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Here and There

August 4, 2010

“The refugee experience of dislocation, cultural bereavement, confusion and constant change will soon be all our experience.  As the world becomes globalized, we’ll all be searching for home.”  Mary Pipher The Middle of Everywhere

I’ve moved a lot.  This is my first big move, however, since social media has seen such widespread adoption that it has become not only part of my life, but half of my job title.  Mostly it is strange, having left a place, not really to have left at all.

Sure, I am in a different physical location.  I have a gorgeous new office with a spectacular view, but the view I spend most of my day gazing at remains largely unchanged.  I toggle between my inbox, Hootsuite and Skype, all of which “help [me] connect and share with the people in [my] life.”  I’m adding new faces and voices in this new place, but I’m not missing the old chatter among colleagues, peers and friends that provide a virtual water cooler for this latest startup phase of my life.

I remember as a kid when we’d move and I’d change schools again, how I’d be on the phone so long each night with my head hanging upside down off the side of my bed, my hair dangling onto the floor and my fingers looping around the coil of the cord, that my parents finally got me my own line.  What did we talk about for all of those hours? Who was I talking to?  Why? They were links to the lives I might have led had I stayed with them.  They were bridges to the new life I was building in my new home.

My mother-in-law just spent a few weeks with us, enjoying her time with our son and easing our transition. After more than 30 years in her native Colombia, she came to the United States. Then after the about same amount of time she emigrated again to my father-in-law’s native Ecuador to retire.  She often corrects her own aquí, allá, allí, acá, not because she’s uncertain of her whereabouts, but because her connections to place are as fluid as time.  She still shouts when she talks on the phone, years of scratchy and expensive international connections having trained her to make each word heard.

The other night in bed in our apartment on the second floor of a house more than 100 years old, I dreamed about the house my parents lived in the longest.  I was a teenager there, and it was the place I came home to on weekends when I was in college, where I was given and got rid of a pager in that brief window when it was cool to send secret messages that could only be read in scrambled alphanumeric code upside-down. It was the first place we had a dial-up connection, where my dad signed me up for my first email account on AOL.  I learned how to instant message there, and received my first cell phone bill at that address.

Whenever the phone – land line we call it now – would ring while we were at dinner, my dad would insist on lecturing telemarketers, his vocabulary expanding with the volume of his voice.

“My family has just gathered for dinner and you are interrupting our meal.”

Every once in a while, even after we lived there more than a dozen years, somebody would call and ask for Deacon.

“Deacon there?” is all they’d say, and it seemed like it was always the same person with the same mumbled request.

“I’m sorry, there’s no one here by that name,” our mother had taught my sister and I to say. So polite a response was answered by a rumbling crackle of the phone cradle carelessly returned to its original position.

This move I’ve carried my cell number with me, aware that the geography of my area code marks the last phase of my life,  unwilling to run the risk of losing someone like Deacon had been lost and also proud of my time in the 305.  I start to wonder whether we are so connected now that place doesn’t matter in the way it used to.  For a while in my twenties I had a shower curtain with a map of the world on it, and I’d study European capitals while massaging in the shampoo.

“Your nomadic life is so exciting,” a colleague recently told me.

“I guess so,” I responded, uncertain and still somewhere between here and there, not quite sure these days what here and there even mean.

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