Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dying Towns and Possible New Story

Reno. It's like Las Vegas, except dying. It's everywhere you look, yet nothing you can see. It's that paint that isn't peeling, but it looks like it's been thinking about peeling. It's the flickering neon signs, the flashing bulbs that blink just a little too bright. It's the desperate low rent signs, "Your Ad Here" on more billboards than anything else, the closing sales downtown. It's creepy. I just got back from a three day trip to Reno. Had a good time. The perfect spot for serfs like myself, who want to take advantage of casinos giving away rooms to anyone who might play a slot. We're extras on their set, props to fill them up and make them look successful. It's a desperate mood. It's a slippery bank we clamber up, acting nonchalant like we're in no danger of drowning at all.
I was doing a lot of thinking about gambling and creepy lights and the weird look these people who spend a lot of time in casinos get... and it's inspired a new idea... I don't want to reveal too much, just to say it involves clowns, creepy casinos, and a little kid named Frankie. I've learned my lesson about this stuff, and I won't post it unless I completely finish it. (For anyone still in doubt, "Stranded with a Stranger" is dead in the water. Look for new projects in a few months).
Don't have much else to say today. I don't want to go back to school.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Waiting on Trains

The summer that I was 14, part of my family took a trip from California to Montana to see my uncle. Analyzing prices, both driving and flying were out. So price, combined with my then-three-year-old little brother's obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine, prompted us to travel by train. Trains, known as the most romantic way to travel, are a bit of a thing for my whole family. We don't collect models or artifacts or anything, although our driveway is full of antique railroad ties (and how 50 million 4 inch rusted spikes came 90 miles from the nearest railroad track to infest MY road, I'll NEVER know). But we wish on trains with more than 20 cars and love the lonesome sound of a train whistle.
Before I got on the train, I had my suspicions about the "romance" of the experience. Sure, I was excited in that surly, indifferent 14 year old way, but I my foremost thought was "Why do we have to be too poor to fly like normal people?" Sure, trains are cool. But what do they really have to to with love?
And then our train, due to arrive at midnight, was delayed two hours. Tired, grumpy, and carting around a manically sleepy three year old, my mom, sister, grandpa and I tried to bed down on benches specifically designed NOT to be comfortable. I guess Sacramento wants to discourage the homeless from hanging out in the train stations, so they put dividers between each seat. Newsflash: railings do not discourage people who wear grocery sacks for hats and earn a living off other people's recyclables, and they're a HUGE pain to anyone actually paying to sit in that station. Who do those demonic little armrests benefit? Did you have a contract with the bench-builder's union??
So two hour delay, no big deal. 2 AM. The loudspeaker: our train is delayed another hour.


They couldn't have just TOLD us we wouldn't board til 7:30 AM? Sent us to a hotel or at least let us go home? Oh no. They kept us hanging on, thinking what we were waiting for was JUST around the corner, until we were exhausted, depressed, bedraggled, and feeling sick from wayyyy too much vending machine chocolate.
And THAT'S what trains have to do with love, ladies and gentlemen.
I've been hearing a lot lately about "God's timing". Well, not that I don't put the utmost faith in his divine genius, but... WHAT is the HOLD UP? I'm twenty years old, for goodness sake. I'm single, and not by choice, either, let me tell you. Well, by choice, yes, but not MINE. And it's pretty disillusioning to wake up and realize that the PARTICULAR train I've been waiting on for the last four years is about as likely to pull into MY station as the polar ice caps are to decide to spontaneously re-freeze.
The thing about love is, you think you know how it's going to play out. You figure you know what train you're boarding, or at least what gate your leaving from. But it doesn't come and doesn't come... and unlike the train station, there's no garbled voice telling reassuring lies about arrival times. And all around you, other people boarding their trains. You can't help but panic. Is it me? Am I standing at the wrong platform? Did I get the wrong STATION? But in the end there's nowhere else to go so you just wait. Interminably.
You know what you definitely SHOULDN'T do? Get on a different train, just to be on a train. I tried enough wrong trains, that took me to NOWHERE I wanted to be, that I know of which I speak. Like the Joseph* Train which wound its merry track through the hills of Affection and sped into Co-Dependency Land. Fortunately the view was clear- seeing where this was headed, I jumped off. Next was the trip on the Casey Train- a short, round-trip excursion that left me right back at the station feeling like I'd never left at all. After that, ahhh.... the Nigel Train. In my own defense, I NEVER boarded that one. I was standing too close to the tracks and it HIT me. The longest of any of the rides, this lovely express train toured through the lovely countryside of Testing the Boundaries, followed by a long dark trip down the canyon of Dicking WIth My Head.
After which I ended up right back where I started from, still waiting for the one train I really wanted to catch, still not realizing it was just never coming.
And now I know.
But I'm still waiting.
In the train station at four AM, blasting my Dresden Dolls CD to block out the crying and bickering coming from my family two benches over, I wished I could be anywhere but there. On the train, back home, or in Montana already- anywhere safe and comfortable and dim. But when that train came at 7:30 AM, I had never been more glad to see a vehicle in my life. I adored that train trip, and the waiting was one of the most memorable parts. The thing we all know is that no matter how late the Cincinnati Express 112 or Prince Charming may be, we're not going to give up. We're going to stand our ground at that platform, board as few wrong trains as possible, and wait it out. Because it will either be worth it, or we'll die waiting.
Either way, it's inevitable. So stop whining and move over. I want to stretch out under these arm rests.
It's gonna be a long night.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You Can't Go Home Again

