This holiday season, I have made a decision. I shall go to Texas for a visit. My analyst and I have determined that I might have the fortitude to do this without going into a two month funk. The two month funk may happen, but for reasons other than Texas.
Understand that I am sticking by the "Fish and House Guests" rule. Fly in, three days there, fly out, with the point of departure and return being the Gentleman Caller's house. That mere fact will go a long way toward reducing the funk induced by revisiting.
One of the odd things about revisiting Texas is that I oddly expect everything there to be exactly as it was the moment I drove away nine years ago. I am half surprised to run into people whom I used to know who are now greyer, live in different places, completed degrees, received promotions, or found new jobs. While the whole city has continued to move on in a constant state of "revitalization" (god, how I hated that word when I lived there -- it meant destruction and homogenization, not renewal of life), the places that have stayed roughly the same disturb me the most. I hardly recognize places that I once knew by heart and knew since I could first drive. They hardly seem familiar any longer.
The ugliness also shocks me. Not because decay has claimed these places, but because their very sameness reminds me that I could not see that ugliness. I saw other ugliness, but not this. In fact, the further back that I go -- that is, as I travel from the geography of my adulthood to the geography of my childhood -- I hyperventilate from the banality of the landscape.*
I remember then the moment in which I realized that I grew up not knowing beauty, not knowing if I could recognize beauty if I saw it. About five years after I left Texas, I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The grey, drizzly, Boston weather that day meant that the art in the museum had to generate its own light and mood. The art grandly succeed in that task. The Grand Dame herself burst forth from her portrait all afire with life. Madame X (no, not THAT portrait of Madame X, but this portrait of Madame Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau) stretched for a refill in a glow of candlelight. As I walked down a staircase, giggling at the two bunnies fucking at the bottom of the tapestry ahead of me and musing that Gardner must have had a sense of humor, I suddenly felt wrapped in the complicated beauty of both the artists' work and in Gardener's own creativity of arrangement.
"I was not raised in beauty," I realized. No one in my life had an appreciation of any real beauty. Kitsch, sure, but unrecognized as kitsch. Maybe pretty, too, but pretty is shallow. Pretty can be the surface of beauty, but beauty has layers and dimensions that draw you in and overwhelm you. "Now," I thought, "I'm not even certain of my own taste. My own taste is a blank slate." It still is. No, not blank: my taste is a cacophony of styles and trends and interests and extremes with no coherence except perhaps the color black.
As a child, with parents and neighbors and even friends who embraced the banality, sought to increase and expand it, I would have to find beauty elsewhere. When I grew up, I could wander about and find beauty in the limited scope of my existence. I have pictures of lovely little oddities about some of my neighborhoods; but living in a beautiful place still seemed unimaginable and, if I could imagine, unaffordable. To find beauty, I had to go somewhere else. Somewhere else lay in books. In fact, a book brings to mind an image of a Narnian wardrobe; and yes, I read every single one of the Chronicles, twice and undisturbed by the Christianity, because of that very idea of a passage to somewhere better.
Somewhere else, somewhere better, in books got me away from the banality, the screaming and yelling, the constant tremors of violence in my home, the bullying done both to and by me, the attacks on my intelligence, and the particular white collar futility of the middle class expectations of going straight through school to a life of cubicles and suburbs. I walked around numb, and then I hid among the fantastic stories and words of whoever, whatever, and wherever, and forget the mundane, ugly world in which I lived.
This is not to say that I live in a beautiful world now. Access to beauty often has a price tag; but I can find it and create it. When I return to Texas, however, I feel that echo of absence, like the ache in a healed broken bone on a cold wet day: shockingly sharp, painful, and real, but also temporary. In fact, I feel not just the echo of the former absence, but also the frustration of knowing that something was missing yet not knowing what that something was, and the fear that any effort to find that something would just be wasted and disappointing. When I return to Texas, I feel the echo of frustrated fumbling and intense fear.
In the early days after I left, I did pursue opportunities to return to Texas. Preferring the devil I knew seemed like the better option than staying with the devil I had in those days. At least I knew the means of coping with the old devil. The new one? The means of coping with the newer devil were simply lesser demons who also required some sort of survival mechanism.
In the past several years -- in fact, since I've moved to the Zoo, despite my bitching and moaning -- I've found that I have no desire to ever go back there, even for a visit. The ambivalence that I feel about the holiday visit this year has just as much to do with my dread of revisiting as it does with the minefield of the family.
I feel the impulse to end this with some upbeat statement like, "but I am strong enough to survive this" or "but I will return to the Gentleman Caller where I am loved as I should have been, and everything will be alright" or even, "but I'm probably making too much out of this and will have a lovely time and feel guilty about my dread." That feels too canned and formulaic. Not that those statements aren't true, but they are not enough. This is where I feel the limitation of words and my own ability to manipulate them. Words are linear. Emotions and experiences are dimensional, geometry upon geometry, kaleidoscopically, telescopically, microscopically tumbling one over the other with no regard to time.
*We won't even touch the politics in this post. Enabled ignorance and incompetence dominate. 'Tis the land of Bushes, you know.