Emily and I read these to each other, back and forth, paragraph to paragraph, on stage two nights ago. Neither of us knew what the other wrote until we heard our words in the room that night. (Emily’s pieces are on the left, mine on the right.)
Feels Like Home
In the natural arc of a human’s life, we define and redefine “home.” At first, it’s the dark wooshy wet womb, ticking around us. We float in the warm saline—perfectly at home with our bodies and our surroundings. Then it’s the skin-smell of our parents, their arms, their wide eyes, their smiles. Then our rooms, our siblings, our beds, our dinner tables. Then maybe a favorite blanket, a certain meal, a song. Then a circlet of friends. The nature of the idea of “home” is comfort, intimacy, an absence of longing because it’s all at hand.
In some ways, the first blushes of a real love are anything but home-like. The first days can be frustrating and anticipatory. They can be nerve-wracking and wild. Real love is risky and can feel like a wager. But then it deepens into something else.
Recently, Ron and I celebrated 10 years together. We’ve moved 7 times. We’ve had 2 kids. Thousands of dinners, hundreds of arguments, multiple sicknesses, hand-holdings, griefs, angers, contentments, discontentments, and many many regular ordinaries where the sun rises like it should and falls down dead-tired, like it will.
But within that structure of ordinaries and regulars, we’ve been quietly building something magical and hard to see. Within the normal life of our partnership, we’ve made something out of the architecture that is mythical and can only be described through metaphor and anecdote—the truth doesn’t even come close.
All these holy moments. This, here, tonight, a holy moment, the memory of these moments, holy, holy in the recall, holy in the manner of which I remember that holy moment, that time, when the thing itself was building holy. The rolling of successive holy moments, us building those, us observing them as if they were delivered to us, maybe as if we delivered them to ourselves. We’ve created over ten years of holy moments, you and me, as friends, as partners, as the two people who illuminated that cold Friday night, our wedding in our old Chicago church in November in the middle of all that love, our families, our friends, all celebrating, all in “holy”. All of these moments in our life together, to now, have been both so lofted and so grounded and they’ve made me see that reality and God are the same thing, that in everything we do together is the spirit of something bigger, is the potter’s wheel creating holy. I very much live in nostalgia, live in memory. You know that. I start honoring or mourning the memory of something even while the thing itself is still happening, when there hasn’t even been enough distance from the moment to look back on. I’m always rolled up in time and, good or bad, everything seems emotionally present to me. In that way, though, I can always meditate in the moment, I can feel those memories of us, those times of joy, of struggle, of commemoration, of hardship, of love of love of love of love, all those moments, of us, holy.
On a trip back to my parents’ house, my mom’s friends were gathered, holding court around me, asking me about Chicago and my friends and my love life. Jacki, the tallest one, the one who has had so many spine surgeries, she sits ramrod straight, asks me, “Won’t you be homesick if you move to Chicago? Won’t you miss your home?” My first response is to assure my mother and her friends that surely I will miss “home.” But I can feel that idea fragmenting as I speak it, like gum disintegrating in my mouth. I feel it becoming fractured pictures of what “home” is more than the continuous narrative of the womb. I realize that I think “home” is with me now. That I carry it with me like a letter. Becoming an adult, making all the hard choices I made, has transformed me into my own home. But I’m also thinking of the dark-haired boy that I like. How I like sitting and reading next to him, interrupting each other with questions and ideas. I like sharing space with him, listening to music with him. Letting him show me places to eat, museums, the best most Chicago-alleyways the city can offer. I like letting him show me how to bring home to where I am at that exact moment. And he’s slowly becoming part of that definition. Now, when I leave him, it feels more and more like I’m away from where I should be.
I have a picture of you reading on the train that I like to look at and the picture has all these little orbs on it, around and over your face and this is likely because of the quality of the camera but it makes you look the way Grace Kelly looks in that one scene of ‘Rear Window’ when Hitchcock lit her face as she’s leaning in to kiss Jimmy Stewart, which is to say, enchanting. I love watching you read, watching you sink into language. If our boys are trying to get your attention while you’re reading on the couch and you don’t hear them because your senses are in the book, I consciously try to answer them so you’re not pulled away, so you’re not awakened. I know you like the time you have to be with what you’re reading and, sure, I want you to have that, but, too, I’m being selfish. I don’t want the spell to break. I want to keep seeing you as you in the moment of doing something you love. I have this picture so I can see you like this when we’re apart—me with you on that train in those upper balcony seats, you covered with light, deep in your book, resting your head on your left hand, me seeing you, seeing you on the train, in that picture, through the orbs, next to me, on the couch, you being deeply, holy, you.
