I was nine when I moved to California, a small child fleeing (with his mother) from the tumult of a failing marriage with a querulous, unpleasant stepfather. California was the promise land, the golden escape from terrors which, to this day, I cannot remember; a sanctuary from a nightmare I’ve all but blacked out int he joy of forgetfulness. (I say all but blacked out, but the scars lingered long; well into my thirties, my conflict-avoidance was pathological, I had a tendency to assume that anything which went wrong in the lives of anyone close to me was my fault, and I suffered from a constant fear that I would drive everyone away and live, alone and bitter, until the end of my days - all signs of emotional abuse the details of which I’ve squirreled away beyond all recall).
I have lived at least four different lives in California - the life of the miserable social outcast, the life of the arrogant nerd desperate to escape from home, the life of the socially awkward stoner computer programmer, the life of the moderately successful married computer programmer-cum-law-student. (In a different telling, these lives could stretch out to six, or maybe even seven, but I can’t shrink them to fewer than four).
My life in California is ending at the end of this month. I’ll be back to visit, but visiting is never the same, and distance changes even the strongest love (even if the connection remains strong, it is different, twisted somehow, and bears the marks of distance and the fact that your paths have diverged and that you are now at the same time both strangers and friends, bonded by an ancient glue which is no longer being nourished and renewed). It’s possible I’ll be back to live - today, I’d say I want to; my tribe is here, my friends and family, most of the people I love. But five years is a long time, and who can say what I will want in five years - and, who can say whether my tribe will still exist in five years to come home to? It cannot be counted on, it cannot be expected; it cannot, in some sense, even be hoped for. If I were to come back, I would be starting yet another new life, with shared scenery and some shared friends, I would not be resuming the life I have today. That life is over.
If I there's anything that sums up my philosophy on writing, it's this: Remember your name.
Do not lose hope - what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped
to help you in their turn.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
It's from Neil Gaiman's poem "Instructions," which is about what you should do should you find yourself in a fairy tale. It was turned into a children's book, illustrated by Charles Vess, and I bought copies for my two nephews. As of Friday, I have these lines tattooed on my upper left arm.
I was fifteen years old, a tenth grader, when I finally stopped lying. I played basketball and tennis, and I'd grown too many inches too quickly, so I tripped over my feet. I was quiet and precocious and dealing with things at home that I had no capacity to deal with.
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