I don’t belong here.
The paths are the same, the same Australian umbrella trees and thickets of palms and little yappy dogs, the same pervasive sun and smell of car exhaust, but they feel foreign now. I walk the 33 blocks to the grocery store that sells all the Latin specialties I quickly learn to miss when I’m away, and it doesn’t feel like coming home to something. It feels like traveling a long way away for my weird exotic tastes, bits of the old country I like to keep around, like the immigrants who define my past.
I lived here from 1999 to 2009, but I got used to counting it as eleven years in my mind. And I’ve finished with this place.
I used to think I didn’t get attached to places. We moved from New Jersey and I fell into the maelstrom of adolescence all at once, and found few fond memories tied to our tiny house or the several schools I attended. Even the memories that made no sense apart from where they took place—the fishing trips to that little stream, looking out over the Hudson River to New York City, the cherry tree in my aunt’s backyard—they seemed to exist in an airy cloud, nostalgia unfulfilled. Maybe it’s that I spent those ten or eleven years and never went back to New Jersey, never looked again at that tiny house and the little holly tree in the backyard and Mom’s prized rose bushes that she tells me died long ago, never got any closer to those memories than a recent drive through the general region on the way to and from an event in NYC. Maybe it’s that I was younger then, and my life unfolded around a new place, the old one becoming hazily-remembered AOL Instant Messenger conversations as I tried and then didn’t try to keep in touch with the old place’s contacts.
I found a new set of places to think about. The park near the house in Miami where I would play trust games with the ground, falling on my back and looking at the sky, hoping I picked a spot that didn’t have red ants. The Chinese buffet next to the Home Depot where my grandmother would take us regularly, which closed, became something else, became a different Chinese buffet, and is now probably some other thing. The view from the bathroom at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, looking out onto a beach, the envy of peers situated anywhere else. The picnic table near Lake Osceola on the University of Miami campus where I ate almost every lunch I ever had there, a short sprint from the lake’s resident crocodile, watching the green herons and needlefish and sulking in the loneliness that seemed to pervade those days.
Those places don’t feel mine anymore.
Every now and then I visit the neighborhood where my parents set me up when I came to Ottawa, and look at the façade of the poorly-insulated studio apartment where I lived for my first while, and I feel fond. It was a tiny place and I had to share a toilet and shower and an obnoxious coin laundry and I would regularly be awakened at three in the morning by crowds of drunks carousing past and I wore multiple sweaters indoors in the winter and as little as possible in the summer because the insulation was so comically bad, but that place was mine, and those memories are mine, and that deep draught of independence is a recollection that feels right somehow.
I don’t feel that way about Miami anymore.
I walked for hours today through the city that saw me through middle school and high school and my bachelor’s degree and I felt wrong. I looked at the wide streets half missing sidewalks and the signs for dentists and lawyers and chiropractors and psychics, at the endless avenues of palm trees and Spanish tile roofs and nativity scenes, at parades of drivers so awful that they make the torrent of billboards advertising lawyers who specialize in contesting traffic tickets make sense, and none of it felt mine.
I listened to the sounds, the overheard snippets of conversation and the car horns and the occasional vibrato of a startled mourning dove’s wings, and it felt alien, foreign, even hostile.
This is a place where the only people who walk or run anywhere are romantic fools like me and people in gated communities who need to go over the paths again and again to remember which cookie-cutter house is theirs, where the sprawling chessboard of minor variations on the same one-floor house goes on in every direction, punctuated mostly by some of those having business signs in front of them and others having a cul-de-sac adjacent. This is a place where things are cutthroat and vicious, where people rely on their families because their neighbors and friends will screw them as hard as possible if it means getting away with one more incandescent gewgaw on the front lawn.
I never met a place filled with more nature that felt so artificial.
I never met a place so warm that made me feel so cold.
I missed the doves. I miss the chickadees of the north so much more.
Is it weird that when I arrived in Ottawa one of the first things that almost moved me to tears was seeing one of those little birds again? One of those little grey birds with their black heads and tiny feet in a tree in Strathcona Park, next to a Rideau River that will never, ever be dearer to me than my memories of the Rahway River and the gambusias I used to bring back with me, and it was like coming home.
Half the people I used to tell myself would be my greatest connection to this place have disappeared to make their lives elsewhere, and the other half don’t bother with each other except when I’m in town.
I’m the center of a web of confusion and sadness and misunderstanding in this place and it makes me want to cut every strand of it loose and not tell any of them where I went, just so that I could have a moment to myself curled up under a desk, weeping softly, telling myself that when they’re done making me feel bad for doing what’s right for me and mine, they’ll be around to share a few birthdays and introduce their kids to mine.
Is it really only white people that get to move far away as a matter of course, without getting a world of steaming shit dropped on them for even thinking about it?
I never fit here. Not for one magnificent second did I fit here. There’s no room in Miami for people like me. Miami has no place for people whose schemes and connivances are limited to making their next Dungeons and Dragons session as much fun as possible for all seven of us and to keeping more secrets than anyone will ever know. Miami actively excludes people who don’t think that talking over someone is an expression of interest in what they’re saying. Miami makes mincemeat of people who think that making left turns shouldn’t be a blood sport. Miami tells people who do not thrive on pointless displays of bravura, impulsive belligerence that they are weak and submissive and will never amount to anything and I am so, so tired of being around people this consistently wrong about everything.
Miami tells people who don’t think that the contents of people’s wallets should have anything to do with the quality of the healthcare or education or legal representation or job opportunities that we as a society provide them that the closest approach to Cuba is an hour or two due southwest and it’s a hell of a swim so you’d better get started.
It’s not that increased socialism is better or worse than what the US already does, see, it’s that that’s just not what we DO here, so whether it’s better or worse is irrelevant (but it’s totally worse). Also, the US is the greatest country in the world and anyone who tells you otherwise is a Communist.
Fuck. That. Noise.
“Home” isn’t here anymore. I’m not sure it has been since a few months after I arrived in Ottawa, since the first winter semester when I got used to the idea of being on my own, since I walked this town’s sidewalks and explored its downtown core and watched skunks instead of opossums rummage through people’s trash. “Home” hasn’t been here since I stopped remembering where things were in Miami and started remembering the walking paths to El Tucán and Oh Basil! instead.
“Home” hasn’t been here since coming to visit became a biannual shitstorm of recriminations and insults and patronizing dismissals and being treated like being taken seriously at all is a monumental courtesy they are granting me out of sheer magnanimous kindness and not the bare fucking minimum standard for human interaction. “Home” hasn’t been here since people I care about started making me wonder if I might be emotionally healthier if I didn’t.
“Home” hasn’t been here since I poured all of my alienation and worry and sadness into a blog post and had them almost convince me I was overreacting, and then flatly confirm every single thing I said the next time I saw them.