My parents had a lot of friends. I remember our small apartment being engulfed almost every weekend, run amok with my parents’ friends from Colombia. Being an immigrant is sharp edged chaos, harsh sounds in a language you don’t speak, elbows that jab you when you stand still in front of the subway, trying to read the map. So they guarded their friendships fiercely--the only other people who knew the exact smell of the frying fish that wafted through the seaspray, and the sounds of dancing feet softly pounding the packed sand during all night parties. These people were such a fact of my life growing up that I didn’t even know I had grown up without an extended family, since my parents were the only ones who had made the journey out of both of their families. They streamed in and out of our place, and when they weren’t there, we were in their tiny apartments, virtual replicas of ours, complete with the plastic covered sofas (yes we had one of those). The women banging pots and pans in the kitchen, shouting plot points about their favorite soaps over the noise; raucous laughter from the men in the living room, usually playing dominos; the kids swarming everywhere in between, tumbled together pulling on the host kid’s toys. Together, these people shared bits and pieces of knowledge gleaned from their occasional interactions with outsiders, hard-won, usually at the cost of some pride (and these people had pride like peacocks)...a useful English phrase heard and understood at the supermarket, a new factory that was lax about checking on “papers” (work permits). Every outing was a group outing, almost every weekend meal...creating a charmed circle of home and familiarity before the strain of the workaday world. In hindsight, perhaps the constant partying was wearisome on occasion; I remember tempers would occasional strain and snap, culminating in a lot of slammed doors and chasing after the injured party. But the noise and the drama was a small price to pay for the pleasure of knowing exactly where they belonged, for being ensconced in the warmth of their tribe.
I contrast that to my own life at the moment. Like my parents (and The Executive Geek’s as well), we left the cozy environs of home--the East Coast--and started hopscotching across the country, living in Austin, Chicago, and now California. When TEG and I got engaged, I told him I saw us “holding hands through life, living in all sorts of parts unknown.” I had no idea he would take me so literally.
It’s strange to think about how desperately I wanted such different things--to move, to travel, to leave the place where I grew up, and to be a part of a community where I could finally feel inspired and excited and pushed to create. But so far, we have both failed to find our tribe, living increasingly solitary lives. Now that I am a stay at home mother, I can go whole days without talking to another adult (and I include TEG, on days he travels). I wish I could fall back on a community of people, a web of conversations and references to an earlier me. But, no...that’s not exactly what I want. Unlike my parents and my inlaws, I don’t want to recreate the rhythms and voices of home...if I had wanted that, I would never left the East Coast. I'm not looking for people who share my ethnicity or my home language; instead, I want to find my true clan...people I can read with, and write with, and dream with. So I look online, and I peer into people’s faces at Starbucks (I live in a very suburban suburb, so Starbucks is it for coffee) and wonder if today will be the day I meet an emissary from the group I wish so badly to join. Hopefully I’ll do this soon, so that Madam can carry her own stories of a matrix of adults and children and art and laughter and parties and music and movement into her future, and not grow up alone.
Labels: navel gazing, the unfolding of me