My parents are visiting me in Portland for my birthday! They arrive on Friday. I AM SO EXCITED AND ALSO HAVE APPROXIMATELY NINE MILLION THINGS TO DO BEFORE THEY GET HERE. This is a tiny free write about them and about home and about life. I’m working on a much longer piece about femme identity (spurred by my visits to a fabric store and a hardware store today, and also by the amazing DIY femme marquee sign I made and hung above my bed this week) but it’s not ready for public consumption yet and also I like that this is about my parents because did I mention that I am SO EXCITED THAT THEY WILL BE HERE IN 72 HOURS?! So enjoy this now and get ready to enjoy my femme essay next week. By then it will be almost Christmas! TIME JUST MARCHES ON. Okay okay okay here is my ~serious writing~ for this week. XO.
It’s 1992 and we’re leaving South Africa and I’m sad. Jack and Lily [my grandparents who insisted on being called by their first names, much to my mom’s chagrin] live here, and the monkey I’ve “adopted” at the zoo. I’m four and it’s home, there’s not much else to it.
But soon home will shift its meaning, as it does over and over through the path of a lifetime, and for now we’ve moved out of our gated townhouse and into a hotel, I think. My memory isn’t clear at all, actually, about the place we stayed between moving out of our Home and immigrating to Canada, but I remember the floral print bedspread, remember that my mom and my brother and I waited together in one bedroom while my dad got settled in a new country, a new life.
It’s so strange to think of one’s parents as people. Was my dad scared? Was my mom anxious? When I think back on that time now they seem impossibly young – not the age I am now exactly, but the age I could be in a few short breaths. They were young parents and they decided we should leave our lives behind and start again. I feel very tender toward both of them, my mother and my father, when I think of them like this, making that decision, feeling that burden of not knowing.
It is the same feeling I get when my mother tells me about the time she thought she was losing her vision as a little girl – her eyesight was bad, was getting progressively worse, and she quietly decided she must be going blind. Rather than confiding in anyone and upsetting them, she kept the burden of the secret to herself, worrying and waiting, waiting and worrying.
I want to sprint through the layers of time and rescue that tiny version of my mother, hold her tight and insist she go see the eye doctor, reassure her that everything is absolutely fine. I often find myself wanting to rescue the people I love; I have been told this is not the right way to do it. (Love.) I can’t sprint through time anyway, because that’s not how this particular reality works. I’m just right here. I am exactly where I am.
I get a similar tender feeling in heart when my mom describes the way my dad reacted when he first saw snow: awe. That is the word she uses when talking about it. We were in Toronto, a small family starting a new-ish life, living in a generous friend’s basement, braving our first winter.
The first time I saw snow I was four, so my brain just filed it away as A Thing That Happens, like eating breakfast or bathing or puppies. My father was in his thirties and he apparently could not look away. He just stood at the window and stared out in awe that whole first winter, my mom says, sweetly recounting a memory I don’t have that oddly makes me want to cry. I love my dad so much for feeling that awe. What an emotion to hold on to. I want to keep awe in my heart forever. Awe and the people and places I have loved, I love, I have.
I was going to tell you a story about that room the floral bedspread that we stayed in for a month before meeting my dad in Canada, but I ended up telling you a different story. Several different stories. I’ll save the original for another day.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live, my favorite writing professor, Rachel DeWoskin, said to us often when I took her memoir writing class at NYU. We tell the versions that we can live with. These are my stories. I like digging them out of my brain and dressing them up for an audience. Telling stories, living. This is my life. Family, awe, home, awe, love, awe, tender feelings, awe, awe, awe. Forever awe.