Monday, May 01, 2006

Sunday/Monday Scribblings--Why I live where I live


No, we weren't the Bradys...we just wanted to live like them.
Where I live is a sore subject right now. Come to think of it, it has always been one. I’ve never been entirely satisfied with any place that I’ve lived since I was a little girl. This is yet another inheritance from my parents, who needed to work up a great deal of restless dissatisfaction in order to propel themselves out of the warm family fortress in their walled city. They did this by dreaming of the day they’d walk into their dream and rightful future--the Great American house. You know the one--split level ranch with a two car garage and a basketball hoop. A garden ribboning up the front walk and a lush, grand backyard that always looked effortlessly manicured. And a pool for us kids, of course. This was beyond the realm of their actuality in Colombia (the split level ranch style not being popular in Latin America) but the States were different. Everything was possible here.

My father arrived first and settled himself into one of those immigrant rite of passage apartments--a dingy, dank hole in the wall favored by those who are sending their whole paycheck to another land. He realized quickly, sadly, that the ranch house that dangled so enticingly from the tree branch of their dream was going to be a mite bit harder to find in reality--especially in the urban Latino neighborhood he now called home. So he called a bunch of his friends’ wives and tried his best to lend a "woman’s touch" to the apartment before my mother arrived.

I can only imagine how her face fell, faced with this base, squalid apartment, so different from her hopes. Faced with exposed lightbulbs, the drip-drop of the leaky sink faucet, the skittering roaches. I know (they told me) that my father sacrificed precious lunch money to buy her little luxuries so that she could hold her head high around the other wives when they came to welcome her and nose about--a new rice pot, a wobbly second hand kitchen table, a dilapidated bouquet of flowers in a cracked vase.

I’m sure she wasn’t exactly pleased--she was already regretting their decision to leave everything they knew, their comfort, their families, already cursing herself for being foolhardy and excessively swayed by my father’s brash optimism. But she was young and energetic, and besides, they were still illegal. Surely, the golden gates would swing widely open once they possessed their green cards, no?

Not exactly.

My siblings arrived and we lived in that crowded apartment for another two years, until my parents finally found a house we could afford. It’s strange--that apartment and area still haunt my dreams--vividly. I suppose I had not yet learned to look around me and see only lack.

We took our first steps towards that ultimate house dream by moving into our single family house, four bedrooms, one bath, and an architectural style that can only be described as "Urban Unpretty." Our block was crammed with houses, staggering shoulder to shoulder, up and down the treeless hill ringed by a sausage of parked cars.

My parents continued to watch TV, walk more affluent neighborhoods and sigh, even as they put all of their energy in improving that house well past the point of our affording. I shared my parents admiration for those other houses, better neighborhoods, but in a cheerfully impersonal way, the way I would appreciate a Monet at a museum. Only my house-ugly carpets, false ceilings and all-was home. I lived there until I married.

By the time I had graduated from college, I started to feel stifled by the very place I loved. I saw people lulled into staying there forever, seduced by the comfort of living so close to NYC. I grew desperate to move and made an impassioned plea to TEG while we sat in his car listening to "Born to Run." TEG was the opposite of me--I was looking for a place to transform me, a place to help me create the person I wanted to be. He knew he’d never feel fully at home anywhere outside of his beloved Bombay, so he was open to moving almost anywhere.

And so we started our odyssey, four states in five years. I never found exactly what I wanted because I was afraid TEG would blame me if I grew disenchanted. So I always lived near what I wanted and blamed him instead. I wasn’t dreaming of a ranch house--no, I wanted a cool apartment in a vibrant city, steps from everything I could want. Instead, I lived in a succession of bland, comfortable, generic apartments on the outskirts of great cities.

Until Chicago, that is. I came closest to finding the All I longed for there. But soon, doubt crept in. It was so cold. And we missed hills, and the sun, and the ocean.

So we got pregnant and decided to make good on that long deferred dream--California. I was three months along and moody; it was the dead of winter and "all the leaves were brown and the sky was gray." Again, I was unable to push for what I truly wanted...it seemed even further away now that I was pregnant. So we opted for yet another practical suburban box.

