home-shape

i’m suddenly hearing words all the time. in my head, words, words, words. see, someone told me last night that i was the healthiest in the head of anyone he knows. sitting on my couch, after eight years of acquaintance. passing me the beer he brought, though not the kind i requested. (i text-requested ‘xmasy,’ getting something ‘nutty’ instead.) healthy? i am shocked. flattered. then, offended. verging on checking myself into a hospital, crying myself to sleep on the kitchen floor, and sinking further into the mud that is my existence as i’ve always known it. and this next-morning moment, i’m staring at the lukewarm wetness outside the window of the opposite office, fixated. back turned to my LCD screen, thinking i want nothing more than to run away. to run away to bolivia perhaps. or new zealand. or maybe just to vermont.

i want to know what it’s like to be IN something. i’ve been so IN whatever it is i’m in now that i’m scratching my skin off to escape. to some other IN. i think, more than anything, i want IN some big fluffy sweater. clunky and ivy-green, with blocky reindeer shapes. but who wears that kind of sweater in houston anyways? where it’s too damn hot to wear anything cashmere or wooly. still, i want to feel that kind of warmth. that dull ache for a place; the ache i feel every day for a person…i want to feel it for a place.

i am fixated on this, because i heard a song yesterday that made my soul shake. about ohio, though the first time i heard it was in a new york scene in an LA movie. when i think of ohio, i think of dirty black fence-posts, dipped and glazed in powdered-sugar snow. of slick-empty trees. and of nondescript taverns serving frosty island gold to furry mountain-men, wearing thick ice-cracked boots and plaid flannels…those tortured anti-townies with suppressed passions, hidden talents, and overdeveloped, but underwhelmed intellects. those practically grown into the grooves of the heavy wooden barstools…to whom the gravity of their rural days and fireside nights proved too great. i don’t even know why i think of these things; i’ve never even been to ohio. regardless, i’m kinda pissed i’m not from the damn place, since i sorta want it to be MY song. my haunting ode to angsty ohio, written
for me by some gut-suffering singer who blows his stoic sobs through the microphone when not through a cigarette or cocktail straw.

(maybe there’s something naturally poetic about ohio? i think i like the idea of being stuck indoors care of cold inclemency. i’ve only seen snow twice in my life. but maybe that’s it…maybe i want to be stuck IN blizzards. IN snowmen. IN icicles.)

and IN that song. my song. my song that reeks of longing, with which i am plenty familiar. for a place. a time. a love. a lost life, now lingering nostalgia. for home…whether house or heart.

i realize i can’t long for this place, because i never considered it home to begin with. only a side-street parking meter…ticking off the minutes until i was old enough to venture out into the WORLD. damn my mother, with her alleged yankee elitism. (sham, since i was told washington isn’t considered yankee territory anyways, though perhaps that was my own assumption in the first place.) nonetheless reared to disdain and dismiss this city as some second-hand honkey-tonk hunk of brick and mortar, cement and soot. never planting roots in this giant trailer park of refinery rodeos, mosquitos, and commuter congestion. and never investing, having rejected pickup trucks and cowboy boots as kitsch. my mouth wrapping around ‘ya’ll’ finally, after 22 years, merely in an effort towards texan affectation…though pleasantly surprised by the colloquial convenience. (who can argue that ‘you’s guys’ flows better than ‘ya’ll?’)

houston has always been a point of departure for me. i have forever felt poised for flight.

but i am still searching for my destination. and i sit here, legs bare. and cold. (fucking frigid actually.) it is definitely december 10th in the refrigerated winter of my office. and i may be planted in this swivel-chair in this fluorescent hell, but i can still imagine west coast breezes on my face. and dream of the twinkling neon, shop-window starlight of manhattan. and crave the mexico city sensation of chill on your shoulders and smog baking on your face. and lick the sweet ohio snowflakes off my cheeks. but i just can’t shake the feeling there’s something so stupid about listening to white christmas songs HERE.

i trudge through the imagined snow-drift to the kitchen where i pour myself a hot cup of caffeinated comfort. lemon-lift, and i smile, envisioning giant citrus fork-lifts thrusting me up into the clouds. what is an existential crisis anyways but a feeling of floating out of your world…or rather, just above? high enough to see things are just as you planned, but aren’t quite how you’d like. high enough to see the horizons of possibility, but with a clear notion of how far you have to fall. an attitude-adjusting altitude. (can i see home from here?) and i wonder how can i be so exceedingly happy with some aspects of my life and yet, so restless?

