Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Home

The emptiness of the past is what most disturbs me. I remember my childhood home from the outside: a small low suburban house among others of its kind, surrounded by expansive, flat, close-clipped lawns of yellowish grass, dotted with low shrubs that we called... junipers, I think? – low, squat, dense, prickly blots of dark green. Nothing you could explore or hide under. All dull: all exposed and yet confined. I realize that it's subjective fallacy, and a failure of imagination, but to this day I can't picture a bodhisattva, or even a happy person, living in such a neighborhood. A graveyard of hopes. It's where my parents' marriage went to die.

When Martha and I first got together, she tells me, the thing that most disturbed her about me – and I was a queer enough young man, in all conscience; there were plenty of things to choose from – was that I remembered nothing of my childhood. I seemed to have emerged into a vague and partial consciousness when I was eleven or twelve, and to have almost no clear memories from any time earlier than that. Which, since I was only seventeen when we got together, did not make much of a remembered life. From time to time, small memories, preserved like specimens, showed up. But compared to her riches – she seems to remember absolutely everything, in Dickensian profusion – I was remarkably poor. I had lived in my head, not in the world. I remember the books I read and the pictures I saw. I remember the girls I had crushes on. That's about it.

It was Eros that brought me to anchor in the world, that gave me motive and memory. I really don't seem to have existed before that, in any substantial way. I drifted somewhere, but I don't know where. And if I contemplate a life with the erotic fading from it, my imagination turns up the same emptiness my early past does: a formless, uninhabited, uninhabitable flatland of dry lawns and junipers.

It recurs to me: I need to build a place. I need to make my house into a home, to fully inhabit it. I have thought this before, said it before, but there is an existential urgency to it now. The erotic may have been the only vividness my early life provided – the bright thread to follow – but it's only a thread, a guide out of the labyrinth. It can't make a home. The other impulses to make and mark are only adumbrations of this first, primary need: to make a place, a real place, one that will take the impress of memory and give memories back in return.

I don't even know if it's possible. For a long, long time my primary response to the houses I have lived in has been the imperative need to secure my lines of retreat from it. How do I get out of this place? How do I know I'm not trapped here? How do I keep my freedom of movement? Can I, really, live in my own house? I really don't know. Maybe I can't.

But whether I can or not, it becomes clear to me that nothing else comes next. I either take this step forward, or stay where I am.

13 comments:

NT said...

I have very few childhood memories. But I lived in a weird old house in an interesting neighborhood.

I think some of us just forget. I forget almost everything to this day.

Dale said...

Yes, that may well, be: it may be a fortuitous association. Some of us may just organize our memories differently, so that we don't pull them up as vignettes. A different filing system.

Dale said...

I should note, too, that this supposed advent of memory coincides precisely with beginning to keep a regular journal :-)

Zhoen said...

Might as well jump.

I almost wish I could forget. But my childhood so baffled me, I held every memory as a puzzle piece that would eventually answer my innumerable questions. I'm now in the process of cutting up all the pieces to make an image that makes some sense. Recycling, reclaiming, repurposing.

am said...

Thank you for this post. Good questions.

Although I remember being 2 years old, I didn't feel fully alive and substantial until I was 17 and fell into a love that has survived death.

My home is a tiny condominium. I've been sharing a big "house" with 25+ other people since 1984. There are three 3-story buildings with 25 units each on a large piece of land that looks out to the foothills of the North Cascades.

When I moved here, I didn't intend to stay more than a year. It's taken me a long long time to feel "at home" in this place. It was supposed to be a transitional place on my way back to Northern California. Now it is a place I love dearly. The man I love died. He is part of this place now.

I could be wrong, but I don't think you have my new blog address:

http://talking37thdream.blogspot.com

My old blog address is on your "Blogs I Read"

Dale said...

Oh, you're right! Fixed.

rbarenblat said...

(o)

arboretum said...

The blog "Hotel Mama" also moved, you'll find it there now, Dale:

http://hotelmama.it

Dale said...

Thanks, got it!

Murr Brewster said...

Remarkable. I think I want to know more about your parents, now.

Kristen Burkholder said...

I really needed this tonight. Thanks for being a pal along the road. Your writing lifts me up because it is filled with pain and honesty. I know I've found a friend when I click on "Mole" : )

Dale said...

Thanks so much, Kristen. So happy that we ended up on the same block of the cyberhood! xo

marly youmans said...

I also find that great precincts of my past are absent. Also, certain things that happened repeatedly are one emblematic memory... I remember the most beautiful places I lived more clearly than the dull; I have the most gorgeous pictures in my head from Gramercy and Baton Rouge, though I was small.