Thursday, August 08, 2013

Rootlessness




Friends of mine posted a link to a New Yorker article about Breaking Bad and Albuquerque today.  My dearest lifelong friends, who are like family now, whom I can’t imagine not in my life, I met in Albuquerque when we were in high school. (I have to take a moment here to plug Tanya Ward Goodman's beautiful, aching memoir "Leaving Tinkertown" here, and not only because she is a friend mentioned above, but it's about New Mexico and is beautifully written.)  

I moved to New Mexico when I was in 8th grade to go live with my mother and step-father, desperate to escape my ill, difficult father and Omaha, Nebraska. I lived there until I was 21, desperate to escape New Mexico, what we jokingly called “the Land of Entrapment.” In every city I've lived in as an adult, I've known or met the New Mexicans my age who live there.

I feel a little odd, though, claiming New Mexico to be part of who I am, though it is the place I lived my formative years, developed formative relationships, and started on my path to personhood.  Still, as a friend pointed out when I visited a few years ago and was surprised by my difficulty breathing at that altitude, I had only lived there for eight years 20 years ago, with annual pilgrimages back until a few years ago, when my last close friend moved away. I am not a true native.

I still have a few friends there, and people who have moved back. I still feel comfortable in New Mexico as I don’t in most other places. My friend Brian would joke when I came for the holidays that I'd always get sick, as my body finally felt able to relax once I got back.  I'd spend two days in his family's mountain house, ill with some cold or strep, watching country music television and playing mahjong until I was healed enough to venture out.  The big sky I missed was the main reason I moved out of New York, realizing after a depression, a summer in Vermont, and downright exhaustion, that I missed the space of the West.

Somewhere, though, I still feel rootless. I was born in Florida, lived there for two weeks, St. Louis for 18 months, Omaha for 10 ½ years living in 6 houses and going to seven schools. I lived in New Mexico for 8 years, Seattle and Long Island for 3 each, New York for 8, and now Los Angeles for 9. I may break a record here.   My mother is from St. Louis where my grandmother and uncle still live, my Dad from Kansas and Ft. Worth, my step-father from South Dakota.  My mother, step-father, brother and his family live in Phoenix.

I guess the only thing I can claim is that I am a child of the West.  I loved New York while I was there, and love the people, I love Broadway, but I only feel free when I’m around mountains and trees.  My imagination, though, still lives a lot of the time in Manhattan. Who knows?

I am feeling the ache of rootlessness. I’d love to claim New Mexico as my home state, as it feels more home than any others to me, but in reality I’m a little bit all over. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a native, except of the country, and maybe of the Western United states.  I will, though, look for green chile and sopapillas wherever I can find them. When I see anyone with a zia tattoo, I ask if they are from New Mexico, or if they like the symbol, and what high school they went to.  I met a guy on the AIDS ride with a New Mexico Zia on his jersey. He said he'd been accosted all day by talkative New Mexicans who were excited to meet a fellow. I admit to that. I know I covet others' feelings of home the way they might admire my rootlessness.

My mother and grandmother joke that between me and my brother, I got the "Jew gene," even though we have different fathers -  his is Jewish while mine is not. It's a matrilineal descent by halakhah (Jewish law), so having a Jewish mother has made me Jewish in the eyes of most Jewish people.  My mother had a plant in the kitchen called a "wandering Jew." and those two words stuck together for me. A wandering people, in diaspora.  I looked up the word, and the definition is "a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area." If that's true, then all the people I went to high school with, all over the country now, are the New Mexico diaspora. They're the reason, when I moved to Seattle, I ran into people walking down the street I've known since high school and college.  Same with New York. Same with LA.  So maybe even though I'm a little rootless, the common experience pulls us together, despite our geography.

Years ago, in elementary school in Nebraska, we took a trip out to a national park west of Omaha. I remember a sign with mileage to Ogallala, in the center of the state, named for one of the native Souix tribes, the Oglala. I spent most of the time solo.  Up on a bluff, there were graves of pioneers, dating back to the 19th century.  Our guide mentioned Willa Cather being from Nebraska, and though I didn’t know who she was, I knew there was a school named for her. When I hear her name I think of that grassy bluff in Eastern Nebraska. We made crayon rubbings of the graves.  Little did I know that Willa Cather wrote her most famous novels about Nebraska and New Mexico, while living in New York. I guess we have a little in common, living in cities with imaginations that remain in other places.

3 comments:

Bernadette Murphy said...

Lovely work, Brad. Thank you for bringing me into your world. You are a precious human! xoxo Bernadette

Bernadette Murphy said...

Fabulous work, Brad. Thank you for inviting me into your world. You are a precious human in this mad, mad world. xoxo Bernadette

Criticlasm said...

Thank you!!