what the city will whisper
by Katie Ferrari
my anxiety about going back home is returning. i haven’t seen my family in two years. i don’t want to sleep in my childhood bedroom. i don’t want to open the wooden kitchen cabinets and see the mugs, the packets of sweet n low, the box of plastic straws with pastel stripes on them.
part of it is that i left that city when i was 24 and now i am 33. yes, i lived there for stints when i was on the road, but i have not had a life there in almost a decade, and i have not set foot there since before the pandemic. time has collapsed, but once i step off the plane in a few weeks, two years and maybe a decade will unfurl, creased and rumpled, with remnants in them like dried grass and a crushed spider in an old sheet used for a picnic blanket. i have been reflecting lately on how old i am. how it has been four years since i moved to this state, six years since i set out on the road for two years.
my youth feels like it is hidden somewhere in a pocket of that city, in a studio apartment perched like a bird’s nest in woodhaven, in the pages of the books at the library i used to walk to, or maybe it’s waiting in the dappled afternoon light on the trails in forest park that i used to run through, dreaming of a bigger nature, the nature i came out here to find. a nature that could strip me of the sickness that still remains.
or maybe it’s more accurate to say that i am afraid the city will reveal to me my age when i return this time. the subways will whisper to me, once you rode us to work, an hour and a half each way, once you rode us to the house of the boy with the cat, who sang rhye to you in the mornings and you watched the way the soft-edged square of buttered light slowly moved down the wall of his room. or maybe the buses will say you rode us home from high school at this time of year, in the too-early-darkness, playing U2, staring at a reflection that was so much younger than the one that stares back at you now. they will say you ran to catch us in keds, and you still wear keds, but you don’t wear short skirts and stockings anymore. the sycamore trees will say we watched you when you were a bump in the belly of your mother, sitting on the front stoop of the yellow house she loved, we watched you sleep on this postage stamp of grass, and we watched you sit on those steps heavy with misery and longing, and leave this house to try to walk off the sorrow.
but really, above all, they will be saying the last time you called this place home, you had hope. there were years ahead of you that you thought would bring you good things that have still not arrived. i could say back though, that while these years have not fulfilled all my hopes, they have brought me things i could not have imagined i would love, like crows bringing scavenged gifts to the people they like. tiny pieces of trash turned treasure through tenderness.
Katie Ferrari is a scavenger for joy. Some of what she has found is at katieferrari.com.
Image by ArtisticOperations at Pixabay.