1.23.2013

For Jen: We're singing a song/We don't care if were wrong.

J--
Two of my besties in New York, Namel and Eva, just went overseas for the first time, just a couple weeks ago. They're in London right now and I love seeing their pictures populate on the internet, especially knowing they'll be back stateside soon with freshly stamped passports and stories. I say this like I will be in New York to greet them, but no. I am not and I wont be there. I'm not entirely sure when I'll be back there.

I'm at my sister's house in Atlanta; I've been here about two weeks now. My niece, who is six and shares my birthday, is just fucking absolutely delighted that I've been here for so long. We've fallen into a routine where she comes home from school and I help her do her workbooks, then we all have dinner, then we play cards until she has to go to bed. She hugs me goodnight every night, tells me she loves me, and promises to see me the next day. Her name is Sanaa'Mati, and sometimes I call her just 'Mati' and watch her nose crinkle and a giggle escape. "Why are you callin' me that?" she'll ask and I tell her it's so we'll have the same initial, too. She asked me a question the other day before dinner.

"Auntie Ran, do you know what verma means?"
"Verma?" I repeated the word as best I could, but I had a feeling it was coming from her tongue in a manner that it was not originally placed in her head.
"Yeah. Uh...verma. Ver-ma. It's supposed to mean sick."
"Oh! you mean enferma, don't you?" I asked, then switched to a funny voice, one imitating a heavy smoker or someone stricken with bronchitis, "Estoy enferma, no puedo ir a l'escuela hoy." My display of simple Spanish sent her careening into giggles, and she asked me what it meant. I told her that's what you say when you want to get on an airplane, and then I laughed with her wondering if her proclivity for languages means she'll grow to have the same wanderlust as I.

I remember all those flights between Miami and Seattle, don't you? It all began ten years ago this year; all those months of radio silence, me, teary-eyed and buying flights to London for Lauren and I, a slow eight months of reconciling with Sam but never seeing you. And then, Aaron and Timmy crossing the path right beside Peter Smith and I back in Seattle, as if no time had passed, and within half an hour I was tight inside your arms telling you that I loved you and asking you if you'd seen Matthew. And then, of course, there's everything that happened after that. Including all those airplanes.

Yesterday, on a wild tear, I asked my niece to go grab her guitar because I had decided that we were going to play the guitar. Her Dad was at work and her Mom, my sister, was at the grocery store and I sent her to her room to retrieve a tiny pink six-string, and I tuned it's nylon strings on my iPhone.
"Now what?" she asked, wondering what song I was going to play.
"Now we learn C." I replied.
"What's C?"
"C is a note. It's like...the first note. It's the 'one' of notes," I said, angling Lakricia's screen towards us so we could more clearly see the chord chart I had pulled up, "and this is how you play it."
"What about the rest of them?" she asked frustratedly.
"The rest of the notes, you mean?"
"Yeah. My Dad knows all of those."
My niece lost interest quickly, but when her Dad, my brother in law, returned from the wide world, he found me cross legged on the living room floor trying to play a D chord.
"Hard to play that tiny thing?" He laughed.
"Well, yeah, but easier than a real guitar," I paused, noting he looked puzzled, "I don't play the guitar. I play the ukulele. But I dated this guy. He was an alcoholic and he was drunk and it broke." My brother in law laughed out loud.
"You play the ukulele?" my niece screeched, "Ooooooh, you gotta go get in the car and get another one, and then you can ukulele with me and you can teach me how to ukulele. Ducka, ducka, ducka." She added the sound effect at the end to accompany a strumming motion with her hand, a bit of air-ukulele she was performing, you know, as if she was drawing her fingers up and down the aperture of my non-existant new instrument.
"Sanaa," I chided, "I can't just go out, right now, on a Saturday in the suburbs of Atlanta, and find a ukulele somewhere. That's crazy"
"Actually," her dad said, "There's a music store a couple miles from here. You could probably find a ukulele there right now. For twenty bucks."

I'm here in Atlanta because I needed a plan, Jen. Because I didn't know where else to go. Because I thought I could come back from Melbourne and stay in New York and make all these sacrifices all for a months lease on a new boy far away. I tried, I did. But all that happened was that it all just felt too fucking familiar, all of that thick, overwhelming longing that comes with missing someone and somewhere, and it was so, so cold, and I was sick and tired of sleeping alone in my other lover's bed while he was away and I was getting more and more confused as to who I was supposed to be missing.

