Monday, February 28, 2011

From a Distance

“The city is like a girl with a bad complexion: Pretty from a distance.”

I don’t remember what movie that’s from but it’s a line that has stuck in my head even if the title of the movie fell out somewhere along the way. I knew what that was like though, both the city and the complexion problems. Sometimes, when things are not completely in focus, they appear to be so beautiful, their blurred edges like a glow.

Over the Christmas break when I was in 6th grade, we moved. We sold the light blue house with the water meter toad trap, the carport where the rat cage and the snake cage had been, the old-fashioned wringer-washer that was so entertaining, the tree one of our dogs liked to climb, and the azalea hedge in the back where I meticulously plucked dozens of blooms to make my mother a surprise Hawaiian lei to her great dismay. We left the never-finished swing set frame my father had had Pappy the Plumber build for me out of salvage pipe on my 7th birthday. We left the sandbox where my brother buried me and finished the job with a shovel-full of sand in my mouth. We left the avocado tree whose branches had broken every time we tried to climb it. We left the backyard that had spawned puppies and kittens, earth-moving projects with toy trucks, and kumquats which only my father could eat.

The movers packed our house and my mother’s enormous antique shop. We had filled two moving vans and another trailer that shipped by train. We took my new Persian cat Dickens and my mother’s poodle Pierre and my brother’s dog Beau, half poodle, half beagle. We piled into the two cars, the matching Oldsmobiles that were blue for my mother and brown for my father, and drove to a place we had never been before, leaving, in spite of the cars and truckloads of stuff, nearly everything familiar behind.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
 We stopped in Georgia, lost the cat, found the cat and drove on. We stopped in Texas, marveling at the never-before-seen snowfall, its beauty and wonder and possibilities beyond our imagination. Just as quickly as we leapt from the car in our newly acquired soft-soled moccasins into the Texas snow, we bounced back into the car, howling because it was cold and wet. The snow blew away behind us as we chugged westward toward New Mexico and on a sunny cold afternoon, we entered my new town.

“Is this the bad side of town, Daddy?” I asked, looking at the unlovely faux-stucco walls with chicken wire showing through at the edges, dust covering everything to create a uniform color scheme of reddish-gold without sparkle.

“No,” my father braced himself. “This is the town.” This was the inauspicious beginning to our next seven plus years.

Our new house was on the edge of town in a new subdivision. It was, we soon realized, the worst house we had ever lived in. There was a weed growing up through the floor and baseboard inside my bedroom. The house was small. It was poorly built. It was decorated in the same colors as the dust outside. I began to hate the color brown.  There were no trees, only the flat, dry landscape visited occasionally by thorny rolling tumbleweed. We tackled the heart-wrenching, body-slam that was unpacking the house and the antique shop. More bad news: The movers had flipped one of the moving vans in the snow in Texas, starting a months-long lawsuit to settle the claim. The shop was smaller than what we had had in Florida too. The screaming and fighting had begun again, the echoes of my early childhood when my parents had battled so terribly and terrorized us.

I started the second half of 6th grade in a new school and tried to play on a playground hard as pavement and covered with a thin coat of dust and tiny gravel the size of BB’s. I was in the nurse’s office every other day, picking gravel out of newly scraped knees, wondering if they would ever completely heal. I started to get an idea why there were so many sad country songs.
Somehow, I found something positive along the way but it wasn’t easy. My brother had given me his old Stingray bicycle when he had gotten a new one and I began to ride through the winding streets of our subdivision. That bicycle was my magic carpet, my time machine, my spaceship, my angel wings. I learned to ride it without hands, to stand on the pedals with my arms thrown out or crossed, steering by speed and angling the bike with my knees.  I could do tricks on the bike and sailed past my new house with one foot on the banana seat, Arabesque.

All of a sudden, the world was prettier on that bike. The houses rushing past my eyes were almost the color they had been painted instead of being muted and daubed with the incessant sandblast that took the color out of everything when I stood still. Lawns seemed greener instead of patchy and dead. The families in the houses looked happier the faster I rode and the taller I stood. I could see farther. And because I could, instead of focusing on the details of the weed that grew through my bedroom floor, or the scratches in the sand-blasted window glass, or the cars and houses that would never seem clean if you looked at them closely, my perspective changed.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had found some small way to exert some control over my life by changing the way I viewed it. Sure, the dust was still there, but my world had color again.

As in the 3 of Wands, a project is often most promising at its outset, when you strive to see over the horizon and imagine the wonders beyond. The goal is pretty from a distance. It is especially so when you cannot see its flaws, grow bored of its sameness and regret what you left behind. As I launched myself like my own ship, first on a bike, then that summer through voracious reading of everything I could get my hands on, including the entire city public library, I began the time in my life when all things “out there” become more attractive than the sameness of what I already knew too well. I set my sights on what was beyond my current vision, having learned that I was capable of leaving part of myself behind to begin something new.

My world was pretty from a distance now and I worked toward that distance so I could once again marvel at the beauty of the imperfect world up close without disappointment. I set off to learn new things, wonderful things, to feel new sensations, to see with different eyes, even if there be dragons.

Best wishes!

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