Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Summer of Our Discontent

I'm not sure how you'd categorize me regionally.  I'm not technically a Yankee, although when I lived in Texas I would often stubbornly claim that I was.  I grew up in the north, but Montana is not traditional Yankee territory.  I was born in New Mexico of unknown parentage, and I have some vague memories of my brief life there.  Just flashes really.  Images of the control tower on base where my father was stationed, a red stained concrete floor in base housing, a flat dessert vista.  Not much more.  Nothing to root me to a southwestern heritage.  I donned the Yankee label because of what I believed to be my Pennsylvanian ties, which I learned not-so-long-ago is not actually mine to claim.  Most of my life was spent in the Lone Star State, but if you call me a Texan, I'm likely to deck you and true Texans would rail at the offense.  So, I'm sort of lost in limbo, not really belonging anywhere.  Maybe that's why I like Ben Affleck's movies so much.  He celebrates his Bostonian ties and sense of family with such love and reverence, even the ugly side of it, that it's compelling.  I long for that.  I long to belong to something.

Why I am worrying over this, you ask?  Well, my mind was wandering yesterday morning as we took Cheyenne for her early morning walk around the block, the haze from the prolific fireworks from the night before still lingering lazily below the tree line, and I was pondering over my impressions of the summer so far and realized that I couldn't label my perceptions of summer in the northeast.  Do I look at things from a Southerner's point of view, like the man walking next to me must?  Surely not.  But, what am I then?  Does it matter?  It does, I answer to myself, because our background colors how we process the things surrounding us and happening to us, and I am not wholly objective.  None of us are.  So, I felt compelled to understand what prejudices I bring to my observations about people, places, and very confusing roadways.  And, somewhat reluctantly, I conclude that I see things mostly as an Austinite.  It's the norm for which everything around me is now judged.  I moved there when I was barely 19.  My entire adult experience was forged in Austin.  So, like it or not, as I go around town now and watch people, a favorite pastime, it's through the eyes of Austin that I see things.  By this time next year, however, I vow to myself, I want my thoughts of "these people" from Pittsburgh to be "we".  And I'm getting there.  Gradually, I no longer see Pittsburghers as a collective group, but am able to have the people I meet stand out as individuals, both good and bad, the way I did in Austin.  Of course, you do that and you don't always like what you see, but it's more real that way.  And I want for the only real math I need to know is Pittsburgh = Home (and what the tax and handling fees on Steeler tickets is).  That is gradually beginning to happen too.  The house and I have come to an understanding, and it's now home.  I feel comfortable here, not like I'm living in someone else's house.  The area around it seems familiar, and increasingly we can find things and are beginning to find better routes than Google shows us.  That's a big one:  I have longed for the day when I am confident enough of my surroundings to venture off the Google Map app.

Yet, for now, I'm still gathering data.  As we rounded the quiet block in the aftermath of the raucous Independence Day, and I looked around at the green lawns laden with summer flowers and smelling of lavender, it struck me that I'm now in my third season here.  How is that possible?  It seems as though I just got here.  But, I moved here in the heart of winter, stayed afloat during the heavy rains of spring and now am on the downhill roll of summer.  I've long thought of July 4th as the tipping point in the summer season.  After that point, back in Austin, parents begin turning their attention to getting ready for back-to-school.  Kids who could hardly wait to spend time in the pool tire of it and the long, hot days.  Things slow down.  It's too hot to be outside in Texas, and being outside during the day is like living in a blast furnace, so tempers wear a little short.  But here, I don't know what it's going to be like.  Here this morning I was a little bit chilly and debated whether I should have worn long sleeves.  School is still two months away.  In other words, for an elementary school child, light years away.  (Probably seems that way for some of the mothers too.)  The dog days are still ahead of us, but close enough that we're all nervously watching the news of the lockout to see if we'll be making the trek to Latrobe for training camp or not or having to find another way to amuse ourselves.  But, aside from the familiar call of training camp and Pirates baseball, what do people around here do to spend their late summer days?  They go to Kennywood I guess, take hikes along the park trails or ride bikes, and have cook outs or go boating.  All outdoorsy things that it's way too hot to consider back in Austin.  But, I don't know for sure.  Those observations are still ahead of me.

Of course, you're wondering what the point of any of this is.  Well, as I ponder all of this silently as we finally round the last bend home for the morning, I conclude there isn't one really.  It's just the processing of data.  Casual mind traveling as I try and shake off the sleepies.  Then last night, as Greg and I cross the Roberto Clemente Bridge toward PNC Park, he shakes his head somewhat incredulously and says something about not being able to get used to the fact that he lives here, then motions to all the people on the bridge surrounding us and says, "It's their city, not my city."  And it strikes me how oddly timed the comment was, given my morning deliberations.  Then I realize all those fears I had when Greg first came to stay were about moments like that.  Moments when he feels so foreign and lost.  And, if I still feel that way occasionally when I love it here so much, how must it be for him?  And then I realize it's not a matter of him wondering what he's doing here, but many times in a day he must wonder it.

And at last I come to the point:  can Pittsburgh and I win this man over and make him feel at home and, more importantly, at peace with this destination?  Or did I just move his grieving heart from one place to the next and remove the only life support for it that he had?  Time will tell, surely.  And maybe if I just leave it be, he will be gradually enfolded into the pulse of the town much like I was with Austin.  Maybe not ever quite feeling like he truly belongs, but comfortable enough to proceed with life.  Yet, I worry, and worry nearly constantly, about his state of mind in the meantime.  I worry, but have no answers.  And how much responsibility should I shoulder if he cannot acclimate here?  Would that be my fault, or is it just the fallout I've read about in the books about grieving?  I am just so constantly struck by how hard it has been to regain some semblance of normalcy since that fateful day two years ago.  Have I made it harder by jerking us so violently away from what we knew?  When I think about being twelve minutes from the zoo and twenty from Heinz Field, I know the answer for me is "Oh hell no I didn't!", but Greg has no siren's call to any of this.

Maybe, at long last, I come to the real point:  does worrying over these things really accomplish anything?  Should I just try and accept where we all are at the moment, let time do its job and relax, enjoy the balance of the summer, the urgent blinking of fireflies in the trees at night, and the smell of lavender in the air in the morning for now and take the rest as it comes?

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