I tried, Jen. I tried to figure it all out then but nothing made sense, and I didn't know any better than to iron my best black dress and interview for some high paying job that could grant me enough money to plant me back in Melbourne in as little time as a few months. But then it started snowing, and I dropped off my leather jacket in my storage unit and traded it for a long down parka, and even that wasn't enough to keep the cold from my skinny limbs while I pounded the unforgiving New York pave, and it wasn't enough to keep me from returning to the wrong boys' silent bedroom at night only to shakily peel it's length from me because, even with it's substantial hood and slick nylon shell, it just wasn't enough to keep the rain from my skin. And then one day I walked that half mile south again to retrieve all my archives, and from them, when I got them back to bed and bent the thick spine of my travel journal, fell a single loose photograph. I picked it up from the comforter, turned it to face me, and gazed not upon a photo I had taken myself but rather one of yours, from the Louvre, of the enigmatic marble sculture Cupid and Psyche.

My niece is right. My brother in law, her dad, does know the rest of the chords. He knows them because he's a musician, and yes, I'm telling you that my sister married a rockstar, and yes, I know exactly what you're thinking. Does it run in the family? Yeah, I mean, I guess so. Is that a thing that can even run in a family? I mean, I don't really know, I have no idea if it's possible to have a genetic predisposition to dating musicians, but I can tell you that my sister and I are more alike than I could have ever imagined in the long 27 years I was alive before my arms finally encircled her long, slender neck. A neck that looks identical to mine.

I've never really figured out why I keep returning to them, all of these musicians I mean, but I think it has something to do with needing something irrational; the notion that against their better judgment they still strive to achieve a dream that a such relative few will ever attain. They're statistically destined to fail before they begin, and yet they keep writing, keep rehearsing, keep recording. They continue to spend lazy Tuesday's off from a thankless job perched in their living rooms with guitars in their laps dreaming up new dreams because the previous ones have already been dashed. I respect that, I guess. I value that way of thinking: that ability to pick yourself up and try again against all odds.

I know you remember that year, that one we spent as the three of us after I left Florida, and we rifled through boys like playthings, and it didn't seem yet like a pattern until our birthday when I draped myself across the bassist in your Dad's band and fucked him in my little pink bed with my thigh-highs still on. I say "our" like I mean mine and Sanaa's: our birthday. But you know, Jen. You know that in this instance I mean Matthew's and mine.

It's romantic in an old-fashioned way, don't you think? To love someone from afar? It was for us all those years ago when we'd cue up the same song in our respective corners of the country, clutching our telephones like they harnessed us together, and we'd sing oh, Jen, oh how distance has a way of making love understandable. 

Those miles are a hurdle that requires you to fight for that love, and so rendering it more valuable, all without the inconvenience of conflict. I think this phenomenon is what people are referring to when they relate cliches about what distance does to your heart.

I knew it was wrong, Jen. Back then, with Matthew, but it was all just so blinding. It was so goddamned romantic. And yeah, I mean romantic in a sort of Shakespearian way that actually connotes tragedy, but you know what I mean. You were there. Our best friend was in a goddamned cult and I was just so fucking mad at her, and she had just fucking ripped her teenage boyfriend's heart completely apart and traded him for a pony-tailed financier or insurance salesman or something equally as boring that I can't remember. But when I found that little broken boy, his tiny frame suspended about that broken heart that I saw patched together with songs, I had to have it. I wanted nothing fucking more than to take the guitar from his lap and sit there myself. I just had to. And I guess I thought that when all the distance was removed that everything would fall right into place, that the struggle was over, but now I know that's not at all how these things work.

For one, you can't ever take their guitars from their laps.

And it's not just the musicians, it's all of them--the poets and filmmakers and painters and designers and sculptors--all of these creatives have to work twice as hard for half the successes and you can never expect to extricate them from their work; they're one in the same. So Jen: why the fuck have I repeatedly let them do that to me?

I've been on the verge of tears for weeks. And I've cried too, yes, but that seems somehow inconsequential. This isn't like that winter ten years ago when I was so broken that I couldn't feel anything, but rather now I feel everything, all at once, and it started the day I realized exactly what I had to do.

Back when when my brother in law was signed to Virgin Records he used to tour with his band, and my sister, having finished a degree in Public Health at Clark was considering continuing on for a Masters in Human Sexuality in SF or Seattle. But then there was the wedding, and 'life' happened, as they say, both figuratively and literally, and then it was just too hard for my sister to be home alone with two kids while her husband was out there on the road with several weeks of shows. It's too easy to resent them for this, Jen. We see them out there creating their lives and we live to make sure that they can, and month after month we assume that one day, maybe soon, we will be repaid in kind. But we've never exactly asked for that, and now we're just still waiting.

Before I left for Melbourne my plan was to return stateside, catch a commuter flight to Miami, and then slowly make my way across the south until I left for Colombia. But within three days in Australia I knew I was desperate to stay, and within a couple weeks I knew I had to leave and come back, and then, yes, that month in New York I've already related to you. It seemed so simple at the time, I just thought that since I had no real plans and no real commitments then it should stand to reason that I'd have to be the one to return. The musician that I left behind in Melbourne has his work and his bands; how could I possibly ask him to leave that behind just to see me when I have nothing I can't postpone? But then on Christmas I watched it snow outside and thought about this past year and how I nearly didn't live to see it, and that's when I had the first inkling that I just can't fucking do this anymore.

