I like and find California disconcerting, the seediness I expect of big cities feels present but harder to locate, hidden behind something confusing that I am too middle-of-the-country now to translate. A feeling I sometimes get with people I encounter there is that I wouldn’t be especially surprised to learn, years later, that they had committed some kind of senseless violent crime––it’s not that I believe this will happen, just that it could and that if it did I would think, “Makes sense.” I had not been on a plane in fourteen months until last week, the longest period of my life I’ve spent on the ground.
My seatmate on the first flight gave me his headphones to watch the first ten minutes of a movie he thought I had to see (he was right), he took my email because he wanted to connect me with a friend of his (he did), “connect” being a word I haven’t heard in this sense in a long time, and which I once would have found scheming but instead found charming: to connect seems altruistic, and even to scheme is better than to schmooze. In Iowa, the shuttle drivers invited me to sit in the front, chatted with me in that Midwestern way that is neither probing nor surface level. People often interpret this as a facade of politeness to conceal a lack of true curiosity. I don’t think this is exactly true, but I also don’t mind a lack of curiosity, having been around too much curiosity for too long now, those rigorous investigations of the least important things in the world, and I am happy to instead talk about where the best fishing spots along the Iowa River might be. I enjoy the limited interactions of liminal space, of travel, of being the person that it is expected I be, charming and kind within clear parameters, until I leave the cab or the restaurant or get off the plane.
It used to be that when I walked in the door to my tiny apartment here after time away, I’d think of the first time I walked in: it was August, it was hot in a town whose sidewalks went mostly unshaded by trees, and I wanted to go home. Now when I walk in––I noticed this when I came back––I can’t help but think of the last time I’ll walk out. There are people who can consistently exist in the moment of where they are, but I have not found a way to do that that isn’t by obliteration––by working or writing or having so much fun the past has no room to bear down, the future no place to assert itself. This is just my psychology and although there are many things I have tried to change about myself––during these last couple years it started to seem more pressing, or maybe I just finally had the time––this is not one of them. The acuity for what’s passed and the anxiety of what hasn’t yet happened is the most me thing about me, which isn’t to say this isn’t a common trait, just that it is also my dominant one.
Yesterday we drove to the Amish colony that is now mostly a tourist attraction, had a big German meal and a beer on a creek and bought cream horns to take home. The light was perfect, the leaves began to turn while I was gone, Iowa is still green but with the beginnings of yellow and orange, and the corn is almost ready to harvest. Despite the persistent problem of the door, it is hard in these moments to imagine that I will ever not have the life I have now, a funny feeling, suspicious and rare.