing to show our difference.
I wonder if she feels it. If she longs to return. If either of us will, or if we’ve already left forever.
Although I am unmarked, I feel it every day, homesickness, a pull to places I cannot claim. I was walking down Broadway yesterday and I saw a woman in a quilted silk jacket, and for a moment, for several blocks, I missed Shanghai so badly I could taste its loss. Like metal on the back of my tongue, like I was crossing a river with a knife in my mouth.
L.’s service was beautiful, simple, and personal. Her daughters and two friends spoke. I started crying when her eldest daughter talked about her mother’s love of books.
Ever since my mom was diagnosed—two years ago, now—I’ve cried easily. I used to be much less emotional, and I still think of that as my real self. But I’m realizing that this might be my real adult self, a person who cries at movies.
Could be worse. My mother, for example, cries at commercials.
L. was so kind to me when I found out that my mom had cancer. She took me into her office and talked with me, gave me a cup of coffee, told me that I would pull through. L. let me take off school for a week to go stay with my mom at the hospital, in the middle of our senior year, and told me that my mom was lucky to have me.
Many of the people at the service had similar stories.
My classmates re-opened the question whether I should go back to teaching. Maybe if I could find the right school, maybe if I taught older kids, etc. Jean in particular reminded me of the things that drew me to teaching in the first place–a sense of social justice, a desire to help people find themselves. And I know that L. thought I was a good teacher, that I was a valuable resource for the community, and that she would want me to continue with it.
I really question whether I could handle classroom teaching at this point, though. It is the most emotionally draining work I’ve ever done, and at this point, I pretty much wake up emotionally drained every day.
L.’s funeral is tomorrow. I’m trying to figure out how to look respectable. I don’t know who else from our school will be there, but I kind of feel like I’m going to the 10-year reunion with not a lot to show. All my classmates hold teaching positions.
I don’t want to teach anymore, in part because the early childhood field has a disproportionate amount of cis straight women speaking in their highest vocal registers, and—despite being a cis woman myself—I stick out like a sore thumb in that kind of environment. I spent the whole time that I was teaching growing out my hair, trying to present feminine, trying desperately to pass.
When I was laid off last spring, I went back to bike taxi. I regained my favorite hairstyle (mohawk!) and my facial piercings. I was doing work I loved, I looked exactly how I wanted to look, and it felt great. Unfortunately it isn’t very profitable in the winter.
So I’m looking for a winter job, any winter job, and I’ll get a haircut & take out the jewelry, but I won’t speak in a falsetto.
I was telling J. on the phone a few days ago that I want to work at something where I don’t have to hide myself, that I want to be one person all day long. She pointed out that it’s one thing to be yourself and another to “fly your queer flag high every day”. And I get that. I don’t need to be completely out at work to be happy, but I can’t handle being completely closeted, either. I just want to be able to speak in my own voice.