Wednesday, October 11, 2006

portrait of (or a long rambling story)

'Living in a small town is hard. It's harder when it keeps getting smaller.'

My aunt tells me this as we sit around my grandmother's kitchen table - at the same time I was supposed to be sitting in Chicago attending a book reading. It is a very disinteresting story. I am not a city driver. I actually hate to drive at all. But I do it. Everyday. For longer than I'd like to. Back to the point... The plan, rather than drive 2 1/2 hours in heavy construction/traffic, was to make a 45 minute drive to Michigan City and read "Pudd'nhead Wilson" by Mark Twain on the way into Chitown, traipse the city, attend the reading and return home.

Michigan City is not the nicest of places. The 11th Street Train "Station" is a bench encased in plexi-glass near a sign that says "11th Street" with a small parking lot behind it. It's hard to see there on the side of the road...near the railroad tracks...when a construction crew has big jagged machinery sitting in front of it pulling up sections of the street.

"Come to think of it…I haven't heard a train all day," says the 3rd gas station attendant I've talked to all f'n day.

And so we have the train that disappeared...if only for the time I needed to ride in it.

Not far from the 11th Street Train Station is the Premium Outlet Lighthouse Mall. Or the Lighthouse Premium Outlet Mall. Whatever. It doesn't really matter. It's surprisingly blessed with such brand names as Burberry, Coach, Movado and Calvin Klein...for being a mall next to a giant, dirty smokestack.

You're supposed to shop when you're down but sometimes the shopping just brings you...downer. So after some pumpkin spice lotion (I have weird taste) and some Harry & David coffee, a present for Madison and a new pair of jeans, 2 1/2 hours later and a couple of aching legs, raindrops starting to fall and you get the picture - I realized that my depression which has been loyally by my side these past few months...was creeping into my already ridiculous day. I started heading home. I passed the train on my way there.

There was one last thing I wanted to pick up. Mindy Smith's new CD. On my way home, I made the disc my mission. The one thing that would go right for me today would be to pick it up and listen to Smith sing her songs on my way home. Two Wal-Marts, a pregnant woman who's pregnancy stuck out in redneck fashion from under her shirt, a Borders and a Best Buy later...I let Smith sing out her woe in the car while I made one last attempt at anything and headed for grandma's house...

Hey friend why are we always crying/All of these tears are going to dry us out/Whatever they're selling we've got to stop buying/Because our pockets are empty now...

My mother moved my younger brother and I into my grandparents house after my parents divorce and three apartments. I hadn't liked the idea at the time. But the old rickety house became the first real home I'd ever known. The friends that I have now, the only ones I've ever known - don't know me before the age of 14. I'd fallen in love with New York City at the age of five. I stood at the window of a small apartment – on what side I can't remember. I looked out into the dark, rainy street and watched as a figure rushed to the door, cloaked in moonlight.

I knew then.

When I was 18 I spent some time in Pittsburgh. Every morning on my way to school, I walked past homeless men on the street, robbed of dignity and looked down upon and just hoping for a quarter, or a cigarette or something to eat. One morning in particular a man and woman crossed my path on my way to the city for a walk. The man had reddish hair that stuck up in tufts, torn jeans and no shoes or socks. He asked me for change. I was afraid and I said I had none. In my pocket my hand gripped quarters, nickels and dimes. I knew then that I had less than that man did. There was less character in me refusing him than there was in him asking for a little help.

I quit school and went home.

I worked hard, floated around town - and made no plans to leave again. Plans mean action and I wasn't ready for action. I had to make a home. When your parents divorce while you're still a child - it means the end of a lot of things. Thanksgiving, Birthdays, Hannukah and Halloween were split in two. I could accept that. As a child with no say. But as an adult I wanted more. I wanted a place to come home to on holidays. I wanted a place that would one day be where I laid out lavish dishes, exotic and authentic food, mouthwatering in quantities large enough to feed every friend I'd made since I'd moved into that little rickety house, in the small little town that I live in now.

But the town has grown smaller.

You set the foundation and you make the friends. Like a story - you outline, you develop the plot - and the rest is the good stuff. The little details, the moments, the dialogue. That's what matters. My friends, my family - they have been my most favorite story. And like a favorite story - you put off coming to the last page. Because you don't want it to end.

You may not be what I will always need/But I call you home/If I can call you home/Then you're good enough for me.

So I'm driving today and I'm wondering just where it is I'm supposed to be now. I missed the train, maybe, I think. Not belonging makes you wonder. The world I'm trying to fit into - what if it doesn't fit? And the world I'm in - well - what if that doesn't fit either? My friends have gotten comfortable now. They are who I always saw them to be. Mothers, daughters, brothers, sisters, teachers, soldiers, engineers, thinkers, owners...believers... As they grow comfortable...they don't fade into the background. They are home. They are the ground.

And so - as the town becomes smaller - I gain less mobility. I can write a good story. I can see it when I talk to the middle aged woman who's held the same store in her family for over 20 years...or the Israeli immigrant who stamps metal for multimillion dollar automotive corporations in a little building on a small street. The charter school where kids laugh and play and run to their parents when they are picked up at the end of the day. I can see it all - but I can't move. I can't seem to move right now. Sometimes I find myself with nothing to say to anyone. Because nothing I say fits in with the conversation.

'All I can say, is try to hang in there,' my aunt concludes as I get up from the table.

I need peace of mind and a hopeful heart/To lose this rage and move out of the dark/I ain't looking for rainbows or shooting stars/Just some peace of mind and a hopeful heart

Would've been nice to catch that book reading though.

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