You heard correctly earlier: my sister has two kids. There's Sanaa, yes, but she is joined by her older brother Kamau, who's birthday falls the day before ours. Last week the three of us were playing cards again, and at the climax of a game of Go Fish of which my little niece was victorious, she trotted off to her room having extended her attention span too far with card games.

"Kamau," I said, "Have you had fun with me? While I've been here?" There's a backstory to this, one he doesn't know about my other niece Alexis who is now the same age you were when I met you, and about how I sacrificed seeing her grow up to my need to see the world.
"Yeah, it's been awesome! Are you leaving or something?"
"Not yet, no. I'll be here for a little while longer. But Kamau, I wondered if we could talk. You're older than Sanaa, I can't talk to her about this, and I need you to hear me."
"Okay," he answered simply.
"I don't know when I'm going to see you again. It could be a long time, a really long time."
"Like...until Christmas?" He asked, incredulously.
"Like, until you're in Middle School."
"But...Aunt Miranda, I'm only in the third grade."

And then my young nephew and I shared a silence that he handled in a manner far beyond what his years might dictate.

It was late when I started writing the proposal, and it felt weird. I mean, I write all the time these days Jen, but this felt like it was happening to me rather than by me. And when I was done, I finished filling out all the forms, attached the 2500 word essay I had just written, and sent it on it's way along with my credit card information from which they would charge me about $14.73 on a good exchange day.

"Wait, where are you going? Australia?" My sister asked me after having overheard my conversation with her young son, "When are you leaving?"
"That's not exactly the case," I responded tentatively, "and I don't even know yet if I got in."
"Got into what?"
"Last night I...I applied to school in South Africa."

So Colombia, too, is back on the table. I could fly to Medellin tomorrow if I saw fit. And then? Bogota? Or Panama City--I have this new idea where I'd like to travel overland from Panama to Mexico by bus with naught but my backpack. And why not, Jen? What home do I really have to return to? There's my hometown, yes, but that's not home. Is it New York? I guess, but I just tried to stay there and felt the weight of the cold and my restlessness. Jen, I went to fucking Australia, and even bigger than the feeling of wanting to return is the feeling that nothing is impossible. Seriously Jen, I feel like I could do anything successfully these days save waste this moment chasing a boy who wont chase me back and, as I know I promised you, come home soon.

"Wow, really?" my sister asked of the news, "You know, there's this school in SF that I've always wanted to go to."

And so Jen, it seems that that amazing thing that I mused upon at a booth in the rear of a bar in Northcote, Victoria might be this, because it seems like this is the year when the Singleton girls go to Grad school. Moxie and Roxie have made our list of demands and expect them to be heeded, and on top of that I think I could squeeze 9 or 10 new countries into the next few months, and I already have designs on four new states. We deserve this Jen, it's our fucking birthright. Our fucking dad is long dead, not that he was ever around anyway, for either of us, and this was supposed the thing to teach us that we need no man to complete us. But therein lies the trap that we've found ourselves in over and over--this shit comes so easily to us so we never immediately see the problem in lending a hand. The thing we never anticipate is how many people will accept our help.

Not this year.

On Friday I leave for New Orleans to visit Lauren who accompanied me to London all those years ago. It's funny, Jen, I took her with me on that trip because I needed someone there to make sure that I returned. On our last day it started snowing on our way to Heathrow. Snow! We were two awestruck Floridians who danced about in the cascade; we were thrilled! Until, that is, we sat on our plane for almost seven hours while it was still parked on the tarmac before they finally just cancelled our flight. There was a moment when we were disembarking when I wondered if it was some sort of sign, one that maybe I should just catch the train back into the city and try and make a life rather than board a flight the following day.

I know that I've lived a big life, and I'm always the first one to mention it, and Jen, I'm not saying that I'm regretful, because I'm not. But I wonder. I wonder all the time what I might have done had I always been my own first priority. I look at your photo of Cupid and Psyche and think that maybe I shouldn't have spent my twenties chasing forbidden loves all over the country. I remember that although Melbourne seems exotic and foreign to me that it is Ryan's hometown that he has barely ever left and likely never will. I look into my little nieces face and wonder if she's just another Alexis, wonder if I'll have to painstakingly repair our relationship when she's in her teens.

I see Namel and Eva's pictures from London and wonder what would have happened if I had, ten years ago, gone there alone and never left.

But most of all I see you in my minds eye, the freckles in which are a mirror image to yours, and fuck, Jen. I miss you so much. But I feel at home out here in this great wide world, so maybe, Jen, I've finally arrived.

I love you. More than you know.

XOXO--M

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