Friday, June 15, 2012

TAKE ME TO CAMBODIA



Now that I have decided the direction I am going, I am still mulling over where I am from. Friends responded to the last post with their ideas of home and I identify with their overall feelings of safety, comfort, family, and wherever they feel loved. By those terms, of course, I still can't pick just one and that is fine with me now. With the exception of an unwavering loyalty in relationships, this sample platter-style of decision making is evident in pretty much every other facet of my life.  Picking paint colors can take an entire season, for example.  So it is not a surprise to me that it extends to a slightly morbid topic: if I have belonged to and loved multiple places, where would my final resting spot be?!  Right now, I think the answer is 'give me back to the places that have given to me'.  

I smile a mischievous grin at the thought of a cremator (crematist? crematory artist?) shaking his/her head in annoyance while evenly dividing my ashes among several - I don't know - baby food jars maybe, each labeled in Sharpie marker with their intended destination.  This sounds utterly classless, I know, but I figure if you sent me home in a fancy urn, I would just have to be divvied up anyway and it is hard to picture imposing that task on my family.  Even though I know it would turn into another episode of hysterical, laugh-til-you-cry (or pee) foolishness, you really can't make that a kitchen table event like coloring Easter eggs or decorating Christmas cookies.  "Canning Whitney".  Nuh-uh.  

I say: leave me in all the places my mind and heart wander on both my darkest and sweetest days…

Briefly:
Charlottesville….for saving me.  (That's for another time)  
Cabin Rouge, Clayton, and Lake Ozonia….Too many formative events and good times with precious people to recount.  

New Jersey:  I know what you are thinking.  Of course, Jersey!:  Home of landfills and professional body disposal.  But no. In New Brunswick, a couple of generations of "Greats" are buried in the city where many of them arrived and made a home in this country. My own New Jersey is a one of a few tiny towns on the shore where my extended family has spent summertime vacation for much of the last century.  Aside from the nearby tacky, Snookified, greasy food-laden amusement pier (that still sometimes widens my childish eyes with its flashing lights and rides perched over the ocean), it is rife with smells and sounds that bring me back to the sweetest family memories.  Sun-drenched days and sunburn chills at night, the clink of shifting ice cubes in happy hour glasses, crabbing at the bayside pier, kite-flying on the beach after dinner, and the distinct laughter of late family members in conversations I don't recall. Yes, when I go…take me back to my Shore. Take me to the sea.  

The North Country:
My hometown, in Northern New York. The place where I could safely play in the street with my neighborhood pals, tearing around on a banana-seat bike, or on roller skates, and constantly testing the bounds of healthy circulation, hanging upside down on the monkey bars for medically abnormal lengths of time. (Add a couple of major headers off the bike and that explains some things, no?). This is where I did many childish things like pretend - along with my friends - to be asleep on the lawn when the girl down the street headed our way. To anyone driving by, it looked like a mini Jonestown until she went back home and we were resurrected........shameful! Later, it is where I did grown-up things like drive and argue and make horrible mistakes. And it is where I attended a friend's burial in the pouring Spring rain...where Adam drove us out of the cemetery to a soundtrack of Annie Lennox and - I swear - the loudest thunder I have ever heard, directly overhead.

This was also the small town (one I still insist is a movie set at night) in which my childhood imagination gave way to what I now know is a more mature but permanently Piscean relationship with the world.  That is, one foot on the earth and one on the starry path most people dismiss or cannot see…a blindness I envy sometimes!  The older I get, the more adept I am at anchoring myself responsibly and realistically.  (It keeps the pragmatists happy at the very least.) 

So I guess it is only fitting that this would be where I came to an agreement with that glittery, perfumed half of my world view and learned to reel it in…to start giving up on some things, and some people.  That said, it is always going to be the place where, staring out on summer nights - just thinking - would occasionally, magically, give rise to an almost Shakespearean dream....the sound of real pebbles being thrown at my window, and a quick kiss goodnight or an embrace goodbye in the dark.  As the watch gears of each season turn and pause at familiar notches, this town reliably - enchantingly - slips into the same gossamer breezes, temperatures, and scents of those perfectly irreplaceable slivers of time…. The only things I truly possess.  This town, it turns out, hosts a million memories and echoes of moments like those.  Including the one that leads my ashes East.

Cambodia:  On the tough days, when I feel buried alive in a pine box with dwindling oxygen, my mind goes to places I love but, more often, to places I have not been…yet.  One of those spots on the globe that I am itching to travel is familiar to the man who was once the teenager throwing rocks at my window, and who has weaved himself in and out of my life for 25 years.  Everyone (I hope) has someone like him…someone with whom they share a sacred, centuries-old bond. He has: the voice that puts me at ease during marathon phone calls in the wee hours, an intimate blueprint of my half-grit/half-starseed personality, a rare and epic grasp of romance, and the wisdom to remind me a few years back that I already possess all the strength I will ever need.  Long ago, he gave me a paper Purple Heart he knew (well before I did) I would earn.  He knew there were walls to scale, moats to cross, and armed guards to slay to get to the warmest, most tender spot I'll possibly ever know in this lifetime: the place where my ear fits perfectly above my favorite drumbeat.  He was the man who sent me letters while fighting a war, now lost with the Purple Heart in a move. A more recent history of our ever-nebulous connection is not up for public discussion, but as I continue to grow up and reluctantly release myself (at least in my head) from the proverbial back burner, I have a new medal to replace the old one.  It arrived from the once war-ravaged country in the form of an early-morning phone call that bounced a gift of words off satellites and towers, and shot them past the walls, moats, and armed guards that now reside within me. They got through to where - as of today - no one else has ever been.  Now, I don't know what the rest of my life holds in terms of relationships, hardships, disappointments, and more spoken intentions left unfulfilled by those I love, but I will always know - always - that I was thought of in a remote place still rebuilding from the wrath of the Khmer Rouge, on a road paved over a nightmare.

I will make it - maybe even with him as our tour guide - to the gorgeous Angkor Wat, the temple on the postcard he so obligingly sent a few days later to replace the war letters. Sooner rather than later. But whatever happens, do save one last jar……..take me to Cambodia.  (And if it is not too much to wish, a teeny tiny part of me hopes that as my ashes are tossed, the hot breeze shifts suddenly and he gets a gentle little smack of soot in his eyes and mouth as payback for being eternally fickle and not closing the deal. I am pretty sure after he stops coughing, he will start laughing, knowing exactly what just happened.)  



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