Can you see me? I’m the little bump of anxiety and tics and twitches surrounded by boxes and rolled-up carpets and coiled computer cords. I don’t like to sound paranoid, but they’re closing in on me. We unpack, we unroll, we uncoil — but they continue to be fruitful and multiply.
My office in our old house, which was at ground-level, looked out on a green yard full of trees and grass. The only noise was our neighbor’s leaf-blower. Once a day, the postman crossed our yard to deliver circulars and bills and an occasional invitation.
Here, in our new condo, we’re on the seventh floor. Not high, as high rises go, but stratospheric if you’re from West Texas. Nearby buildings and parking garages loom, flags flap in the breeze, endless lines of cars rumble past (Austin, I should add, was just designated the city with the third-worst traffic in the country, behind Los Angeles and some other city I can’t recall. So, my city is now the Live Music Capital of the World with a growing number of vehicles in gridlock. That may be too long to go on a bumper sticker).
From my new office, I can see a bridge over the lake, the distant hills that begin the Texas Hill Country west of Austin, pedestrians strolling along the sidewalks. This isn’t New York City, where people are clustered everywhere, pushing to get through the throngs; this is a new kind of Southwestern urban — roomier, slower. The people who work downtown are mostly well-dressed and purposeful-looking. The musicians wear black outfits and angular eyeglasses; their hair is spiky and their tattoos spread over their limbs like mass-transit maps. The tourists — and they’re a growing number, since our city has been widely designated as Cool — lumber along, many of them riding Segways; with their helmets and ramrod posture, they look like an invading army from a distant planet where people buy lawn mowers when their midlife crises hit.
It’s a new world we’ve rushed into — busy and plush. I like it, I keep telling myself. And I do like it, will like it. But, right now, it doesn’t quite fit. How can you feel at home when everything’s unfamiliar and you can’t quite get your footing?
The sky darkens and the city lights up. I watch the scene and think of the literature I’ve read about babies and their inherited temperaments. On the one hand, you have the baby who’s delighted by surprises and new experiences. On the other, you find a baby who cowers and cries when novelty presents itself. I always knew the baby camp I’d fall into.
On the still other hand — and this would make a third, I know — I left that baby behind decades ago. You leave your house, you leave your childhood, you walk away, confident that you’re whole. But you’re never really intact or unscathed, are you?
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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