Sometimes a place is a site of conjuration that sits, welling up, contaminated, voice and remarks reserved for later, and the secret self that is of the place takes on a pretension of nostalgia, of joy, of beauty.
On grief. On memory. On moving forward.
Here is the thing though. Over and under the light, a bridge sits between points of land. A dreamer is off to a bad start when she is late for her own appointment with the sunset.
A still memory becomes assembled on its own, a series of memories, a heap of ashes that blows away in the wind, scatters, drowns.
Memories don’t burn but they fragment, deteriorate, separate and are easily blown away with a heavy breath.
I return to a place of my childhood, a place both utterly familiar through its essence, and unfamiliar in its specificities. I return to gaze down upon the bay where my mother’s ashes are scattered and, do what? I am not sure.
This is a city most beautiful from the outside looking in. No other city takes your breath away the way this one does, as you enter, crossing a bridge and having the city momentously and gloriously grow vertically in front of you as you seemingly circle an entire horizon line to arrive, here, this city of cities, this wound of wounds.
The city is legible as a city, as a dismissal of memories. Many things remain questions here. It is crowded. And the sky becomes deconstructed, designated, something that opens up as you inch toward the margins and exterior lines of this territory. From the center, it is dirty and grimy. On the margins, the fresh air, the breeze. I see the city from this corner, that height, this cliff, that viewpoint. This is the way to see the city and to have its traces, now just dust and ash, creep up into your nostrils via the wind and permeation of thought, the encounter with the phantom that haunts these streets. Speak to it. Whisper. Then take it all back.
I want to enter the city as the sun is setting. To see perhaps one of my most favorite sights in the world, a view that conjures up the ontological difference between life and death while sitting in the car, just looking, looking, the orange sky reflected against the skyscrapers that crowd up against each other, the glints of sky-color, of sky-blue, of sky-orange, of fire, of ocean, these susceptible wounds that open up and close and then present themselves in front of your eyes as you move gracelessly into its heart.
The arriving is everything. This return. This coming. This ever-after of a journey and the city that builds itself in front of you in a matter of seconds. Once you enter it, that view disappears.
But, I miss my appointment. I nap for too long and when I arrive the sun has already almost set and the buildings look dreary, the night lights not yet on so even the evening glamor is missing from this landscape. The too-lackluster of the too-late.
It’s the revenant that follows me everywhere here. Mine. Yours. Hers.
I do not exaggerate when I say that I have a love-hate relationship with the city. I can’t imagine living here. But it is a part of my origin story. And where my mother’s ashes rest.
I do not cease hopelessly romanticizing this city and I do not cease battling against its tyranny. This isn’t an allusion but just me, in the throes of the haunting, in the paradox of easily forgetting one’s mother’s face but bursting into tears from the sight of the city while standing on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Standing under the bridge I see the water, blue, deep, teary. That ocean. That bird. That personal anguish that is just a part of mourning. That is just a part of I didn’t get to say goodbye so I can’t stop telling the air I miss you. I miss you.
Standing at Land’s End, the end of the world on the edge of a peninsula, I see the water, blue, deep, teary. That ocean. Those waves. That sun. The penetration of a place into the gut of a person. My gut. If I come back here to swim it’ll be as a ghost and I will be dead.
The fault of the fault line is a promise, unwavering. The denial of salutation is wounding. The necessary gesture is a gaze. Then, to cry. To just cry. There is no other debt to be paid. Just the tears that land cold onto my cheeks as the wind pushes hard. Memory is perpetration. Memory is not unkind. Memory is full of holes and blurry and vision is blurry when there are tears and I miss you I miss you but I don’t know what to say just hello and goodbye and I miss you.
You perhaps don’t know how to fit into this personal moment. I stop and linger for too many moments and I say something about there are my mother’s ashes, in there. You perhaps don’t have words and this isn’t your story but you know to put your arms around me and kiss my cheek and this is all that I need.
This is all I need from you forever perhaps, the gesture in a moment to fulfill a lifetime.
I wonder about so many things while driving through this city with you. I confess that I can’t help wondering what a future with you looks like and I want it. A future. With you. The contents of my memories spill over and then are drowned in the bay and what binds me to this city today, is not the nostalgia, nor even my mother’s ashes, but you, here, with me now, driving up and down these streets, the awaited conjuration that depends not on the past but a contingent present and future with someone who has become my entire world.
We eat ice cream that starts to melt and drip down our hands instantly. We walk through alleyways that smell and are stopped in different modes of traffic. We reconstruct your favorite shot from Vertigo at Fort Point.
Don’t let me get too dramatic. But the I love you gets tangled up in all this weather and you take my hand always when it matters. It matters now. It always matters.
I inherit from the city an impulse to linger. I also inherit from it a tone of continuation and escape. I learn to live finally, finally. To identify what it means to go through life not as a writer or a teacher or a friend or a daughter, but simply, as a human being. Is it strange that I feel I’ve played so many roles and with you these roles don’t seem to matter, are irrelevant. And for the first time perhaps, I am just another human being. This isn’t a dismissal or a ghosting of identity. This is a relief. An acknowledgement of something else that is magnetic and frequent.
These days everything seems to bring tears to my eyes. I read a line in a poem online. I read something about ghosts. I see water. I see sky. And it is all deeply overwhelming and sad. And yet the visitations of these moments of possibility are also open and full of the work of mourning, which is acknowledgement, which is life, which is continuing to learn to live with it and everything else. Finally, how to live.
What dissipates when the wind pulls my hair out from behind my ears?
What drowns in the water if not my own body pushed over the edge so easily?
Visiting a tall place, a cold place, an unfamiliar place on the parapets of midnight.
Continuing to learn to live with it.
Continuing to mourn.
Continuing to fall deeper in love with you.
Continuing to continue.
Even if the water is cold and deep. Even if the sky is too bright and the sun burns my skin while I drive. Even if I’m haunting the space more than it is haunting me. Even if I forget everything.
Lapses are what normalize these impressions and even when it seems my heart is foreclosed with the weight of regret or sand, I remember you and everything that has dissipated in the wind and is now just sand or ash or dust. We will all have the magnificent opportunity to live this fantastic duplicity of ghost and dust, of specter and ash, and when that moment arises, you will have forgotten everything you have ever known and it will be a relief. Until then, I will remember and forget with every fiber of my being and unmute the conjuration of the sky. And I will let myself cry whenever I see it.