I’ve been living in the United States for a little over a month now. Soon I’ll have been here longer than I ever have before. It’s a frightening thought, like standing at the edge of an oceanic abyss, only able to see so far, so deep before your light gutters and fades. Who knows what monsters might lie in those depths. Who knows what adventures might lie in wait for me.
At the moment I’m still greeting each day with my trademark childlike wonder. I’m a big kid at heart; too often I’ve been caught marvelling at snow or spending too long dawdling in the candy aisle. I don’t actually have much of a sweet tooth but thus far I’ve been intent on spending our limited funds on sugar. I’ve started a collection of ludicrous breakfast cereals–the kind America’s famous for–which so far consists of Marshmallow Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Waffle Crisp. I’ve also picked up various other cookies and candies that hang out in together on a shelf above our clothes. Our room is a fat kid’s dream come true.
And it’s an American dream. Out in the suburbs, with almost enough room for three adults, three kids and a dog to live comfortably (if there weren’t complications) we’re surrounded by oddly shaped homes that look like they’ve fallen from every US TV sitcom I’ve ever seen.
I’ve started to explore my surroundings. Before, it’s always been too intimidating to wander too far from my temporary home. I’m still not clued up on basic American road safety and the cars here are so big. Larger, heavier, boxier, they’re a small boy’s idea of perfect automobiles, a far cry from the small, fun European models from back home. Drivers are more aggressive, reckless, willing to pull dangerous maneuvers to reach the destinsions a few seconds ahead of time. More than once while shopping we’ve been penned in by drivers too eager to steal our parking spot to realise they have to let us out before they can have it.
But this is my home now, and if I don’t get used to braving its walkways I’ll be stuck inside permanently once more–something I never want to happen again. It helps having the dog to walk. People don’t question a lone walker if he has a dog accompanying him.
And so I’ve taken to walking the dog twice a day. My oldest niece escorted me the first time, showing me to the park hidden in a knot of green land at the centre of this particular estate. The estate reminds me a lot of the ones I’ve left behind: there are the same lengths of hay-strewn grassland with the same towering pylons humming along them. There are secret streams and sheltered glades, but they have a sheen to them, an artificial polish. The stream burrows beneath the main road, its entrance and egress marked by rows of white pebbles, and the glades have play parks in them, where local hooligans have broken one of the seats and wrapped it around the crossbar.
“This is the slide,” said Kayla, showing the foreigner around town. “This is the basketball court.” She spotted the broken swing and her face fell. “Oh,” she said. “They would.”
She wouldn’t say who the mysterious ‘They’ were.
That same night a couple kids got into a fight on our street. Some things never change in the suburbs.
The landscape shifts as the seasons pass. The same could be said of anywhere, I suppose, but the undulations America undergoes are far more violent then those back home. There are so many things happening throughout the year, so many holidays to celebrate and so many decorations to put up. Even between events houses wear stars and stripes–further up the road one house has a star spangled hot air balloon bobbing on its porch. The country feels built upon the shoulders of a sleeping giant. Every rise and fall of his chest ushers in a new lick of paint: the colours of the season.
Two streets over, past wireframe angels and mailboxes nailed to collapsing wooden frames, a car the dog and I passed had a sticker in the window: “Fight war, not wars. Kill power, not people.” A couple hours later, pushing a boxed Christmas tree around Home Depot I saw a man with pot belly and pigeon chest swaggering in dirty clothes; on both his shirt and his baseball cap was an American flag.
It’s a strange country. Pride unites the members of this broad-gened clan. Insult their country too harshly and they feel wounded and angry, as if you’d said something bad about a member of their family.
Which I have done, too often. Lindsay thinks I’m unhappy: I’m not. It’s dizzying to see her every morning, to hold her every night. We act every bit the delirious newlyweds, slow-dancing in shopping aisles, having candlelit suppers while the world screams around us.
But those screams are too loud. I find my patience stretched by circumstances beyond my control–or not beyond my control, but beyond my willingness to tamper with them. Personalities clash on an almost subliminal level and my sympathies wax and wane with the tide. I want to be happier–I want to be as happy as I am at times, all the time. I don’t want to be mired as I sometimes feel, caught in a quicksand of filth and familial disarray. I want to make things better for everyone, but especially so for myself.
And we live here, for the moment, until we find a new place and can move onto more petty squabbling. We’re stuck bearing the brunt of a careless load and oh, our shoulders ache.
I worry how much further my patience can stretch before it snaps viciously.
But there’s a family here that existed before I arrive and will continue to exist should I leave. I’d rather not break it, as I’m worried I might.
I’m so conflicted. Doing ‘the right thing’ was never this difficult when I was on my own.
It’s all very new: the interactions and implications of being social. We’re supposed to be meeting up with the newlyweds whose marriage we attended at the start of my visit–sorry, my move–to do ‘something double-datey’. It’s totally alien to me, the eternal loner, who now finds himself with a wife, who has friends, who have husbands I should realliy get on with. I don’t know how ro get on with anyone; I only know how to be nervous, as nervous as I usually am.
I worry whoever I am now will be subsumed beneath awkward pauses, stammering and a lack of communication. It’s very possible.
On the way home from the shops yesterday I caught a scent in the air: the sweet, sour, cinnamon coffee smell I’ve come to associate with America. I wondered if it was the smell of home people missed when they felt homesick, and I realised I’d never smell that smell again, or see my bedroom, my house, that even if I returned tomorrow everything would be different, everything would have changed.
Like a genie summoned by the very thought of its name, homesickness appeared. Just a little: a forerunner of melancholy still to come.
With my first month come to a close, I don’t know my place here any more than I knew what it was back home. I feel more responsible here; I feel more like a man. I can be strong, yet tender: I can still be a big kid at heart but that heat holds more care and love than I knew was ever possible. This afternoon, immediately after finding a lost and much-needed car manual I ‘rescued’ my damsel wife from a bird that had flown in through the open garage and was fluttering about the house. It had rebounded off the french windows a number of times trying to find its way out, perched on the cooking utensils, then half-brained itself on the dining room window. I found it sat at the edge of the window sill, behind the curtains. It didn’t move at my approach, so I took a tea towel from the kitchen and gently–so gently it felt I was holding nothing–I picked it up. The little thing shrieked as I spoke to it calmly, reassuring that I was letting it go even though there was no way it would understand me.
I took it outside with the idea of throwing it into the sky grandly like a pigeon fancier tossing his birds into the air, watching it take flight to wheel and soar and disappear. Looking at it, this small, fragile bulge between my hands, the dream evaporated. I set it on the law na few metres from the house and left it there. When I returned after reassuring Lindsay the bird had been dealt with, it had gone. There was no fanfare. There was no wheeling,
I have to get better at this. This new version of myself is still in his infancy but he’s mature and responsible–and he has potential.
“You’re my hero,” said Lindsay, her words half ironic, half thankful.
Maybe I can be a hero here. I hope so.