i collapse into my swivel chair, and stare at my styrofoam cup. my left leg folded underneath me, mostly to shield my left knee from the surrounding sub-zero. and nothing happens. nothing. minutes loll and roll, on and on. and chin in hand, i hear the tic-toc in my head, if nowhere else. no one seems to be patrolling my spreadsheet cell-block, so i start feeling a little invincible. and i dig my right heel into the cut-rate coils of industrial-grade carpet below and spin myself round and round in my turntable throne of ennui. (i still get such a kick out of that. suddenly aged 8 and drunk on the force centrifugal.) and i suppose i am too easily amused to maintain tragic for any length of time. i try. (man, i sometimes try so hard.) but my easy appreciation for little things renders my torment a time-sink and necessarily forced. it’s how i’ve coped, up-beatitude being the only method by which i have survived my secretly sore past.

but jesus, am i bored. the electric glow before me reveals little aside from spammy subject lines: “the hill dwarf held his anger in check and resolved to wait for another chance. Why is it that mulberry goblins get all the women?” -the most effusive and inventive of all those listed un-solicitations. “re: inoola”…which is the name of my ex-boyfriend in arabic. strange coincidence, as i never called him that. and finally, “no more furtively stuffing socks in pants.” and i giggle at the thought of doing anything ‘furtively’ with socks. socks with holes, shaken out in early morning hustles, leaving little orange-brown fuzzies all over my comforter. and i toss my cup into the trash with the others, the pile starting to overtake the container. i am losing my voice and am desperately drowning myself in warm liquids to rescucitate that last little bit of resonance. i reuse the cups at first, but then, start to find the trash-can’s crowded cup composition aesthetically pleasing. and maybe a little comical. (how many styrofoam cups does it take to fill this thing up? let’s find out!) this is how i entertain myself.

the phone rings. loud and piercing. i can only whisper a greeting. it is my friend, promising rescue from my tedium, civic duty reigning him into my skyrise domain and within the realm of reasonable lunchtime locales. “meet me in jones plaza,” i squeak, flinging the phone back on its plastic cradle and sprinting out of the building as if it were on fire. (not fire-drill fire, but real-life, orange-flamed, burning-shit-up fire.)

i emerge into the grey wash-basin of muggy. the clouds are low and foreboding, though not drizzling until i’m an inconvenient distance away. i am wearing my glasses on this day and the water droplets are begining to pool in the concavity of my lens. i weave carefully through the more densely feathered trees, bus-stop overhangs, and angled awnings, in an effort to stay dry-ish, until it becomes totally futile. and i think, fuck it, and wander out into the rain and across the slimey streets to our meeting place.

minutes later, i am playing with my lonely lobster bisque, as he’s taking a call from his office. and as he’s hmmming and hawing and yes-ing and no-ing, i grab his pen and scribble some thoughts on an imperial sugar packet. something about little girls in black velvet dresses with christmas plaids and patent leather mary janes. about holly-wrapped bannisters, christmas lights, and shiny glass bulbs. or maybe just about the anticipation of schlepping across the red-brick plazas toward the sugar plum, pointe-shoed prima- ballerinas in pink and gold. (i can’t even remember, since the packet got wet and unintelligible.) but i do remember being that little girl. and i do remember those christmas-time memories.

and he is off the phone. and we are still wet. and lamenting the weather, bemoaning the hot and missing the cold. we gave up on snow a long time ago, but we agree that a crisp chill at the very least would be nice. nice in light of the roasting chestnut songs that have followed us here to this cafe. we shrug and stare out the window at the rain dripping off the hardwood sills. “well, at least the weather sucks in a houston sort of way,” he says. and we both smile. it was true. this indecisive to and fro of nippy, then clammy, then swampy. this was houston.

it continues to rain and conversation shifts to work and the prior phone conversation. arguments over space stations and vestibule fittings. (i love having rocket-scientist friends.) and his suspended disbelief over my geeky fascination with it all. yet, he should know i’m most fascinated that even rocket science can become extraordinarily mundane when it’s one’s nine-to-five. (must we always lose the magic?)

frustrated with our current social escapades, we discuss escaping to the moon. (i suppose a far more elaborate plan than new zealand or vermont.) he asks me about my applicable skills. i draw a blank. i don’t cook. i can’t build much, despite being handy with a zip-screw gun. the only things i can make grow are the grubby dust bunnies under my couch. “i’m a great voice teacher,” i squeak. he laughs, then asserts, “i think you can read and write competently… how ’bout lunar historian?”

