Admittedly, Virginia in the summer is a swamp. Nevertheless, I’m surprised by how intently my friends here seem to hate it.
With cheerful resignation, sure–but their constant deprecation never ceases to…well, “flabbergast” is too strong a word. (I don’t care for it, anyway). Maybe “appall,” in a low-key way, is what I mean.
I’m not trying to be hard on them. They were sent here; it wasn’t something they chose. Their kids are growing up and out of the house. They have tiresome churches and sinus headaches and warping floors and unfulfilling work to deal with.
You have to put the blame for those things somewhere, and a place is as good as any. Especially when it’s a place you didn’t choose.
I’ve just come back from two weeks in a place where, as a high schooler, I swore was the last place I’d ever live. A place that will leave you fried and disoriented faster than a peyote trip, where it turns out even your chin will sunburn if you don’t keep it covered.
This was a terrible indignity to me, as I have never had a sunburn on my chin before. Also, I have never felt my circulation cut off from the waist down, just (presumably) for having sat outside too long.
Yet I contemplated staying there…I still think about going back. Because of the people I now know.
Of course, knowing them was only possible after learning how to function within the demands of the environment.
- Not to drink coffee unless it was way watered down.
- That it’s easier to mop the floor every night than to let the dust collect invisibly until a wet foot one day turns the tile from white to black.
- To get up early, nap really well, and stay up late.
- To drink two glasses of water every time I think of drinking one.
- And how to make electrolyte water with lemons and baking soda.
Once I became functional, I could stop being afraid that I was going to implode or crumble or melt, I could see clearly. And what I saw still makes me think about going back.
Which is as it should be. There are reasons why people have made their lives there, and I found out what those are.
As a writer and as a human, that’s my very greatest thrill. It’s two of the same kind, coming at the same time. Is anything better than that?
It’s so comfortable here–so clean and antiseptic inside, so fertile and heavily green outside. The humidity has filled in the deep creases that the desert put in my skin. The rash has nearly disappeared from my knees. My hair doesn’t feel like a fire hazard anymore. There is thunder and heavy clouds nearly all day; the streets are flooded on either side, so that I have to run down the middle of them to keep my feet dry. I am forgetting, once again, to drink water.
But here, too, there must be things that make people stay. Not everyone can go away in the summer, of course, but surely there be a few people who don’t want to, who love the summer as well as the winter.
These are the best people to know in a place–the people who are anchored by their love for that place.
Which leads me to wonder if the reason we leave places behind is necessarily because we’ve found something better, or because we simply haven’t looked for the best where we already were?
Since leaving the house today, I’ve talked with Morgan, who handles cheese at Whole Foods and was extradited from Trinidad; Regine, a cashier at CVS who invited me to come back and practice French with her; Brack, a massage therapist who sagely told me “Our passions are the cause of our pain;” and, finally, Dan, the phlegmatic aspiring sports agent who invited me to attend his swim meet tomorrow, and started talking about his dad.
“He’s one of the best dads you could ever ask for. He always works late. He says he wanted to do something else, but he doesn’t really expand on it. He’s never wanted to do what he’s doing. He always seems like he’s happy with his job, but he’s not. But he does his best for us.
“It’s like why don’t you get a job that you like? He always says, I’m just trying to support you guys.”
Dan shrugs philosophically.
“So, you know, when I’m out of the house…”
I don’t recall how these conversations started. They just did. They just happened.
And these people aren’t anywhere else but here. For some reason.
Don’t you want to know the reason? (Even if…especially if…here is such a shitty place?)
Even if you hate it here, doesn’t it make you want to stay a little longer, to find out?