Have you ever been in a car wreck? Or fallen hard at something? For me, it first came in a mosh pit at 15 when suddenly an elbow made direct contact with my face and I went down, sweaty and stunned, with pieces of my teeth falling to the floor. Next, it came skiing in my early 20s, when my fear got the best of me on a steep face I shouldn’t have been on and I slid, unable to stop, down the side of a mountain towards rocks, breathing like someone drowning. The feeling is almost like shame, the way it changes your inhale and exhale. I think it’s amazing how little our bodies are truly out of control and yet, how there are so many opportunities for the slide, for the impact. Mostly, we don’t. Mostly we keep our feet on the ground and when the slip, the fall, the skid happens, a body doesn’t know how to respond. But, also, it does. I think they call this shock and it happens instantaneously. Only now, what’s happening, is that I feel as if some part of my body has just struck that horizon, has just felt the impact where there is none. I catch it when I get in the car and pull out of the drive and feel as if a car is always oncoming and time slows, I brace for the contact. I brace for the disaster. But then, I turn left, and right and the road is clear and my heart flip-flops back into place and I press the accelerator onto an empty road.
So much is empty now. Where my life for half a decade has been filled to brimming with noise—with the sounds of sirens and wailing, the sound of wind in icy dark branches, with the smiles of my neighbors and their small dog in the morning, with the nearness of their love and beauty. With the static of junkies in the park, staring and keeping their distance but turning inside themselves to get close sometimes. With the scratching sounds of my neighbor’s lives all around me in their late-night waking. Noise and everywhere noise and then, tiny snatches of quiet that I lived for.
Here the road is dry. Rains sometimes come and briefly there is mud, then ruts, then dust again. I walk it every morning, a dusty little corridor past ten barking dogs and up to a plateau where I wander through sage before making a loop home. On the road, doors are closed; I see no faces. The sky, enormous again. I climb through tendrils of sagebrush, watch rabbit footprints appear in the snow, feel my face turn red and chill, feel my solo breath. I don’t know anyone around me on this street and I sit for hours alone in the window of my house just watching clouds. It is all I’ve wanted and now, again, I am a foreigner inside of it. I am pushed up against nothing, suddenly. And so, perhaps now it is why my body imagines the fall, the impending doom, the break, the slide, the moment when all this stillness ends and begins again.
Coming home hasn’t been easy, as it turns out. It has been beautiful, but not easy. People change, I’ve changed. I only know how much now in the faces of my loved ones here. On a cold afternoon, Suki and I sip chocolate and as I look in her inexplicably steady eyes, I tell her I can’t trust my mind. She laughs. She knows. She fearlessly tracks me, loves me. “Our threads together grow stronger,” she reminds me. I tell her I feel so many breaking around me though and how it seems that so many have been cut since I arrived back here. At first it was with my father, when I thought I needed him most. Then my sister, when I too thought I needed her most. But family is family and like bubbles rising to the surface, a teapot appears and tea and a welcome home. In a warm room, our arms go back around each other and as it turns out, you cannot ever stop loving your family, with all their imperfections and with your own. You may not be quite as close as you’d imagined but those threads are made of a thing that repairs itself over and over again, no matter.
With other things, other places, it is much harder and the hurt lasts longer. After five years away I see some things more clearly and the town feels small. I feel tight and uncomfortable inside of it. I don’t go to town much or really, go out much at all. I am too busy feeling the quiet. When I do go out, I feel even more empty and unsatisfied. A friend and I sip manhattans and talk about Buddhism, that feels good. In that I feel the whirling of love well up but mostly, it is silent. I am silent too. I know it is time to let go of some hands, some embraces, some stories, some places. But they are all around me like ghost towns. I feel like a ghost myself. I bake bread late into the night and let me whole body move with the dough. I cut vegetables, I salt them and ferment them; I melt chocolate and make a cake; I make a pie; I pick grapes and cook them down to nothing and keep them in jars, for sweetness later. I do all these things to remind me that I am here. I try to bring my body back here, over and over again, before the sky carries me away again.
Voices that have shaped me, need to cease and fall silent. I didn’t expect any of this. I expected it only to feel like my body was butter, being saturated in the pan, turning to liquid, wrapping itself around the things added in as everything is turned warm.
I know why people leave home. And I know how that too begins empty and slowly, fills. And I know why we come back and how that is a wholly different kind of draining, of emptying and refilling. I know the quiet and the noise. I love both. I miss Kristina and her kids, Ben and the fireflies, the ocean, Alison, Lucas, the park, Anupama and her husband who felt like home and fed me everything I needed to eat, Susan who keeps me strong, Nancy who always keeps going on and taught me too, to keep going, Louise who was just, my person, Meg, so many. I name them again and again in my mind. I memorize their voices. I keep them, like words on a page. I miss a life I was so happy to leave. I am so happy I am here, even with the emptiness. This too, is a part of the mystery.
This morning as I walked, the sky was blown around in the wind. I too, move like currents of air. A dark wall of cloud covered the mountains but sun shone on me and everything felt rushing. As I got to the little rise, with Nia out in front of me, I saw a tiny flock of mountain blue birds. We have jays here; I’ve seen a lot in the lowlands where the juniper grows but these were different, actual, tiny bluebirds. I maybe have never seen them here and yet I didn’t not imagine them. They lifted their wings in the wind, I breathed as they took off, from the wire of fence and glided through the sky above me. A boon, a thing out of place, beautiful nonetheless.