Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Ghosts of Falls Church





I read the names of the tombstones as the shuttle drove slowly by, the concrete shiny with cold rain. The tombstones stand at crooked angles, pushed this way and that by the roots of growing oak trees. Obelisks once vertical are now askance.

I have never lived next to a cemetery before. Now, the window in the kids' room looks right out over it. They have yet to ask what is out there. Right now, all they see are giant leafless trees, skeletons tottering over the hill. I told Elise soon after we moved in that it wasn't as creepy as I thought it would be, and it's not. It's peaceful, in a way. Quiet, as far as neighbors go.

I have been feeling especially anxious ever since we moved into Falls Church, a week ago tomorrow. It is not like me to feel anxious, to feel my heart fluttering at a more rapid than normal heart rate for no apparent reason. I haven't been drinking anymore coffee than usual, and this is not my normal not-going-running-anxiousness that makes me feel like crawling up or clawing at the walls. This is something different, and I admitted as much to Elise.

I can't figure out what it might be, but it is slowly fading, especially after Elise made the most amazing feijoada last night. Though Elise is installing her patented storage solutions and doing everything within her power to make our new apartment a home (and at record speed, no less), it is taking me a long time to feel at home here. We have known about Falls Church ever since we first visited Elise's cousin when he was in living there almost four years ago. The first time we moved to Washington, we were supposed to live in Falls Church until we were moved to Ballston at the last minute. Now, we are, at long last here, and it is hard to feel as though we are not living in someone else's sepia-toned memory, as a long line of others in my line of work have come through here.

I realize it has only been a week, and no one can be made to feel at home in such a short period of time. It doesn't help that we moved in the dead of winter, and an oppressive dreariness weighs heavily on the place, but I feel like we don't belong here. Perhaps, after eight weeks of constant wandering, I am just now realizing that our journey will not bring us back to Brazil or forward to India. I long, badly, to be back overseas, away from the telephone trees, multi-page vouchers, mass marketing, commercialism, black and grey trench coats. But I must own up to the fact that this is not my fate, and I need to own Falls Church, instead of wishing it away or feeling like I am as dead as our neighbors, a ghost merely haunting its corridors.

But I don't know how to own this place. Correction. That's wrong. I do know how to own a place, as I have owned every other place we have lived. By running through it.

And then so Falls Church becomes mine again. This morning on my ride to work, I saw a wooden telephone pole that had recently been stripped of what appeared to be decades worth of playbills and notices, layers of lost dogs, electricians for hire and yard sales, leaving behind tens of thousands of giant metal staples that covered the pole like body hair, giving it a furry appearance. This telephone pole was now blank, ready for new postings. Likewise, my Falls Church is also empty, a tabla rasa, if you will, ready for me and my family to leave our legacy here.

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