Rendered Fat Content


Paul Gauguin: Manao tupapau [She Thinks of the Ghost
or The Ghost Thinks of Her)] (1894/95)

"I doubt if I'm here this morning."

Returning to the scene of a former life reliably induces the sense that I have become a ghost. I almost remember the details of my daily life there, but not quite. I perceive in general gists, relative positions, though distances seem distinctly different, whether foreshortened or lengthened, funny somehow. I recall how I used to slip down to the corner market to buy a pack of smokes but I cannot for the life of me remember how it felt to be panicking over a needed nicotine fix. My whole life then must have been perpetually suspended upon that knife edge separating a fleeting serenity and a more permanent insecurity. I inhabited what I would one day recall as a heaven on Earth, but had one devil of a time living in it then.

Times were hard. money, scarce, success uncertain, even unlikely.
I strived but mostly felt as though I would always be unlikely to succeed. I stayed undercover, head down, refusing to engage outside of the smallest possible cage I'd constructed for myself, for my family, for our safety. This city still seems foreboding to me, never very friendly. I frequented out-of-the-way places and worked hard to avoid the more popular ones. I rode the bus to work and back. Like everyone else around me, I fancied myself an eccentric, not quite legitimate, only distantly competent. I seemed more circumstance's pawn than anyone in charge of anything. I lived an indenture.

When I return, I sense the absence of my presence here, what the intervening years have missed, and how they changed the place. I'll always wonder if I might have exerted more influence here had I ever felt as if this could have been my home. I was a carpetbagger, part of yet another generation fleeing not precisely devastation or plague back home, but running from a certain lack of choices there. The opportunities to stumble into something interesting seemed severely limited there. My mother tried to convince me that I could become a truck driver. I always was a lousy millworker. I could not imagine myself as a corrections officer, though that job came with a union wage and retirement benefits, unlike the bulk of the narrow opportunities my homeland offered.

I left and never returned. I left but never learned how to live anywhere else, always the somebody else, the anonymous stranger on the bus, the fellow scanning the nonfiction shelves down at Powell's, even to myself. I wonder now, in retrospect, of course, if I ever even lived here and if I ever even left. I suspect that I inhabit a similar self-limiting trance today, one which will eventually give way to another sense of always having been absent, off to the corner for a pack of sorely needed smokes, slowly killing myself to appease myself. I might have never lived here, save for that fence I build forty-some years ago that still looks decent. My stewardship reduced to what I didn't then know how to produce. My footprints left by accident. A pack of smokes crammed into my jeans side pocket my only apparent security against the ages. I'm being Ghosted by a past I might have never been present to experience. I doubt if I'm here this morning as a result.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver