Saturday, July 24, 2010

Perhaps I'm just too negative.

Going home is a difficult thing for me, as I imagine it is a difficult thing for many of us. I find myself at odds with my own family. My father, from whom I am many years estranged, was appallingly bigoted. My sister seems to have adopted some degree of this into her own personality, as well as our mother’s more abusive traits. I've spent the past week reliving far too memories vicariously through my nephew.

My grandmother is cruising from senile and into the happy land of dementia, where grandchildren steal socks and plot to keep her children apart from their hot dogs. An aunt with whom I have nothing in common, and who shrieked at me for years, has turned out to be remarkably pleasant. The catch here is that she’s remarkably pleasant to everyone, and will agree with whatever outlandish thing that is said in order to keep from entering into quarrels. Apparently the lithium has made her a slave to avoiding conflict; a decided contrast to regularly seeking it out.

The houses here are not so dilapidated as they once were. This is a good thing, but jarring when I go to find my old friends with their tag-marked stucco and boarded windows. In their places are vibrantly colored vinyl facades with orderly, layered fenestration and well-manicured lawns. Dirt paths that once spilled onto pock-marked asphalt have been replaced by crisp-edged sidewalks, and forests of half-dead shrubs by orderly wrought-iron fences. Sure, these are wedged in between the familiar lawns of astroturf and tiny, run-down boxes holding too many people, but there is a steady invasion of the Unfamiliar.

Signs reading “KEEP OUT,” and “Beware of Dog,” have been replaced with friendly invitations to open houses, or notices of impending sales. I can sit on the porch even after the sun has gone down, though I have only done so once. The novelty of the experience was unnerving, and I was quick to retreat indoors despite the amusing antics of the college-aged couple across the street. Mister Hill, who lived in the house that used to be where their yard is now, died last year. He is gone, as is his one-bedroom shack of a home with its smoke-colored fire scars.

The neighbors are all new, and different. There are white faces that peer at me with suspicion from behind their fancy window panes, and black ones that stare uncaringly from humid, uncovered porches. Where are my people? Where is mi familia? The neighborhood has changed, as has my family. I am becoming increasingly more displaced from my past. I have changed as well, and perhaps this is good. Perhaps all of this change is for the better.

Still, I cannot help but wonder. Dirt lots and blight that we once fought to turn into parks and playgrounds get developed into condos and car dealerships. I feel my way along this place, seeking out shortcuts that no longer exist, and flounder at the lack of community. The fabric of it seems torn. Perhaps it is just that I have been gone so long that I have become a stranger. Perhaps it is just that I can no longer see the togetherness that helped so many of us through the hardships of living in a money-poor environment.

Where I live now, there is a small semblance of community. It is constructed of false pretenses and polite mannerisms. It is built on a foundation of should. I am not polite. I do not subscribe to a world in which a person’s value is determined by the brand label on the purse she carries, or how new the hot little sport car he drives might be. I have alienated myself from the men who gather about their grills every Saturday, as well as the women who sit at plaid picnic tables and gossip about so-and-so’s unorthodox yard treatment. Now and then I will dip my toes along the edge of that pool, feeling out the waters of those who don’t mind that I have been known to leave my house in drag, and that I took down the other neighbor’s support prop8 signs from the public easement.

My ties to the past grow fewer and frayed. My family is largely a group of strangers whom I can scarcely pretend to enjoy, for I know them all too well. My neighbors remind me greatly of many things I find distressing about society, from its consumerism to its intolerance. Where do I belong? Where do I fit? Where is the place where life is more than just Live & Let Live? Where is the place where it is Live & Help Live?

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