Looking Out From the Seventh Floor

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)

Read a related post about fickle affections and purses

13 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    As always, you nailed it, Ruth. This is my favorite line:

    “The musicians wear black outfits and angular eyeglasses; their hair is spiky and their tattoos spread over their limbs like mass-transit maps.”

  • Give it time, Ruth, give it time. I think the first year anywhere new — no matter how much you like it — is discombobulating.

  • You are definitely not intact or unscathed when you scatter hands, let alone babies, in your wake — especially when they are tossed from the seventh floor.

    Moving house is a good time to embrace metaphor, even if the splat is a wee bit less satisfying.

  • Uhm, it exactly what world are Segways cool?

  • And there you have it, folks. Ruth has reached the doorstep of her second childhood. And it’s a condo doorstep, at that! And on the seventh floor. Magical, mystical seven. Will Ruth forgive her enemies seventy times seven? Blog about them? Or maybe just plug in her iPod (bought downtown) and cool slide into a break-dance of the seven veils? Only her chiropractor will know for sure.

  • I am thinking about you and your move. Your previous post, about your mother made me think of my recent trip with my son (so sorry I missed you). We stopped in San Diego to see my sister. I would like to blog about that, but can’t because she reads my blog. But you are lucky to have such a comfortable relationship with your sister. Perhaps that makes up somewhat for the lack with your mother.

  • I know that feeling well – being excited about the new, but still feeling tethered to the familiar. I predict that slowly you will begin to feel at home and love your new home….with a little of that third hand sticking around.

  • OH I feel your pain! We just took a trip to NYC and I was so suddenly aware of my need for quiet nature. Good luck! I wish you all the best. Stumbled across your blog and am loving it. Reading back blogs to catch up a bit. Thanks for the inspiration. May I give you a shout out in my blog?

  • It’s just that it’s unfamiliar right now, but it won’t always be.

    This is my first visit. I love your descriptions.

  • Fantastic post as usual, Ruth. I assume you’re going to scout the neighborhood and find a quiet park you can walk to. After all, you loved the rush of New York, surely Austin seems rural compared to that–bad traffic and all.

  • Oh, I think I understand this incredibly well, yet you capture it more perfectly than I ever could. I think change is incredibly hard in a lot of ways. By the way I just love the characters in your novel! I love the way they deal with change, and with what seems like lives moving nowhere, at the very same time.

  • I spent my early years in Hobbs, NM and have lived in beautiful Western NC for 35 years. Your article made me think that I am ready for a move. Thanks as always for your wonderful blogs.

  • I understand. I’m a well-rooted girl, and the idea of moving would unnerve me too. I’m not an urban girl, so I can see how the new view, the new everything would take some adjustment.

    Hang in there. I’m sure you’ll feel settled with time.

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