Sunday, December 23, 2007

On Falling Home

What everyone talks about is falling in love. The moment I saw him, they whisper. We were standing by the water cooler. It was when he took my daughter's hand in his. All evening we danced and then, at midnight, I knew.

Stories about falling in love tend to come at you suddenly and slaveringly, like attack dogs. They worry your ankles and bare their teeth; they have short, sleek coats of words under which their skeletons, the generic narratives of meeting and mating, are almost painfully visible. I haven't been much, lately, for stories of falling in love, although I appreciate the touches of individuality, the way people gussy up their tales like 1st-graders decorating the coffee-can pencil holders they made for Mom.

There are other ways, other places, and other reasons to fall. Falling is what humans do. We drop from one kind of existence to another, plopping downward like Adam and Eve from the Garden, Ceasar from power, skydivers straight into their fears. We fall hard and fast; we skin our knees; we arrive.

Though maybe "arrive" is the wrong word. "Arrive" implies conscientious, or at least conscious, travel. You "arrive" after a deliberate, linear displacement of yourself from point A to point B. Joan Didion wrote a breath-snatching essay I read recently entitled On Going Home, but I wonder if she got it quite right. It's too simple, the idea that you can "go" home, that it's nothing more than a destination. Home has a violence to it, a wrenching suddenness that ought to be reflected in your verb.

So I've fallen home. The sky clued me in. I'm promiscuous with sky; I like to look up. I've toyed, in my time, with grey, low, wide, high, blue, green, lovely. But the sky at home is the only sky that's always and exactly the right color. This particular scattering of light, this particular searing arrangement of clouds: my slot in the universe, the right place to drop me.

Home is not as sexy as love. Its stories are smaller: slow accretions of time and memory. My father started to fall home the day he drove into town and saw the hills and told himself it would be OK. It took my mother 20 years: she kept thinking of California, the way the breeze would blow in off the Pacific in the late afternoon. Some people never fall home because they have none, because they've traded home in for something shinier and possessed of more horsepower: career trajectory, freedom, no-strings-attached.

I, on the other hand, am strung up. It happened so softly I didn't hear, so slowly I didn't budge. Somewhere between seven and eight or ten and twelve; somewhere between the kidneys and the lungs and my poor, besotted heart. I've never felt this way before, the song proclaims. Only I have, of course, and it's where I live.

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