Sal was just born. A squirm of a baby with white-ducky hair shucking off of his head like spiky wheat. He is a tiny warm need, falling asleep while nursing, wanting to be held all day and all night. He used to be part of my body and I created him out of my own home. I built the slick insides of the egg he came from, and now I’m the home he wants to smell and lay on. We actually live in a slum though. It’s the tail-end of the economic disaster of the early 2000’s. We’ve been laid off again and it’s only with the help of my parents and the government that we can afford this shitsville apartment that smells like our neighbors’ caged-rottweiler and cigarettes. The back porch, which functions as our storage, is rotten in places and sags under our boxes. The front steps are steep and covered in trash from the other tenants. These hard days, we walk everywhere. We spend the days away from our horrible apartment, walking in the forest preserve near our home in Jefferson Park. We spend our days figuring out our LINK card and our Snap benefits. We spend the days trying not to feel useless. Ron takes under-the-table side jobs to get us money. He helps out with HV/AC, we edit medical papers, we write copy for friends’ websites, Ron teaches himself graphic design and sells his time. We try to create a home out of our hovel. We construct a home with sturdy walls that are built in the time of uncertain ground. We construct it through conversations and joint worry. We construct it through laughing at the gagging of cleaning up baby-milk-vomit in the middle of the night. We construct this home through free dates. We construct it through miles walked and dreams we are holding on to.
I have a picture of you standing on the grass in Maui that I like to look at and the picture is of you looking at something else, of a wedding on the beach, us there on our honeymoon watching these two women do what we just did, speaking their love into the air, helping me go back in time to when shared that same moment, not long before in Chicago. It was beautiful in many ways: the green setting, the sound of the ocean foam spreading over the sand, all those smells of the natural. But mostly, for me, watching you, the way you saw that moment, the way you observed love. At the time (and it doesn’t seem all that long ago) a gay wedding lived pretty much only in the world of the lovers and those who loved them. And here we were, part of that limited celebration where the love seemed limitless. And you, arms folded, invested in the moment, us, part of union watching a union. I loved you so much because I saw you as the type of person in the world I wanted to be with: someone who loved deeply and felt the endearment of observing of others’ deep love. I wanted to be with you, forever, in the future, in that moment, after we already spoke our love into the air not long before that moment of you, us, standing on the grass, watching someone’s beginning of a moment, someone’s step in the continuation of many moments. Holy. You were so beautiful taking in all that beauty.
It’s 2:30 am and we’re in the car on the way to the hospital. We should have been there hours ago, but I didn’t want to leave our pretty apartment. I didn’t want to labor in a hospital. Every 67 seconds, my body turns into the filament of a lit lightbulb. Like someone took a corkscrew of electricity from my vagina to my neck and turned it to 10. Ron is comforting me and navigating stop lights on York Rd. I’m in a dream state, body totally in its animal form. We get inside and we don’t have time to get checked-in before I’m in the tub and Sonny is squeezing out, black-haired and dark-eyed. He’s all nose. He looks like Al Pacino and a hamster made a child together. He looks like if you made Ron into a shrunken head. Sonny is screaming. Indignant at the sudden light and cold. He’s pissed. While the midwives tend to me, I hear Ron talking to him. He says, “Sonny. Sonny boy. It’s daddy.” Sonny stops crying and looks towards the voice. He recognizes that voice. He recognizes his home. And just like that, our home grows one-person bigger.
I have a picture of you sitting on a folding chair on our lawn that I like to look at. It was in April, just a couple of years ago and we had two of our best friends over and, while our kids played, we sat and drank wine and kept moving our chairs into the moving light of the sun. It was April, and half-warm and you wore a long sweater and the dog sat under your chair, under your bare feet and you, in this picture, are coving up a smile with your left hand. I have many pictures of all of us from that day and there we are, all laughing and smiling, covered-up or openly. You often start the joy, you are a spark. You are an encounter. And I remember thinking during this moment how it would be a moment I would never forget—watching you laugh and bring laughter. Those hours on our lawn were fleeting and unplanned, as those buoyant times can often be, but it all became sacred under your laugh. I took the first picture of that day of you. I knew to do so because I knew the sun would set and, while I too knew there’d be more days, there wouldn’t be more of that day, that moment, holy, of you hugged in your sweater, smiling at me through your glasses, creating another “us” memory, creating a memory for me, of me, being in your world.
Recently, I woke up from a bad dream. Anxiety rushed into my middle of the night awake brain and felt like my thoughts were jagged blurs, hard to pin down, hard to stop from spinning. In the middle of that carousel, I reached out and grabbed Ron’s hand. He curled around me, asleep. There we were, a set of quotation marks around our life, one-sided. Open-ended. I settled in. I thought to myself: here I am, my own home, my kids’ home, the home I crafted and created with you. The walls are built from listening to Tom Waits records and drinking red wine. The house is constructed with books and poetry. Our home is our inside jokes and our shared knowing looks in social company. It’s made from napping in a hammock together, of taking drives with our kids with the windows down in that elusive Chicago springtime. Our home is built with trips to the art museum, of the times we’ve surprised each other with opinions or laughter or gifts. Our home is built on the everyday ordinary that we’ve created. Laundry, cooking, sleeping, repeat. The alchemy of all that normal that somehow creates something magical, real, safe, warm, exciting, mild, and intimate. Home.
You are my moments, my memories, the creation of and continuation of us. For me, you make this, here, tonight, a holy moment. And the memory of these moments, holy, holy in the recall, holy in the images of you that tumble time back into a current place, into reliving, at all once, my joy.