I left the town of Moscow, Idaho, under the cover of darkness and arrived in the city of Springfield, Missouri, with the sun shedding light on my thoughts of home.
The plane dove through the flatness of the clouds into the flatness of the Midwest, and Springfield sprawled out below with no mountains, gulches, or canyons to keep its suburbs from flooding the plain. Looking out the plane window I felt exposed like a bird over the ocean, with no place to rest its weary wings. I wanted to stay on the plane forever, hidden in the hollow bone, where I had conversations with strangers about where they were going and who they were seeing and they would ask me the same questions and I could give them any answer — their heads nodding in acceptance as if they have known me their entire lives. It is easier to accept the naïve nature of strangers for belonging than to confront the familiarity of alienation brought forward by my parents’ questions of why I can’t be still. To answer those questions is to remind them that after 20 years of living in America we are still foreigners.
My youngest brother, the only one among us to be born in this country, was waiting for me at the airport. Driving into Springfield I looked out at the empty landscape, stretching out as far as the sky was from the ground, with only the branches of the bare trees tangled in my eyes to keep my thoughts grounded. My brother asked me how I felt about being back and I told him, “Being back reminds me of why I left.” To tell him this was ever home was to say I have never left.
There is no time for stillness when even the air is frantically searching for something that cannot be seen.
I used to spend my days in Springfield driving down country roads, a smile on my face, ears pressed against wind, grinding rubber against gravel, rocks hitting the tailpipe, on roads that never went anywhere — past farmhouses trembling in the wind, the yards littered with scrap metal and abandoned swing sets, past barns, and fields spotted with hickory and oak, away from the grabbing light of the city. There is something about the flatness here that pushes me inward, there is something about the distance between the sky and the ground that sends my thoughts scurrying in my head, and there are no distinctive landmarks to pull me out.
In Moscow, there is Moscow Mountain that can be seen from certain hills in town and on days when I feel down I can walk up those hills and look out and be reminded of the natural beauty of the world. The mountains serve as a link to a world that we so easily tend to forget, a simplicity of splendor that purifies our thoughts. That is not to say that the landscape around Springfield lacks in such natural beauty, but it exists outside the city, its suburbs. Here, it takes a certain kind of eye to notice the subtleties that the place has to offer, and I have learned to respect the people who live here that have the modesty and humility to ground themselves in such subtleties.
Springfield let me travel, in my attempts to escape from it: to say this is not to dismiss the place. I have friends here that love the openness of the land and the sky and they feel closed in around mountains, but for me the poverty of landscape dulls my mind to stagnation. I spent summer after summer driving, feasting on what the country had to offer, my eyes gorging on the splendor of the West, my mind intrigued with the mystery of the mountains, each curve in the road revealing new insights about myself, and I no longer felt the alienation that had been eating at me ever since we moved to America.
I wanted to stay on the plane forever, hidden in the hollow bone, where I had conversations with strangers about where they were going and who they were seeing and they would ask me the same questions and I could give them any answer.
I think of when we first arrived in New York City from Romania, and how at school the children would laugh at me because I wore clothes from Wal-Mart, while they wore brand-name clothes their parents bought from the thrift store down the street, across from the park where a drug dealer got stabbed. I walked there with my mom and asked if she could buy me a pair of used Nike shoes. She said “My son, we are in America now. There is no need to walk in someone else’s shoes.” What she didn’t understand, growing up in a communist country, is that there is fear in capitalism too. The kind of fear that makes you want to forget where you came from. What the children at school didn’t understand is that we all went home to the same torn-down buildings — that no matter what kind of clothes we threw over our bodies, they would not hide where we came from.
My parents tell me my life belongs in Springfield, but it doesn’t. Not anymore. My life is no longer part of the city the way my childhood was no longer mine when I stepped off the plane in New York. Gone was my grandfather’s house, the rolling hills crashing into the Transylvania Mountains, the children running barefoot in the streets among cows returning home from the pasture.
What she didn’t understand, growing up in a communist country, is that there is fear in capitalism too.
The kind of fear that makes you want to forget where you came from.
Everything we meant to bring was lost along the way. The oppression of the city cannot be easily brushed off, not under these clouds. There is no need for darkness or the moon when surrounded by streetlights and sounds. There is no time for stillness when even the air is frantically searching for something that cannot be seen. And so my family is the moon. My struggles and frustrations are the stars. The darkness was always there. I am thinking of a home that does not make me question where I come from.
Flying out of Springfield my heart aches for the lives within the houses below, splattered like paint on the land, the roads laid out like brushstrokes of an artist who forgot why he paints. But my bones feel relief like those of a bird flying home.