I wrote about returning to Gotham from Italy. Read it or listen to it or both. Sorry about the soothing white noise in the background.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been feeling like Ben Braddock, Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate. Vague, befuddled, ineffably disillusioned, and suffering some inarticulate loss, I have attended people’s parties with no real idea of what I’m doing there.
“How was Italy?” They ask, and then before I can answer, they exclaim, “I’ll bet it was fantastic. Was it fantastic?”
Yes, I say, it was. It’s easier to answer that way. I can’t quite live up to their excitement. The truth is too complex, and even when I indulge it, the truth sounds false.
“So what are you going to do now?” they ask. I want to tell them that I’m going to go upstairs and lie down, but I don’t. Mostly I say little. I keep on expecting someone to pull me aside tell me a word, one word, perhaps “plastics.” I too want to sit at the bottom of a pool and hear nothing but the gurgle of filters and the quick-quick twostep of my heartbeat.
Re-entry, as any astrophysicist will tell you, is difficult. It’s a major problem of pyrotechnically flaming thermodynamic proportions. It’s hard not to burn up when foreign matter hits the atmosphere of a celestial body. I hedge on hyperbole, of course, but when have I not? Hyperbole is my bread and butter and metaphor my jam. I have felt moments from spontaneous combustion. I’ve imagined my sleek Betty Draper blonde hair going up in a poof of Michael Jackson flames. It hasn’t happened, not in real life, not yet.
In truth what it is, or so I hear, is culture shock. The form my culture shock has been taking, beyond pervasive sense of living in The Graduate without Anne Bancroft, is a profound feeling of being paralyzed by not caring very much (if at all) and an endless game of Anywhere But Here. No matter where I go, I don’t want to be there. Everything is wrong. It’s off. The cars are too big and the roads are too wide. The portions are too big and the berries too tasteless. The asses are too big and there are too many people having conversations that I can understand and don’t want to hear. Gotham is dirty and ugly. I hardly remember what I loved about it. Gotham’s far away, though I am in it. I am here but not here. I am Schrödinger’s cat.
I still do the math. It’s 7:45 p.m. here so it is 1:45 a.m. in Italy. It’s 8:13 a.m. here so it is 2:13 p.m. in Italy. I do the math, but I do it less and less. I’ve lost the will to order my food and coffee in Italian, but I still catch myself answering “Si” or “No, per favore” when asked anything by a waitperson. Details have begun to slip away, like pollen they drift and flow on quiet currents, somewhere else.
I suppose I am readjusting. At any rate, I begin to solidify. Gotham grows more real, my friends more important, my dog more lovable. I don’t quite want to chew my own arm off. I’m not anxiously scanning last-minute plane fares. I’m stolidly, thoughtfully planning a trip in September; I placate myself with the thought of six weeks in the fall. I’m growing in, perhaps growing up, here in this city that I used to love with untrammeled abandon and now have to fake it, lying back and thinking of Montalcino.
Which is all very weird because I didn’t come to love Italy until I’d been there for months and months, perhaps months and months and months. I still couldn’t speak the language, though I could understand it well enough (Capisco abbastanza bene ma non parlo bene, mi dispiace.) It wasn’t home, not by a long shot. It was weird and wild and foreign and things, magical things, wonderful things, transformative things, seemed possible there.
Which is to put my finger on the conflagratory problem. Here, surrounded by my stuff, in my city, near my friends, my Romans, my countrymen, I actually have to make those changes I envisioned while I was away. I’m no longer literally distant from my own life; I’m not removed. I’m here, present, accountable, and the real smacks me hard as rushing ground to a falling body. As it turns out, I like escape in multiple forms. I thought it was just narratives and games of solitaire. Travel too must go on the list.
I am going through the motions, walking through the part. Nothing seems to penetrate my heart. Not even, I might add, Buffy. This, if nothing else, alerts me to the gravity of the sitch. There is loss of country, loss of freedom, loss of love and loss of loss. There is loss piled upon loss piled upon loss, and all I want is to be anywhere but here.
Every day gets a little bit better. I suppose it does. It does, I suppose. It gets better, or something like it. It goes, and I’m here stroking my loss that grows transparent, bare and shining under my furtive hands.