30 September 2018

Disappeared (Part 8)

If my life was California, the decision to move was the San Andreas fault letting go all at once. To call it merely disruptive would be a clear understatement of the case. It meant becoming the landlord and not the resident of the house I owned. It meant leaving behind the only friends and places I had known for over twenty years. The most profound upheaval would be inflicted on my daughter. I would no longer be geographically close, seeing her would no longer happen easily or on a frequent basis. I sweated myself to sleep many, many nights over this disruption to the blood of my blood. Meditations on leaving became knock down, drag out battles in my head. 

Ultimately it came down to a choice: remain in place with its attendant loneliness and unemployment, or venture into the heartland for a greater chance to be happier more often than not (and gamble on a job). Emotionally caught between the hammer and the anvil, the desire to not be alone and unloved won out. I resolved to relocate. Preparations for that rapidly became a time and energy sump. Less time meant fewer excursions to the river, with an accompanying lack of awareness of change in the ruins.

Meanwhile those ruins abided. The river flowed on, resolute in its near inscrutable ebb and surge. I would come to miss its green banks and polished stones. The river nearest my new home would not be as welcoming. Muddier. Wider. Stands of trees that seemed more afterthought than organic growth. I would not know much of this in full until late, when my time out on the edge of the Sea of Grass began to experience the falling of the curtain.

But that’s getting ahead of the story, this chapter of which began in an enormous outpouring of heat and light (as novas are wont to do). This light served initially to illuminate my initiation into a different way of life, one that was far from the waters, the only edges, I had ever known in life along the mid-Atlantic coast. The sky to some degree seemed bigger, the horizon much further away. These differences became a source of fascination and continuous low-grade unease. The effects were subtle, but far-reaching. I cannot say for certain they had no bearing on the troubles that came later.

Big sky. Grass. Long horizons interrupted only by the Paris of the Plains. That cornfields and soybeans could go on so far was revelatory. Revelatory but not sticky. The wonder and euphoria of new people and places flooded my senses. The flood pushed my anxieties far back into recesses that seemed so heavily insulated they would never again see the light of day. The insulation freed me up to enjoy simply existing.

The job search continued, but bore no architectural fruit. The malaise from the coast still had a grip on the middle. Necessity prompted searches in areas that never before had graced a resume. A tryout in a butcher shop provided interesting insight but no job. Interest in things culinary eventually led me to doing something I had never really wanted to do. I wound up working in a retail spice shop. Spices I adore. Working retail? Not so much. It did teach me a lot about dealing with people, nice and not so nice. A big benefit of this work was access to a plethora of spices, often free. I began to eat very well at home as a consequence. The biggest perk, crucially, was that I made some friends. Good people, as they say, whose presence, conversation, and advice I came to treasure. This would matter, later.

Back east, things were in flux. Hands invisible to me setting in motion profound changes to that which I used to know. These unseen changes as avatars of the plastic nature of memory, fluid and mutable as rivers themselves. It is what happens when you look away. The landscape alters itself out of the range of vision.

Back out on the edge of the Sea of Grass, the one constant was the search for money. As an architect I was still surplus to requirements. No call backs, no face time, no contacts. It was a small slice of good luck that my semi-pro interest and ability in photography, in combination with a friend’s recommendation, garnered me a gig doing real estate photos. An influx of revenue allowed me to push back some walls of anxiety and desperation. Not far enough, ultimately, but it bought some breathing space. I continued on, oblivious to the sinkholes forming around me.

The first big fracture: a trip back to Maryland to resolve a small legal matter. There was time between commitments for a trip back to the ruins, a brief visit during which the plan was to reconnect with a touchstone of my past life. There was eager anticipation to be grounded, to reconnect. There was hope I might even get a few photographs on my phone camera. Spirits were high as I drove out to the site.

Imagine my shock to arrive to flat ground with a smattering of rubble along the riverbank. The factory was gone. The boiler house was gone. Fish mural and storage tanks, all gone. The only visible remainder being a concrete retaining wall along the road, the fading graffiti on it visible through a scraggly scrim of weeds. Even the sluice channels farther up the watercourse had been demolished. I stared, disbelieving. Parking the car on the shoulder, I then trudged our into the middle of the site. Dust collected on my dress shoes, riming the pressed cuffs of my pants. The tie around my neck tightened without my doing. Standing alone and bereft in the hot August sunlight with only the insects as companions. Their buzz sounded overly loud in my ears. I could not believe so much history was gone. The ruins were no longer a reflection. My dislocation felt complete.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...