Sunday, February 14, 2010
Lost in Kansas, planet earth
Then again, I chose it precisely because I couldn't live in one of those other suburbs, which I consider special versions of hell, not the brilliant hellscapes as painted by Bosch or Delacroix, but rather hell as depicted by a mediocre no-name artist churning out canvases for mid-grade motel rooms.
I don't particularly like Olathe, don't feel at home here, it's full of milo farmers and churchgoers and kids who drop out of high school and women who knit and vote Republican. But if you looked at an aerial view of Kansas City, Google maps maybe, you would see that Olathe is teetering on the edge of civilization, flanked on one side by farmland and wheat fields and acres of wide open nothing. And this is why I live here, because when I am too full of the world I can drive a mile or two out of town and breathe in the life-giving air of the almost wild.
Anna was four months old when we moved here. I thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. After I tried it for a while, I grew depressed and bored beyond belief. This had nothing to do with my love for my daughter, which is so keen it knocks me double sometimes, only with the activities that filled a typical day.
Though I had doubts I would find my niche in Olathe, in the beginning I made a concerted effort to get out and meet other women. I introduced myself to the other stay-at-home moms in my subdivision. I joined the YMCA and subsequently, their book club. They read books like “Let's Roll”, which was written by a 9/11 widow and as far as I could tell was a paean to the Bush administration and Christianity, I really don't know because I ended up throwing it across the room before I ever finished it, or maybe into the fireplace, I don't remember. I quit after a short time. So that left me to the neighborhood moms. Sometimes we would chat on the sidewalk while our children played. Sometimes we would go so far as to meet for coffee.
Our conversations were mostly benign. We would talk of the weather, decorating schemes, what we were planting in the garden, was so-and-so’s gazebo allowed under association rules and of course, our children. Endless, endless talk of children until I thought my head would explode. We avoided any mention of the delicious underbelly of life, the raw and the dangerous. Our social antennae steered us clear of potentially charged topics the way air traffic controllers guided jets in along separate trajectories to avoid collision.
Sometimes, over coffee, I would break custom and venture deeper. We would first get the children settled with toys or cartoons or what have you and then we, this other mother and I, would begin a process of trying to find something in common. She might talk about the croup, which they just finished with, and did Anna get the croup? We both liked to cook, yes, though finding time was a challenge. Haven’t quilted in ages, no. I did enjoy plays. She happened to have extra tickets to Peter and the Wolf and would Anna and I like to join them? How kind of her! Was I a reader? I was! But no, didn’t care for Mitch Albom, read mostly literary fiction. Her handbag? Well, it was lovely. No, I hadn’t heard of Coach. Wasn’t really much of a shopper. Bought my purses at Target (ha ha).
She says something about carrying her breast pump in there, in her Coach purse, and I think, aha! And I tell her about how I tried to breast feed and how Anna wasn't growing and my pediatrician told me I needed to put her on formula, failure to thrive they called it, and I sat in her office and cried inconsolably, and she put a hand on my knee and told me this, she told me it was not God's will that I breastfeed. My doctor! Can you believe that? As if God looked down upon my child and said thou shalt have Enfamil. Of all the things. And then she actually quoted something from Paul's epistle to someone-or-other and while I'm not Christian I can appreciate a lot of the New Testament, especially some of the gospels, but I always thought Paul a bit of a noob, thought he missed the point entirely, but I realize she was just trying to comfort me and people so often fall back on religion to do this. In fact, wasn’t that what they were getting at in Life of Pi, at the end when he was rescued and you realized the whole fantastical story was one he had made up to maintain his sanity and keep himself from being consumed by the grief of losing his family and that really, really, he was talking about religion, and wasn’t religion truly just a bunch of fantastical stories we tell ourselves to maintain our sanity and settle our souls? And I don’t say that to belittle religion, though I often do belittle religion, but in this regard I think it serves a rather beautiful purpose, which is to help salve the human heart. Not mine specifically, but I'm talking about humankind in general. However the whole irony of religion, in my opinion, is that to benefit from it you have to be deeply engaged with humanity and I've always just felt like a tourist here myself, does that make any sense at all?
And here this other mother looked at me like a deer in the fucking headlights and I realized I had lost her at Coach and Anna and I were never going to see Peter and the Wolf.
After two years I went back to work. I got a job as Executive Director for a small nonprofit. I worked ridiculously long hours for ridiculously low pay until I realized someone would pay me more money to do less work, and I opted for that. Now I work with spreadsheets and it's better, okay. I started out there three days a week, so I could write on my off days, but there was too much work, so I moved to four days and then to five, and the days bleed into weeks into years.
Sometimes in the summer, it's still light when I get home from work and I drive past the turnoff to our subdivision. I keep driving out past town and into the farmland. I roll down my windows and breathe in the scent of young wheat green after a fresh rain and let the wind play through my hair and turn up the music until I feel it in my arms and my throat and the corners of my eyes and let it all take me away, far away, somewhere, I don't know where.