Coming home has been strange.
It is strange to be born somewhere, and then to feel distant from that. It’s not that you fit in somewhere else. No, certainly not that. It’s just noticing a progressive removal from your own culture, and then being suddenly thrown into about a thousand realizations about your existence, and being acutely and unequivocally alone in that.
At some point in history, this would be what we’d call a pariah. At another point in history, we’d call it a witch. Insert Monty python reference. At another point in history, we’d call the outcast a Jew, or a fag, or a slave, or a myriad of other hideous offensive comments. I do not pretend to share this lot in life. My life is altogether highly tolerable and I have yet to endure physical or verbal torture at the hands of someone else. However, this feeling of complete isolation from everything around you, this feeling of floating alone at sea, is something I do claim to know a bit about.
It is this being adrift that is cause for most of my melancholy lately. Moroseness eats holes in my sails like moths. I flip through memories of the last year or so, fondly turning mental pages and longing for those days now lost forever. Though there were definitely times of torment, I now hold them with reverence, as though they were my most prized trophies at the tippy top of my proverbial memory trophy case. Made entirely of glass I’d imagine. One might even call it a “glass case of emotion”. Har har har.
I amuse myself too much sometimes. It’s not very good to make jokes with yourself. Its not very good being the only person who can console you when you’re in a downward spiral.
Yes, the trouble is being inconsolable.
“What is your big issue??” says independent/driven Alicia. One of my many personality profiles. She is a favorite of mine and I try to coax her out of hiding more often than some of my less useful personalities. For example, I try my absolute hardest to ward off tragic/melancholy/chain-smoking Alicia, because in all honesty she can just be a real piece of work. And also weepy/needy Alicia is intentionally kept at bay until she pries her cold, ravenous hands from out of the personality closet. She is my nemesis, and I will defeat her one day or bob’s my uncle … that’s how the saying goes right?
Do you ever feel like all the worst parts of you are loosed at once?
This is yet another description of my current mental state. You are still reading so let me apologize for this. And thank you for reading. The self-pity has evaporated for the time being and I promise it won’t return for at least 1500 words.
I want to talk about memories.
The ones you relive in your mind a thousand times.
Warning, I am now releasing nostalgic/sentimental Alicia intentionally. Like how a pokemaster releases a Pokémon, “Nostalgia-tender-fondness … GO!”
Memories are my favorite of all mental faculties, which makes me afraid of Alzheimer’s with a crippling fear that would lead me right off the edge of a cliff. To remember something is so crucial for a human being because it helps us to navigate ourselves through the days to come. Without memory we have absolutely no bearing as to where we are going and what we are doing. People remember doing things they regret and then in theory they correct themselves later and prevent a similar outcome. Conversely, people remember a positive outcome and try to duplicate that. I would say that memories with positive connotations are the stronger force of the two. Like how people often overlook regrettable memories if there is even the slightest chance that pursuing a certain pathway might lead to more positive memories. Even if that certain pathway will most definitely also lead to more painful memories, the good somehow trumps the bad. And this is the birthplace of codependency.
This phenomenon is something I think my generation is lousy with. In both senses of that word. First, we are lousy with it because we are somehow inept with identifying the things in this life that have a degree of lasting value. Secondly we are lousy with it because we are constantly chasing these effervescent ideas of “the perfect night” or “the perfect man/woman”. Our existence is consumed by these things. We mindlessly pine for “the perfect life”. We are so deluded by things with empty promises. We are like moths to the flame, and the flame is euphoria. Euphoria is fancy Greek happiness. We sometimes idolize escapism as a means to achieving some momentary bliss. But what if this bliss is false, and what if everything we have learned to attach to this bliss as a probable outcome actually leads to cavernous personal emptiness? What if we all constantly fall into a big fat lie that bliss is the most important pursuit?
When I was in India I felt alone in a very similar sense as to how I do now. I was the tall, pale, stranger. Also I was/am female and this seemed at times a cause of concern for some people there. Furthermore I’ve been known to enjoy an ill-advised escapade or two, which drew extra attention to my presence (as if I wasn’t already painfully obvious), and also highlighted the fact that I am actually a very strange girl. Especially in India. It was like I was everything peculiar about white people incarnate in one body, and everywhere I went, the eyes of the multitudes would follow. This causes a feeling of being an alien in a place that you don’t belong. I can’t be sure but I think this is why Britney Spears shaved her head. Alone is definitely what I felt for the first while being in India, and is definitely what I am feeling now amongst all the familiar sights of my childhood, grain elevators and two-storey house cutouts in a middle class neighborhood. I drive through my hometown as an alien, and nobody even stares at me anymore. There’s nothing special about me here to cast me out, yet somehow I’m left standing apart from the rest of the Edmontonian bipeds. I speak their language but I can’t always communicate with them and I don’t know what the hell is the matter with everyone. “Why are you eating and driving at the same time? Why don’t you look me in the eyes for longer than 1.5 seconds? How many groceries can one household possibly ingest?? If you hate your job so much than why don’t you QUIT?? WHY IS THERE ANOTHER MALL BEING BUILT THREE BLOCKS FROM THIS ONE?? WHAT DO YOU MEAN MY PIZZA COSTS TWENTY DOLLARS??!!#@$!$%%@$%^?”
Let me tell a quick story about someone I met in Kolkata. I do not recall his name which actually somehow makes the story more poignant. This story is about a little boy I met in a train yard. I was with two of my friends who go and get to know kids from these types of areas, they buy them food and talk to them about life, and try to be nice to them in hopes they’ll feel like even two random people care that they exist. People in these circumstances are the outcasts of their society, especially the most vulnerable persons like women and children whom are preyed upon. Generally, they will not be able to attend school and the women will sell sex for money to feed their families. I try to sometimes imagine that being the only commodity I have to offer to feed myself and my dependants, and the thought of it makes me shudder. Tres les miserables. I’d do just like Causette and sell my teeth first but the persistence and inhumanity of grinding poverty would eventually crush my pride I am sure.
