Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I'm going back to Cali, to Cali, to Cali...

Still filled with did-I-do-the-right-thing jitters after a great send-off party (complete with a survival kit in case of zombie apocalypse), and feeling guilty because I didn't do nearly my share of packing our 18 years of crap for the move, I got up early to fly to California and begin this new phase of my life. My stomach was fluttering with nervous butterflies and I was tearful. I am unaccustomed to being separated from my better half and partner; hey, I'm co-dependent and I know it. And an absurd sense of shame dogged me.

I was going home, to the shelter of the dry spot under my mother's wing, to the place where I'd been a dreadful and bitchy teenager plagued by all kinds of social incompetence and emotional melodrama, the place where I had grown up. All the half-strangers who composed my extended family lived there. My grandmothers had died there, recently; when I was a toddler, my grandfathers died there. The many friends I had loved and fallen out of correspondence with, or shunned, or alienated, or with whom my relationships had dramatically altered over the years as I learned to erect barricades over too much intimacy lived there. My mother's friends, my brother's friends.

When I was ready to go, I bundled out into the fresh snow with my luggage. The city looked like a pearl, sparkling white, coated in an inch of untouched, dry, glittering snow. It was like walking on an enormous wedding cake. The wheels of my lime-green suitcase cut the first tracks into the gorgeous stuff beneath me as I fidgeted in the intense cold. It was Sunday morning, and as still and quiet as a church. Two sleepy cardinals said "swee!" to one another in the trees behind the house.

I looked forward to the Meditteranean weather and the landscape that is etched onto my psyche indelibly as home. The sere and golden hills like the flanks of a lounging lioness. The restless sea and the blossom-hued sunsets. Clouds all the shades of fire opals, scudding across the water and dancing swiftly overland. I wanted to be as done with leaden sky, sodden earth, ice-rimmed lakefront, and flooded cityscape as I was with the caustic environment of academia. Yet I loved Chicago too-- the matter-of-fact and cordial people who greeted me in the street, the glory of old brick buildings clustered on tiptoe, on top of one another, the torrential summer rains and silent, sparkling winter snowfalls.

There is never a moment more agonizing for me than saying goodbye to someone I love for a while. It stretched on for ages this time. First one party, then another, and finally the rushed and awkward farewells to my geriatric cat and my supportive partner. (You think a farewell to a cat can't be awkward? Oh, it is if you pick her up with snow gloves for the first time in her life. She screeched in terror and I felt like a heel.)

It was a beautiful flight, in a very sparsely populated plane. I got to watch as we flew over a country as elaborately gowned in white as a bride, but patched where canals drew borders around perfect rectangles of field, and traced with darkly lacy oakleaf patterns where the waterways broke the soft snow with ice or liquid water. Eventually the white gave way to the wan browns and greens of winter fields in warm places, and the richly earthy majesty of the Grand Canyon. I lost track of the scenery as I dozed, but when I awoke, it was my lioness hills that spread below, and I was home.

For almost two decades I have mocked the people who stayed home or crawled home after being scorched by the world: the security guards, the salespeople, the gardeners, the "breeders." I have a hideously stubborn tenacity that made me hang in there far longer than I ought to have, trying to achieve an advanced degree in an underpaid and impacted field without the help of caring committee members. I called it principle. It was prodigal foolishness, and now, the prodigal daughter, I have had enough of principle. I want a home, a garden, a car. I want fair weather. I want the decision to have children or not to be in my hands, not those of professors who do not care and do not have a stake in the matter. I want to have the resources and comforts that people my age have attained, when they have not sacrificed their standard of living for their intellectual standards. And it felt absurd, carnivalesque, to find that I envy the people I have mocked for so long. I was humbled, reborn; I did not know what to say to justify my long preoccupations and projects, or to explain why I have abandoned hobbies, correspondences, family, home, and materiality. Embarrassment seized me.

As the plane landed and I debarked, I suddenly realized that I had already moved. I was committed to a new lifestyle, and I had already done it, already gone home. Was it a terrible mistake, crawling back under the wing of home and returning to the place of my adolescence? I was paralyzed with nerves. Would my mother and I quarrel? Would I have any independence? Would I be enslaved by guilt for my many debts to my mother and brother? Would we fight about politics, about race, about religion, about food? About Dubya and the Governator? About racism and globalization? About pig bones and giant whales? About vegetarianism and Atkins?

Not so far, no. I feel welcome, and although I am still freaked out by the strangeness of "home," I think I've done the right thing. The tears that the hills bring to my eyes are my evidence. I feel like I've abandoned some of my adult self's paths, but I am still an adult, and I am still myself. My options are what have changed: I have a job, I have a home, I am close to people who will not let me be erased by my having abandoned my education.

I miss the white-sequined charms of frozen Chicago already, and have already passionately missed, from the time I decided to commit to this move, my dear, true, and brilliant friends there. Like a cat that cannot decide on which side of the door it wants to be, I am barely here and cannot wait to see you again.

All right. Enough of the bellyaching.

The name of this blog holds true. Although I miss you and what I am doing feels strange, I regret nothing.

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