You wake up (this has happened more often than not) and look urgently for the familiar. That strange segue from sleep consciousness to whatever we are now calling the waking hours is murky. Viscous, one might say if they were trying to offend your drowsy sensibilities. It is not that you are hung over (though that certainly has been the case at times) or that you are the type who regularly finds sleep in unfamiliar places (though that, too, has been a truism) it is a feeling of being unsure where the reality of your sleep and the reality of your life diverge. And this feeling is especially confounding as you have stopped remembering your dreams. Or have you? Scanning through your memory you realize that the way you are remembering the last couple of days, or the week, or the year, is marked by the same fragmented sensibility that is characteristic of trying to recall a dream. This is not a motion picture. There is no fluidity of motion. It is jerky, stop motion. A flip book of images that do not connect easily to one another.
You look around and see all of your things, exactly where they belong because you are a firm believer that everything has a place and there everything should be. There is sun coming in the window illuminating a slight haze of dust, impossible to completely conquer because you prefer to have your windows open to the vaguely urban neighborhood below you. There are books. Many books. This makes you think of a John Waters’ quotation that you love: “If you go home with somebody and that don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” There are plants, but only a few as your turn towards the urban has come at a cost of reduced space. And the cats eat spider plants. There are two cats. One knows exactly how to fit in every part of your life. She has transitioned through many strange and wholly unexpected places with you in her brief six years. The other is large. Huge. He lays languidly, looking like a jaguar. Or an oil spill.
As the sensation of being awake settles over you, you let go of the effort of trying to remember where your mind had been in sleep and feel a small relief. Things come into focus and seem almost clear.
It is your birthday today.
It is a birthday of little consequence save for the consistent element of another year passing in what is more and more like some sci-fi concept of time. Fasfastfastfastsloooooooooowfastslowfastfastsloooooow. And now that was all solongago.
To sit up requires little effort thanks in part to a devoted yoga practice and also an early end to coworker sponsored libations the afternoon prior, which none the less caused friction in a home that used to have none. But now it is quiet. Only a few muffled sounds rise from the street below. This neighborhood is acoustically anachronistic and the quiet is always a welcome surprise. The only noises outside on this Saturday morning seem far away, and wholly independent. There is something pleasant about waking up in a quiet house. While you know that there are also pleasures to be had in a house full of sounds – the rhythm of another person’s life – you prefer the quiet of a space self-possessed. You always have.
There is little to see outside in the sunshine at this hour. A City coming to life, but as slowly as the inhabitants who crawled into their overpriced live-work spaces only a few hours earlier. This City is very different from so many of the cities you have known, but you chose it, seemingly, for its familiarity. Your space is so small that a simple shift in perspective can have you on the other side of the room. Looking out on the sidewalks your brain begins to flip through the associated images. Gum on the sidewalk. Corner store. Bakery. Bar. Bank. Walgreens. Boutique. Thrift shop. Sex shop. Taqueria. Bar. Jesus te ama. Social Security. Bar. The homeless men you know. The homeless men you have never seen before. Where are the homeless women? What is it you were just thinking as you last walked through the neighborhood doing some errands? How you loved this place. How you had become such an urban creature, you of the suburbs. That to walk to the corner store was so preferrable to the drive to the supermercado.
And then you considered your metamorphosis. Do other people do this? Reset the dominoes to try to apply logic to the irrationality of Why-We-Are-Here?
On Thursday you had been at a dinner party. Was it a party? There were the appropriate number of people there, you know what that number is, you were always good at working it out when you had dinner parties. Remember that? Anyhow, you were at this dinner thing. The people were perfectly nice. The food was fine. The beer is always the same and that sort of consistency always makes you feel comfortable. The house was just so. A mix of Pottery Barn, Party City, Costco, and a little Pier One Imports thrown in for flair. The candles and the potpourri smelled too strong, but there was so much space that it was easy to avoid. There was a deck, a barbecue, a view. Of the airport. All you could think about was how this had been your life so long ago.
In the suburbs you had done all the right things. You were never sure of the reasons, but it is always easier to just do the right things. Until you cannot. Then you go to China or something and try to make things right from far away, which you know never works. You thought about it more and tried to remember your dinner parties, the beer in your hand growing warm. It dawns on you that you had had the perfect set up for dinner parties, but you never actually had them. Where were the dinner parties? They came later. In a place that seemed less likely. You are doing it again, mixing up the images, unable to keep the pictures in their true order. My memory is a collage, you think almost saying it out loud. Better than a fucking scrapbook, you think. You actually do say that out loud. “What did you say? Did you say you scrapbook? I love scrapbooking!” A woman standing near you looks at you, and you just know she really does love scrapbooking.
Walking inside you recall your dinner parties again. They were in a city. Well, actually, they were in the jungle. But is was an adjunct jungle to the most City-like city you had ever known. And you do that thing where you realize that you never would have landed there to have those dinner parties if you had not had to run from the suburbs. It makes your time in the suburbs seem worth it for the first time and you are grateful for this epiphany that will hopefully erase some of the feelings you associate always with that chapter of your life. Guiltboredomshamedisappointment.
Looking out at the airport you feel that familiar pull again. Getoutgetoutgetoutgetout. You ask if it would be okay to start making a move to leave this dinner party because, you know, we have to drive back to the City, and you have work, tonight, and tomorrow. Leaving you realize that what you are saying goodbye to is not the people, but the space of this place. You will soon be back in a small space.
For the past two years you have been selling the idea that you do not need space. I am used to small spaces, you always say. This is true. But you are used to your own small spaces. You have never been a real good sharer. As generous as the day is long, but always more comfortable to give over something completely than to share it. You wonder if other people are like this too. You laugh when you think about how your report cards as a small child always suggested a need to improve in the following areas: Respecting the rights and opinions of others; Working with others. At least you can identify a beginning of this characteristic. That is satisfying.
Looking out across the sunny street on this Saturday morning you suppose that the beginning of your city-ness must have been your flight East from the suburbs. But, that seems to neat and clean of a conclusion even for a person with as great a love of all things tidy as yours. You remember loving cities in Europe in your twenties. Okay then, there is a beginning. No, you loved the city – every part of it, the smells, the decrepit, the majestic, the jungle trees taking up the streets – the minute you arrived in Guadalajara as a 17-year-old who believed the world was your own. So there, the starting point. No. New York at eight. No, looking out through the hazy air over LA as your plane landed to take you and your sophisticated five years to a summer with grandparents. Was that it? Maybe your love of cities is as intrinsic as your, how shall we say, independent nature. Yes. Perhaps.
Getting up with a stretch that sets the cats in motion, you are unsure why you are the only person in your home at this moment, but you don’t mind it. What will you do today on this sunshiny anniversary of your birth? You walk down the hallway to the bathroom and reach past the shower curtain turning the shower on and pause as the water rushes out.
This, perhaps, is the beginning.