I remember meandering the refuse surrounding this one train yard, weaving through narrow cement corridors between buildings and finally coming to a sort of little camp built on a garbage heap. The reason we were at the train yard that day was to talk to the family of two of the kids we know and try and convince the mother to let her children return to school. Meandering through cement corridors and serpentine well-trodden pathways I noticed the buildings were becoming less and less built of things like bricks and more and more composed of bits of garbage. Tarps, rice sacs, sticks, cardboard. That sort of thing. Finding our way through this slum was obviously upsetting because of the state that people and children somehow manage to live in, but I think my brain could tell that I was on the verge of some sort of psychological break and so the raw and uncomfortable bits of this reality faded out to prevent a sensory overload and I was then only able to notice some things as a sort of survival mechanism. We meandered a bit more and eventually reached this home. The woman inside was cooking dinner, and her tiny garbage house was definitely built for Bengali people and not for my gargantuan Nordic self. But I bent over as much as possible and stood like a crooked tree, listening to her speak to my friends and ask them questions. This conversation was naturally not conducted in English and so I started to daydream and noticed some interesting things here and there. I noticed the fish she was cooking, tiny silvery translucent things with no scales and no eyes and circular mouths like spaghetti o’s. She was cutting the lips and the tails off on a rusty blade and chucking these little wretches into some tomato based curry. The thought of it still makes me reel. I hate fish and I especially hate fish curry and even more still I hate disgusting slum mutant fish curry. These fish hail from the holy Ganges, a teeming river of pollutants, which is run amok with all kinds of filth and toxic waste that has caused the fish to mutate and become the hideous creatures they are today. They are only eaten by the poorest of the poor because they’re loathsome and probably carcinogenic. But they are free.
Eventually the smoke from the cooking fire was starting to sting my eyes, so I found my way outside where there were some little kids staring intently at the white freak and the Nepali and the Anglo-Indian man that were standing in front of them. Fortunately I was able to break this awkwardness between us. I found some ribbon from a cassette tape that had been ripped out, and a broken piece of metal with sparkles on it and made a bracelet and tied it on one of the little girl’s wrists. She went and showed her mom and said “Auntie eta tikka che!!!” which means contextually, “The white lady is actually okay!!”. I had won them. We had all kinds of giddy fun after that.
Sadly our errand was a failure, and we were ultimately rejected by the mother who explained there was an older doctor who was interested in potentially marrying her 10 year old daughter, and so she would not be returning to school with us. My friends tried to explain to her in the most animated language that this person is obviously a child trafficker. Older successful doctors do not often go wife shopping in slums and to marry pre-pubescent girls from Dahlit families. But of course the mother chose not to see this. And at first it just made me filled with rage and I heaped fiery condemnation on this woman in my mind, but eventually I realized that perhaps I’d be less morally upright and idealistic if I was living in such a state of chaos and feeding my hungry family sewage fish for dinner and maybe the prospect of that small dowry for my daughter’s hand in marriage would be enough to give us a chance at eating normal food for a while, and maybe that prospect would be enough to push me to consider it as a valid option and ignore the red flags. Its too easy to sit and assess the choices of people we don’t understand, but starvation and poverty do terrible things to people, and I don’t think I’m able to blame any one of them for such actions while I drive around in my Honda with a sunroof so removed from the extent of their suffering.
As we walked out of the slum we crossed over a cement wall that divides the little garbage subdivision from a roadway, and this road was plastered in little cakes of animal (perhaps human) excrement which were drying in the sun to be sold for fuel to start fires and such. I breathed out of my mouth to combat the consuming stench and I watched all my little friends chase after us along the other side of the wall, blowing kisses and smiling at us with rotten teeth. “Auntie we want to come to the white school with you!!!” They shouted in Bengali. And I stopped to blow them kisses back and they reached over the wall to hand me various trinkets. A little plastic panda bear whose eyes were worn off, a tiny blue plastic car from a kinder surprise I think, a sparkly earring, and a plastic bracelet. I swear they might as well have been bits of gold. I haven’t ever loved any possession of mine more than I do these four things. I winced my eyes to keep my stupid tears at bay and I blew them kisses and told them I hoped to see them again soon.
On our way out of the slum is when we met this boy I mentioned earlier. He was no more than ten, I am sure he was high, the kids in this area sniff cheap glue that helps them cope I suppose. His complexion made him seem familiar because he looked Native to me. “Native” being Aboriginal Canadian or First Nations or whatever politically correct term you care to insert as a title. Because he looked Native he seemed like one of the kids from the youth center I used to work at. It was in a rough part of northeast Edmonton and that neighborhood has a really high Native population. It’s interesting to me that those kids are also frowned upon by their society, as if their existence is uncomfortable for the more affluent demographics to encounter. As if the wealthier parts of society would prefer them to never have been born. These have always been my favorite children, and I cry when I think about how they are handed their tragic fate the second they are born and then subsequently punished for it over and over until eventually they combust (metaphorically). They are my favorite children because when they are young they are so resilient and more often than not they respond so quickly and adamantly to any iota of positive affirmation, or attention from an adult. At this age it is as if they somehow haven’t had all the good battered out of them quite yet, and it is still possible to peel back those layers of hurt and rejection and see the beauty that lies within their precious hearts.
Anyways, this kid in the train yard looked Native and he was wearing a funny shirt that was almost virtuous, or ironic, or meaningful or … something. It said, “Don’t be so open minded or else your brain will fall out”.