There's that old saying that somebody said... one of those things "people" say. God only knows WHAT people or why they started saying it, and they're all overused, but inevitably true in some way (or else nobody would say them). Anyway, they say you can't go home again. When I was twelve years old and my baby brother was born, my father (bless his heart) arranged things so that I had the option of moving out of the house and into a trailer located somewhere in the chaos of our "orchard". The orchard is really just a big yard down the hill from our house, filled with the detritus of my parents' abandoned plans, the centerpiece of which is a big old hollowed out schoolbus which my father uses as his little fortress. In a house with four, then five, then four again girls and only one man, my poor dad needed an escape.
Now that it was to be two to four, however, it seemed that I would be the one re-located to the orchard. At first I loved the plan. My own little space, no one telling me what to do, nobody to boss me around. I'd still go up to the house to eat and use the bathroom, but this trailer would be my space.
Then I started thinking about it.
No more late nights with my little sisters. No more bored afternoons, doing chores and getting in Mom's hair. Independence meant isolation. Plus, what would I do if I had to pee in the middle of the night?? That was one long walk to make in the middle of the night, in the dark, all by my over-imaginative self! My dad's enthusiastic plans were beginning to bother me.
I've come across this phenomena many times with my dad. He's not a teacher. He's a do-er, and you should be, too. My father, loving and funny and great at buying junk food, has little patience for fear or doubt or ignorance. And most of the time, he's been pushing me towards things I want. Which is why it confused me so much that I got so annoyed at his insistence that I stop edging my toes into the water and just jump.
Here's two fun facts about Emily:
1. I'm not a jumper. On rare, exuberant occasions, I will plunge headfirst into the fray. But as a matter of who I am, I like to be informed, accustomed, and SURE.
2. I am fundamentally, essentially, and deeply insecure. You know those studies that say babies like to be wrapped up super tight, or else they jerk and flail all over the place because even in their sleep, they're so terrified of their new world? Yeah. That's me. I want to be reminded, like, daily, that people love me and think I'm awesome. Possibly oftener. It's probably something that I'll end up on a shrink's couch talking about, someday when I can afford a shrink.
So basically, I wanted to move out. But I did NOT want my dad to want it. Maybe I just like having something to fight about- that's sure how it felt to my parents when I was pubescent, I know. I think, though, that I'm like a bungee jumper- I need to triple-check those cables before I jump. I don't believe that I have wings. I need the ropes, the bounce-back-to-me bondage that is love.
And three years later, I left for boarding school anyway.
When you're an obnoxious teenager, awkward and zitty and you KNOW you drive everybody nuts because even you can't deny that you're kind of a pain, a lot of hostility gets aimed at your parents. After all, YOU didn't ask for them to.... AACK! EWW! Exactly. It's not YOUR fault that you're stuck here on this sucky planet. And the parents aren't too thrilled, either- their crayon-coloring, ballet-dancing princess is suddenly this snarling, sobbing thing with BREASTS. It's a bad time all around. The wounds inflicted on both sides can, I believe, take years to heal.
But I was away for more than half of my teen years. Most of those fights never happened. I respected my parents. In fact, they became the heroes- the food-bringing, car-driving, weekend heroes. The teachers and deans were the iron fisted parents, enforcing dress code and curfew, and the parents were the fun aunt and uncle who send money. So after graduation, I was pretty happy with the idea of going back to live with the fun aunt and uncle, going to community college.
Rude shock.
While I was away at school, making friends and developing a personality, my fifteen year old self had been hidden away under my bed. When I got home, we had a mad wrestle for who got to control me- College Emily or Puberty Emily. It wasn't a battle that was ever really won. Meanwhile, my parents seemed to be undergoing a similar struggle- were they Mom and Dad, or Fun, Nice Aunt Mom and Uncle Dad? It was a messy exercise in not knowing how to relate. It was a little like the stage most people reach around 25. Somehow, during the time apart, I became, like... a PERSON. At home, I didn't want to be treated like a child. But I also didn't really want to be treated like an adult, expected to pay rent and drive my brother around.
Add to that the fact that I have no friends at home, and couldn't find a job, and you have one seriously unhappy young adult skulking about the house, losing not only her muscle tone but also all vestiges of her personality.
So I spent two miserable years trying to make that work, finally gave up and transferred, and now I'm away at school again. Things are so much better. I actually make contact with people my age, and I've lost some of my resemblance to a very large marshmallow. (Now I'm just a large, slightly toasted marshmallow.) I'm not really afraid of leaving the nest anymore- I'm way more scared of staying there. The thing is, the reason you can't go home again is because it isn't 1997. My mom doesn't bake cookies anymore, my sisters don't color (well, not often) and the world doesn't revolve around my little house. I'm not eight, I don't believe in fairies, and I'm not a lonely dreamer wandering in and out of books. Home isn't the same, and neither am I. Going back seems like everybody's trying too hard to make things what they used to be, or be too different, and nothing lines up right.
Some things never change. My mom will still give me a look if I eat more than one popsicle, our house still has ugly carpet and a distinct smell that's one part paint, one part soup, and two parts sweaty carpet, and the sun still wanders lazily through the leaves of the apple tree on a hot summer day. But some things have changed. There's a fence up now, the garden is bigger, and the orchard is a lot less messy. This is still the house where I grew up, where I learned to read and cook and dream. I will always love this house, because it represents my family. But I don't fit there like I used to. The shape of my room has shifted, and I've changed, too. We're growing in opposite directions now, my house more a pond and me more a bird than ever before. Well. A bird with bungee-cords. Still not trusting my own wings, but ready to launch into space as long as that love's there to bounce me back.