by guest contributor, Arin Black*
I’m no stranger to fauxstalgia. Being Finnish, Irish and French, a modicum of daily ennui is practically a genetic requirement.
I often find myself longing for a place I have never been.
Unlike those who yearn for college years or a long-ago vacation, I long for a place I simply refer to as home. In saying this, I mean neither the place where I was born, nor those that followed. I’ve lived in some great cities: Paris, San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, and now Philadelphia, but it’s not that which I am looking for. Instead, the idea of home is somehow more nebulous.
“I want to go Home,” I say, and in doing so I mean I want to find the place that exists in the nexus between my heart and my head – a space where I am loved, where things work. I’ve had it a few times in my life. That stillness coupled with the recognition that I am exactly where I need to be – driving down the highway in a Winnebago listening to Mos Def while on a nationwide tour of America’s prisons; during the last semester of college while I spent my days engaged in art and discourse; on a sunny Mardi Gras day post-Katrina, my body painted in flowers as I wandered through the French Quarter.
For a while though, I thought it had gone completely from my life. After residing in New Orleans for nine years, during which time I’d made incredible friends, completed a graduate degree and drank more than my share of cocktails, I decided that the funky, swamp-wet, bacchanalia where I’d been living wasn’t ever going to truly be my home. It was too loud and I had spent too much of my time there poor and stretched out onto the edges. When I closed my eyes and thought about the idea of home, it didn’t quite line up with my shotgun apartment, with incessant decay and the sometimes edgy, ragged energy.
And so, one oppressively hot day in July, I packed up my Honda with my beagle and a few possessions and headed out searching.
What followed was a journey that took me up the west coast to Oregon and then across Idaho, Wyoming, Iowa and Illinois to Philadelphia, where I thought I might stop for a minute and get my bearings. With each new place, each new room in which I unpacked the single duffel bag, I asked, “Is this place going to be my home?”
Honestly, I didn’t answer yes in Philadelphia, but I started dating a man there named Kevin and one thing led to another and we moved in together. It was a relationship that was filled with intelligence and sudden kindness and a shared love of adventure. But I kept holding back.
The house we actually lived in didn’t look like what I pictured for myself. It was messy and masculine. There was no yard. I couldn’t find a job. The winters were miserable.
As much as I loved Kevin, he sometimes eluded me, became moody. We fought. He forgot to take out the garbage. I doubted his love. Sometimes it felt like in order to have our life together I would have to abandon all those ideas I had about the life I imagined. I’d gone out in search of home and I wasn’t sure if I had found it.
When we set out last summer for a trip to the Philippines, I did so thinking that maybe the trip would be a last hurrah before we parted and I went again in search of that magic place.
Three weeks into the vacation, we had traveled to Coron Town in the province of Palawan, a place as far from home as anything I’d known. The electricity shut off every night with a sudden pop of darkness. Every morning we passed an eagle tethered to a chain in the patch of dirt in front of someone’s shack. The shower was a spigot on the wall above the toilet. And then there was the diving.
I’d learned how during the first week of the trip. Being underwater was amazing, but breathing through the equipment felt foreign, and at least once in every dive I became suddenly convinced that I was going to spit out my regulator and die. Diving was important to Kevin, and I was determined to keep at it, to enjoy the good parts in spite of my fears. At least as much as I was able.
On our third day in Coron Town, Kevin went in search of the World War II wrecks that lay sunken on the floor of the South China Sea. The water there was murky and rough, and I didn’t feel comfortable subsumed beneath so much uncertainty. He left early, perched on the wing of a banca in his wetsuit as the boat chugged from the trash-strewn harbor towards endless sea, punctuated by rocks that loomed like giants.
At first, I didn’t mind that he had gone. I spent the day ducking the rain as I wandered through the tight cluster of stalls that pushed up against the hard, dirt-packed road. I spied a clutch of chicks in a wheeled wooden cart; their feathers dyed hot pink, electric blue, and neon green. Coron Town was in the middle of Festival, and the chicks were colored in celebration, a favor the children could buy. I ate real bread (a rarity in the Philippines) at a French bistro, one of the town’s few places to eat. I drank a beer in the hotel restaurant.
By three I was bored. By four, the rained stopped and Kevin still hadn’t returned. I took a book and climbed a series of spiral staircases that seemed as though any moment they might tear away from the building, to the roof where a few hammocks stretched between rusty poles.
There, on the top of a building at the end of the world, I waited and waited. Each time a boat dotted into view I strained to see if he was in it. And then, finally, as the sun began to set against the gray and blue and green of the vista, he was there, sunburned and salty.
He smiled at me. Happy. And there it was. Home.
*Arin Black is a writer and non-profit arts professional. Her writing has appeared in The Bee Group Newspapers, New Orleans Magazine, Louisiana Life Magazine, Turnstyle, ArtVoices, on gonola.com, nolaphile.com and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of New Orleans and lives in Philadelphia with her partner, her beagle, and a very rowdy poodle.