022. Wayfarer on Trial

EXHIBIT A: ABSENCE OF THERMOMETER

Last week, Sam and I were both sick with the flu, and I wanted to take our temperatures, but I couldn’t find my thermometer anywhere. It’s slim, blue-and-white with a digital read, and I swear it exists. I purchased it less than a year ago, and it should be somewhere… in one of my suitcases, or boxes, or Trader Joe’s bags filled with toiletries. Yes, part of my life is packed in Trader Joe’s bags. I’m a certified hobo.

My packing methods aren’t too freakish, once I explain the logic behind them. Most of my belongings fit into socially acceptable containers. I have several cardboard boxes for my books, which I fold flat when they’re empty and reconstruct when it’s time to move again. I have a duffel bag for my clothes, and a small hard-shell suitcase for my art supplies and other miscellany. During this last move, the grocery bag contained shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, nail-clippers, and hair-ties–all of the things you almost leave behind but remember to grab right before you head out the door. The Trader Joe’s bag was a last minute decision.

I still felt self-conscious with my toiletries stashed in a grocery bag on the passenger seat beside me–conspicuously homeless. I should just buy a canvas tote and get it over with.

But the thermometer would continue to be a mystery. I don’t own much, and I like to think that I know where everything is located, even amid all the transits and transitions. I like to think that the thermometer is exactly where I put it last. Each new move is a chance to once again take account of my possessions, to whittle them down to the non-negotiables and get rid of the dead weight. It sets my organizing mind at rest: packing everything into its allotted container.

Which is why the thermometer bothered me so much. It wasn’t misplaced or forgotten, but almost certainly removed from its place in the world by some other, larger, quieter force.

It was almost certainly taken from me.

It was almost certainly inhaled into an Instrument Black Hole in a parallel universe, along with a large, clattering wave of compasses and slide-rules and bathroom scales and sundials and litmus strips and plumb lines and barometers.

It almost certainly never existed: I bought the thermometer in a particularly clear fever dream last summer and only ever placed it under my dream-tongue to measure my dream-heat, never actually depositing it in a real-drawer in a real-bathroom to measure real-flus when they arose.

EXHIBIT B: NEW ADDRESS

I’ve been living in Silicon Valley for close to two years now, but I still don’t feel totally at home here. That’s partly my fault, partly to blame on the area’s culture of flux, and partly not a bad thing at all: just an un-weighted reality.

“At home.” The most casual of phrases.

Even I use the words casually, when my life has been obsessed with questions of home: what constitutes a home, how you lose one, how you find one, how you make one, how you leave one. How you live with the absence of home or with a surfeit of homes. How you make peace with the flexibility and ephemerality and multiplicity of home. How you form and are formed by home.

Part of my sense of un-belonging, even after two years in Silicon Valley, stems from the simple fact that I haven’t stayed in one building, one neighborhood, or one community. I lived in Campbell, Marin, San Mateo and Palo Alto; I worked in San Jose and San Francisco; I attended churches in all of those cities and have friends in countless more. I was stretched thin across the whole Bay Area until I started to wear out in important places.

I recently got a new address–my favorite one yet, though it’s still somewhat temporary. It’s the eighth address saved to my Amazon account. It’s five moves removed from the address on my driver’s license. And it’s the only address where my heart has come to rest, the only address where I’m not sniffing around the window-cracks and doorframes for an escape plan, for a quick way out. My sleep lately has been deep and unbroken, which is evidenced by the duration and intensity of my dreams, which are signs of maybe, finally, feeling at home with a capital H. I no longer wake in the night to sudden vacancies in my gut; I no longer wake shaking to cold frowns of moonlight arcing across the wall; I no longer wake defensive and afraid. Now I sleep through the night, and I think (and I hope) that I might finally be home.

EXHIBIT C: TEETH DREAM

Four nights ago, I dreamt that I lost two crucial teeth: my top, right-side canine tooth, and the molar directly beside it, which I’ve since learned is called the first bicuspid.

I’m told that losing your teeth is a common dream to have. Most people, in their dreams where their teeth are falling out, try to save the teeth, or shove them back into the gums hoping they take root again, or they hold the teeth carefully in a clenched fist for the remainder of the dream, banking on some elusive future oral restoration.

In my dream, I put my teeth in the pocket of my jeans, but I leave my hand in the pocket as assurance that the teeth will not disappear. In my dream, and against my will, I keep encountering friends and acquaintances from college, and each time I run into someone new, I am hesitant to smile or greet them lest they notice the gaping absence in my mouth. Many of them strike up conversations anyway. When it becomes too difficult to conceal the gap any longer, I blurt an awkward announcement to the person across from me: “I’M SO SORRY, BUT I’M MISSING TWO, QUITE VISIBLE FRONT TEETH. IT LOOKS TERRIBLE, BUT THEY JUST RECENTLY FELL OUT AND I’M GOING TO GET THEM FIXED SOON. PLEASE EXCUSE THE HOLE.” Then I resume the use of my lips in a normal, uncensored way, and the gummy black gap in my mouth flashes bold and horrible as we speak.

Teeth loss dreams can mean any number of things, but the general consensus among all the dream-decoding websites seems to be that you are undergoing seismic changes in your life, or are afraid of losing something important to you. Check and check, I guess.

VERDICT

Some days, when everything is fluctuating around you, a very natural and intuitive remedy is A Fixation: a tiny, often irrational obsession. You find a single object—or the absence of one—to house all of your unspecific, worried, homeless energy.

I was agitated about the thermometer for days. Sam watched me rifling through ghostly drawers and boxes in my mind, trying to locate the stupid little tool. The thermometer was just a stand-in though, one of the many things I can’t remember losing but have certainly lost, one of the many absences around which my life is constructed.

Some days, I feel I am only negative-spaces and non-matter, my neediness so immense it assumes its own gravity and yanks at anyone who comes close.

Some days, I think home is just the people who love you in your places of greatest lack.

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