New places. Intersecting the softened edges of my own difficulty, worn down by years of practice in new places. New places.
I have a little chair here, in this upstairs room I rent. It has been in my family for generations. The wood is carved and lovely, though it needs repair. And the upholstery my mother had redone when I was a child, too, is old now. I sit in it and drink tea. It faces a large window where I have a corner of sky to look out at over the 96 bridge. To the right is an old warehouse, it is busy and rehearsing its routine of noise. Out of view is the railroad track, so close that the sound is too loud to be comforting. Instead it wakes me in the dark. Beyond the tracks are three smokestacks. A trinity of thoroughfares: highway, train, work.
There were three smokestacks in Providence too, over the river. Iconic images of New England’s industrial past like an open wound and a badge of pride. Strangely, I miss that river and that place. I say strange because I fought New England for years. I turned my shoulder in futility against its grey winters and naked skies. I was so sure it was temporary. It was. Of course it was.
Tonight K calls on the phone from there. It’s been a painful, tear-filled week for both of us, one of breaking and loss. I can hear the sounds of her kitchen, and feel the sun in the windows and the air rising up from the still bay down the street in this early fall time. I know that air, and that light now and it has become a part of my vision. Her voice is comfort. The stories she tells are important. She puts the kids on the phone and they tell me all about their new lives, X in 1st grade, E is in kindergarten and tells me she is good at math and she is making sculptures. When we first met, E was a toddler who curled herself up in my arms and dried her tears on my shoulders. If it was another year of my life I would be in that kitchen and we’d have a glass of wine and talk over everything—our love and our worries.
Home is a word I think of a lot lately. The kind made of dust and sage and juniper I rub against myself in the Sangre de Cristos to know I am home. The ringing streets of my West End neighborhood, slick and imperfect. The joy and survival of walking Nia every season of the year, in light and in shadow.
And now, this place. The colors have only just begun to change. Out of the utility of saving money, getting a little exercise, not hunting for parking, I’ve been riding my bike every day to school. I listen to podcasts in my headphones and try to use that time to mentally prepare and unwind from my days on campus. My whole life has become about this program, precipitously, quickly. It’s a bit terrifying to have little sense of who I am outside of something I only recently entered into. There doesn’t feel like much space for much else. And even while it is a self-reflective process, I often feel flat and staid within it. I feel translucent.
But then, on maybe the 20th ride home on my little red bike, I see it all anew. Suddenly, I see the mirror reflections in the slow river, luminous red maples hanging in the late afternoon light, afire from within. I see channels of sun filtering down through dense trees. I ride by a park and smell the stands of goldenrod, and slow to watch a deer pausing in a meadow. I feel my body, and the sound of my bike as it rumbles over the small bridges I cross. I take that last turn and that last push up and over the bridge beside the highway, the hardest part of the journey and the moment I know I will be home soon. Home. A place. This place? But home is a feeling isn’t it? We have home by practicing it. The moment when something mundane becomes holy. Suddenly I don’t want this ride to end, but to go on and on into the dusk.
The truth is, my companion died this year. For the last decade, I practiced my home and my knowing by being with her, across states, and cities and years and losses and new beginnings. Her need for a walk was the thing that forced me out, into the world. I know I would have never done it on my own. She was ever cheerful and warm, bounding through snow up to her chest, chasing falling leaves in autumn. Now, I am not sure what to do. I don’t get up and walk with her first thing anymore. She is resting beneath the elm tree and under the lilacs, looking east forever.
But in the repetition of my 25-minute ride to school, beauty begins to open up again before me. It is how I am coming to know this new place, not through its words and gestures, but by its silences and repetitions. It is a place, in some ways that I do not want. Instead I want my sister and her babies in my arms, I want their endless laughter; I want huge skies; I want the big cold Atlantic ocean; I want my loved ones from all of the places: my western ones with their wide-open hearts and my eastern ones with their tight-willed loyalty and strength that held me up through every hard part of the last few years. I want their determined, sure grip on my life, the ones who know how to maneuver small boats in swift wind. The ones who held me in place. I want the tenderness of my family again. I want my lover, who is steadfast and adores me beyond my own conception of what love even means.
And also, I do want this. The growing, the deepening, the newness, the opening doors of what I can do and offer to the world. I want the ideas we share in these cold rooms. I want the magnificence of the brick and ivy of here and the glittering brilliance of the minds and bodies inside of this place. I want to come to know myself better through them, through this.
And so, I do my best to lift myself up out of the sorrow of new places.
I do it through practice, which as best as I know is repeating something until it becomes something else. I put K’s calendars on my wall—reminders of changing seasons, of the passage of time, of the turning of years across bodies, across my own body, across our voices, through our held hands and glances. I decorate my desk, with a picture of my grandfather with a huge kite on the shores of Lake Michigan, a painting of Taos in winter, a piece of art my mother made: blue, sharp, empty, Himalayan. I fill my eyes with you, my beloveds, who are so far away. I sit in my little chair to watch the leaves begin to fall, and wait for another winter to arrive.