And yet, living in California with its euphoric sunshine and riotous sheets of color everywhere has been incredibly worth it, despite the foolhardy expense of it all. I hugged my growing belly while I took my daily walk underneath that nurturing sun and gloried that my daughter would grow up in this place I loved best. I felt a kinship with my own parents, who had traveled so far to try and do the same thing.

But just like with my parents, it’s not quite working out that way. California is expensive and TEG’s business needs him elsewhere. So I continue to long for that place where I can rest, a new place that will feel old and like home. TEG says I need to find that place in my head before I can find it outside (and that certainly begs the question, "why do I live where I live in my head?). I’m sure he’s right, as usual. But I still scour the apartment listings, looking for that perfect place in our new Cold City. And no more settling. Because I’d like to have a joyous answer to the question, "why do you live where you live?"

More Sunday Scribblings here.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Jennifer (she said) said...

m- i thought, as i read this, and as i often do, that i hope you're saving these pieces. they are wonderfully written, wonderful essays about what your life is like and what it has been like. i would read your writing if it were published.

i too am never satisfied - not with an apartment or a house or a city. i've been more satisfied, less satisfied, and then forced to try seeing place differently (here in michigan). my friend daisy and i have spoken and written many times about this subject and it's been interesting to watch our ideas unfold. that's what this piece feels like to me - like you're unfolding and folding, unfolding and folding. place is connected to your history - maybe before you were even born. and it's something that you have to deal with again and again.

i would also like to have a joyous answer to the question for this week's theme - but i don't and i think when something like your post comes out of the question, even if you don't have a joyous answer, you have something here, in your writing and reflection. it matters. telling all of our truths matters. how can we possibly change anything we might want to change if we don't get down to the business of being honest with ourselves?

thank you for doing that here. and thank you SO much for your comments today. i really needed them.

xojennifer

5:23 PM, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous F said...

I loved this post, but I always love your entries, they're so real, honest.
As I read your post, I began to wonder about the places I have lived. I seem to have a "grass is always greener" syndrome that I can't seem to shake. Another place always seems to have more, to be more ideal. I can't help but wonder if it'll always be this way, or if Ill ever be able to accept the places for what they are- and accept one place- despite it's faults- as home. I'd like to think so.
I also considered if the real joy in living in different places is that you get to experience the best of each city- even if one particular place doesn't have it all. Maybe the perfection is in the journey.

6:30 PM, May 01, 2006  
Blogger melba said...

This is how you figure it out. By sharing your words here. You already know in your heart that home is inside of you. So corney, but true.

9:11 PM, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Ahhh...the search for the joyous answer. It's hard when you create these images in your head like your parents did so many years ago. And yet...seeing it is the first step in manifesting it. I hope there is much joy for you in the seeking.

9:19 PM, May 01, 2006  
Blogger paris parfait said...

You'll find where you need to be yet. I've moved so many times and lived so many places; like you, some better than others. The important thing is to make the most of each place and create the feeling of home. Good luck in your new home! I'll look forward to hearing more about your quest.

7:45 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

this was so beautifully written. i can relate to searching for the dream, the 'just right' feeling. only mine would have a cute white picket fence and maybe a dog or two.

1:27 PM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

Another great piece. I always get such a sense of wide-open soul-searching from your writing. You've mentioned Portland a few times and I wish you would move here, I would love to meet you for coffee at Powell's and talk about writing and babies and books and Colombia and... how fabulous that TEG is from Bombay -- have you been?

1:40 AM, May 03, 2006  
Blogger Jessie said...

I especially like your question "why do I live where I live in my head?" And, actually, I just might have to spend some time with that one in my journal.

There is sadness in your voice when you write about moving, but I hope that you are happily surprised by what you find when you get where you're going. Although I've visited Mnpls many times, I've never lived there. Actually, I've always vowed that I never would. I'm still surprised that by August (and maybe before) that's where we'll be. What happened?! I guess that after recently leaving the land I loved most, it doesn't matter so much any more. Anyway, there are things I'm looking forward to...art, good food, book stores, my niece and nephew being nearby...but, I must admit, what I'm really starting to look forward to is meeting new people, one of which I hope will be you!

And if Mnpls doesn't work out, maybe we should all move to Portland and hang out with Laini--that would be good too! :)

You are such an incredible writer. Carry your home with you in words.

11:16 PM, May 03, 2006  
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