Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A letter home: 13 July 2011

My dearest Emma,

I sat for a long time today trying to think of where you might be right now. Since you're a figment of my imagination, you tend to move around a lot. I suppose you would be in Santa Fe these days or -- more likely -- at a tidy ranch somewhere in the great, strange beauty of West Texas. You are often in the places my heart wants to be, Emma. And I suppose that as my life in Britain develops a greater sense of permanence, as the dust settles, some part of my soul aches to be out in the vast hot expanses.

Admittedly, I have never lived in West Texas, Emma, and the times I have visited that part of my home state could probably be counted on one hand: a few trips out to San Angelo to visit my great-aunt Johnnie, and that time two years ago when I drove to Paint Rock and cried like a maniac because of, well, convolutional reasons I don't really feel like going into at the moment.

Ambiguous past experiences aside, however, those West Texas plains hold good memories. I remember sitting in the air-conditioned cool of a hotel in Big Spring one night, eating Popeye's chicken and watching a dust storm turn the horizon dirty orange-brown, thinking: "This is about as far away from Britain as a person could get."

Think of the mental shift required for a person born and raised of the cozy, cold wet of Britain to sit in a situation like that and feel total normalcy, Emma.

My mind turns images of West Texas into a catch-all for thoughts of America. My new home in Penarth more closely reflects the catch-all mental images I have long had of Britain. I will never experience total normalcy in either place, of course. And the great ache of life is there will always be some part of me longing to be in both. As I settle into one, the other calls.

Last time I wrote to you, Jenn and I were pushing toward a kind of normalcy supported by IKEA chests of drawers and shelving units; I had recently moved in. More and more it is feeling like home. I am reading more and making lazy forays into writing again. I feel I can trust in the existence of tomorrow and so am willing to think about what to do with it. I am stabilising.

And though my deep cynicism fights against admitting such things, I will confess to you, Emma: I am happy. Yes, some part of me rebels with yearning for lonesome wide-open space, and sometimes that little creature in my head still kicks at the walls, but in the bulk of my moments I am wrapped in a kind of content the equal to which I cannot remember. I can't stand the inherent naivety of statements like, "I've never been happier," nor the doom such assertions usually portend. But, well, my "Swiss-cheese memory," as Sara used to call it, struggles to identify a single period in my past when all things seemed to fit together so well.

Look at the above paragraph, Emma: this is what age does to us. I am speaking of love diplomatically, trying to temper its potential sting with carefully worded statements. As if having things go wrong would somehow hurt less because I had thought to labyrinth my feelings in multisyllabic parlance.

Ah, hell, I'll just say it: Jenn is awesome. And, yes, I know that one person's forever can be another person's summer, but great googly moogly Jenn is awesome. And I love her.

And that's really where I'm at these days, Emma: I have an awesome life and am struggling to cope. I find it difficult to come to grips with the fortuitousness of my own situation. Boo-hoo. And I think some part of me feels angry that the only thing to do with all the sadness of the not-so-distant past is to just let it go.

Twelfth of July marked five years of my living in Wales, Emma. I spent most of that day thinking back to 12 July 2006 and all the space in between. I regret most of that time, though I don't suppose I'd change it. It's a bit like going through terribly painful surgery, I suppose. Would you do that again? Hell no. Do you wish to go back and have it all be undone? No, I don't want that either. It happened, I lived through it and now -- though not necessarily because of it -- I am happy. After spending all day trying to come up with some sort of profound summary of that half decade I managed this:

1) I feel betrayed.
2) The experience is past tense.
3) I can't shake the feeling of being upset over all the time wasted.

Sixteen years ago, Emma, I was driving up to Minnesota with my girlfriend of the time and somehow managed to make a colossal navigational error, which saw me head to Topeka, Kansas, instead of Kansas City. Look at a map, Emma; they are hundreds of miles apart. My girlfriend was fast asleep when I made this mistake. She woke up as we neared Topeka, then spent the three hours it took to correct the error yelling at me.

I will let you in on a secret, Emma -- something I have never told anyone else: I drove to Topeka on purpose that day, because I liked the sound of the name. Topeka. There's something pleasing to the ear. I don't know whether there is anything nice in Topeka; I only saw it from the interstate.

The chastisement received for "making a wrong turn" was severe enough I chose not to tell my girlfriend the truth. Even after she and I broke up, and she would still recant this tale to others over the years, I was content to be seen as stupid rather than credulously inquisitive. I think perhaps some part of me sees that as my debt to her for time wasted -- those three hours she will never get back.

When I look at my experiences in the Welsh language, Emma, I feel that sense of immense time wasted and I want, childishly, to be repaid in some way. I feel owed full-time employment or friendship or... I don't know what. Something more than a deep-hollow feeling of regret.

But, at least it's over. It is past-tense. It is not happening now. And there are other adventures ahead.

My parents are coming over for a two-week visit this Sunday. In a fit of stupidity, Jenn and I offered to let them stay with us. In our one-bedroom flat. The more I think about it, Emma, the less I like it. I have not seen my parents in a year, so I will be happy to have them around but having them be inescapable for a fortnight seems like an error in judgement.

I'm sure it won't be too bad. And there will be immediate repayment of whatever inconvenience is accrued. A few weeks after my parents head home I'll be following them to Minnesota, where I'll hopefully get a chance to catch up with all those friends I've spent the past year missing. Several of my friends have had children since I saw them last. We are getting old, Emma.

Perhaps I will see you when I'm out there. You and I are always moving, Emma -- and you so often in the places my heart wants to be -- but maybe we can intersect, if only briefly. Meet me in Topeka.

I remain your faithful friend,


Anonymous said...

Welcome your parents mate. When you get older you'll realise why

Robert Humphries said...

"I will never experience total normalcy in either place, of course. And the great ache of life is there will always be some part of me longing to be in both. As I settle into one, the other calls."

This is exactly what I feel after living in the United States for twenty-two and a half years. I will never be completely at home here, but I wouldn't be in Wales either. Having a family of my own keeps me anchored here and gives me refuge from this tremendous sense of geographic and cultural unbelonging.

As you know Chris, I've been following your Welsh odyssey for a few years and I'm saddened you feel betrayed. However, I can understand. You've been there and you've given 110%, but so many don't care and among those who do, too many are afraid of change, of thinking differently and taking risks. I can certainly see this from my distant American perch, although admittedly I am not seeing the whole picture. As someone very proud of being Welsh and now being able to speak the language, I hope, in the long run, you won't see those years as wasted. But I understand where your frustration and desire for catharsis comes from.

At any rate, it's nice to see you LTFD with Jenn in Penarth. Your silliness is always uplifting.

Anonymous said...

Cycled past your pad 10.00 am with my boy to have haircuts. Holy Moly that's one big birdie................

Poke it with a stick