On my own little idea of salvation

“in order to work out my own little idea of salvation I really believe that it is necessary for me to live in some more tawdry place and particularly in some place where I was not born.”  (Jane Bowles)

Once, at a bonfire, the person I sat beside introduced the topic of residency, and asked my thoughts. He was exploring the idea of place in our lives, and the trends of displacement and movement in modern culture, the impact these trends have on the human psyche.

The conversation was brief, as this person was eloquent and my response merely clumsy and mostly silent. My thoughts on the topic were entangled with strong emotions and personal history, and I didn’t trust myself to make sense of it to this acquaintance, no matter how obliging and patient I think he’d have been.

At the time of this conversation, my mother had recently levelled at me the charge of having walked away from our family. I’ve lived in the UK now for over a decade, several thousand miles from the American midwestern suburbs where I grew up. What began as an adventure into an uncharted and insecure future has now settled itself down with a sigh: a decision with consequences.

My mother’s comment surprised and hurt me when she said it. The resentment it seemed to contain (was I imagining?) implied that I had abandoned her. There was a finality in what she said – it wasn’t a question (have you walked away?) but a statement (you have.)

Walking away from my family was never the purpose of my move – but finding a way to live by my own values has certainly always guided my choices. The circumstances of my life here in the UK do not reflect the prosperous middle-class security intended for me in my upbringing and held up to me as a virtue.

My preference is discussing furnishings. Always has been. I like that better than discussing styles. I’ll discuss styles if the company wants to, but I don’t enjoy it nearly so well. The only thing about furnishings that leaves me cold is curtains. I never was interested in curtains, even when I was young. I like lamps about the best. Do you? (Jane Bowles again)

To my mother, I have become a stranger: I have no interest in furnishings, and it grieves her. We find it increasingly difficult to connect.

These many months later, I’ve finally responded to her remark. I’ve sent her a long letter, containing my thoughts on the charge she laid at me. I don’t know yet whether my honesty will bring us closer together or will drive us even further apart. Again I’ve stepped into uncertainty, and await the consequences of my decision.

I had a dream 2 nights ago, long and convoluted. At one point in the disjointed plot I received a valentine card from Mom which contained her reply to the letter that I have recently posted. When I opened the pink envelope, it held samples of wallpaper.

If I were at that bonfire now, I would tell the acquaintance beside me that changing my place of residency was a transgression, and also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done for myself. I stepped out into thin air and the universe held me – a priceless sensation. At the same time I want to howl like a small lost child in a crowded public street, separated from the ones with whom I belong, heart racing in the panic that I won’t ever be found. I wonder if my mother feels the same howl pressing against her chest?

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