i frown at the intimation that my music and theatre degrees won’t do me any good in space. he has no vision, i think to myself. i sip on my cup of earl grey hot this time and realize that the thing i like best about tea is that you don’t have to leave room for creamer, thus requiring far less calculation. it’s a simpler man’s drink than coffee.

we change the subject. watching the pools form outside the window, we notice a couple scrunched tightly under the outcropping, anxiously awaiting a break in the deluge. they are together. or not. we wonder if they even know…these not-quite-strangers, yet not-quite-lovers. and we are suddenly speaking of the rules of engagement, bewildering to us both. what does this mean? or that? how can A be true if B is not? a phone call. a look in the eye. a brush of the hair. piece it together and what do you get? is it anything you can hold? i’m at a loss, my actions being the tactile reflection of only my most sincere feelings. i tell him i am grasping to find the intersections of perception and reality. and suddenly, he shakes his head. “i can fake that, you know.” (no, i don’t know.) “i am pretty damn convincing,” he adds.

“so, you’re telling me you could fake me out?”

“absolutely.”

(pause.)

“but i’m a damn good judge.”

“don’t underestimate me.”

(pause)

“that’s terrible…”

(and it is. it’s terrible. and i tell him. and he agrees.)

“…but i can’t do that.”

“because you’re a good person.”

“don’t be ridiculous.”

“i’m not.”

(pause)

“you’re being dramatic.”

“yes, that is indeed the problem.”

i sigh. suddenly sad for him, i wonder if it has ever felt right. if he’s ever settled in. if he’s ever been home. this man who is so much the vision of all-that-is-desirable-in-a-man. and it occurs to me that my two useless degrees are perhaps just as useless here as on the moon, since this man sitting across the table from me is in fact a better actor by nature. in the most profound sense.

but perhaps i am lying. maybe i can indeed fake it. but i guess the bigger point is that i can’t sustain the faking. and i am reminded of the yester-night conversation and of my comparative head-health, and suddenly, my problems don’t seem so big or daunting. comparatively, i almost feel comfortable in my skin.

and i start to daydream and start to wonder about all the empty-vessel people walking around, looking normal and healthy and successful. and i just don’t buy it. and can’t put much stock in this whole idea of ‘well-adjusted.’ i think, at best, we are all following the tracks of some tortured continuum… it’s just that some people choose to hang out in self-indulgent anguish and others are constantly moving towards some station of contrived-contentedness. (is that cynicism or realism?) either way, there’s no judgement from me, aside from the contention that i think the process lies more in the movement than the destination.

and maybe that is key. destination versus point of departure. maybe that’s why our notion of home is so important. one fixed point of reference for the rest of our life. because ultimately, the only home we ever have is that which we’ve created in our heads. the way we’ve allowed ourselves to grow into the corners of grandma’s kitchen or the crook of a lover’s arm. like the highback-tied ohio mountain-men, our existence expands to fill the volume of the space that surrounds us and defines our home as the shape that remains. the shape that stays when you pull apart with a suction-cup farewell. no doubt we will inevitably be disappointed to find the physical and tangible ever-changing, erratic and unsteady. but the left-over shape,
that is what sticks with us.

and the longing we feel is not about a destination, but the space between. from point A to point B. the moment before…the lifetime before. before his fingertips rest on her bare breast. before that heart-pressing hug from your father upon forgiveness. before you’re just close enough to feel my breath on your face. before i’m promoted. before he calls. before she accepts. before our lives begin. before our lives end.

but it never does end. in the same way we appreciate that thing just out of reach far more than that in our hands, we live our lives in a state of constant inhalation… in continual expectation for that release, that destination. but the truth is we will never be satisfied. we are always ready to take that next breath. and with each breath, we get farther away from our point of departure, and our desire for home becomes stronger. but what we never remember is that home is that which we carry with us.

so, i sit, stirring my now luke-warm tea and watching my friend finish his pan-seared salmon, and the sadness and longing wane just a bit,as the rain pouring down outside starts to slow. and i smile, since i realize i am home after all. whether in houston or ohio, bolivia or manhattan, i am the sum of my shapes. and those shapes make me as whole here as anywhere else. and despite the patch-work sound of my voice, i start to hum a strain of a sleigh song.

i would indeed miss this place if i left. after all, a friend once brought up a good point: how much better to be in a place where people are always taking clothes off, as opposed to putting more on. fuck ohio.

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~ by ladamesansregrets on December 12, 2007.

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