I’m starting this entry too late to do it justice – 10 pm. Despite this, here are some dates and events associated with my family’s residence in my Bloomington childhood home.
Summer, 1976. We move to Bloomington from West Lafayette. Previously my family had come to town for an academic conference or interview and stayed on the square in the only building over ten stories centrally located off campus, a hotel which is abandoned for most of the time between 1978 and 1990. I sleep in a dresser drawer, and retain the sense memory to this day. I recommend the experience, unless you are one of my cats.
Winter, 1978. Snow drifts above the second story of the house, completely burying the garage. My father and I shovel it, regardless. Several weeks prior to this I spent nearly four hours waiting for a school bus that never came with other freaked-out preadolescents, desperately scrounging for sources of heat. I recall the disappointment we felt when a book of matches failed to warm us for more than a few seconds.
Summer, 1982. My family returns from a year abroad. I am much changed. I attend school in fear. My fear is well-based, as the remainder of my high-school career will be marked by unpredictable explosions of violence directed at me. This is somewhat offset by my sudden popularity with the ladies.
Fall, 1984. My sister and I both graduate high school and move out. By odd circumstance we move into a two-bedroom apartment together. Incredibly unrestrained sibling fights take place, but by the end of that summer, sibling rivalry has been fought out and replacing is is an amazing bond, something I never had felt before and mourn to this day.
Spring 1986 (?). Both my sister and my parents return from abroad; in the intervening year, the barn in Mary’s woods has burned down. Or something. I have the dates or who was in town wrong, I think.
Early 1988. My sister returns to live with may parents, probably depressed.
September, 1988. My sister is killed on her bicycle on her way to see a friend. The old world ends; the one I live in begins.
Indian Summer, 1988. A memorial potluck is held in my family’s back yard, a kind of wake for the funeral or something. In my heart I know that I’m leaving town and expect that my parents are too. It’s the last extensive memory I have of the house, a polyglot crowd eating and drinking under the locust tree I’d seen grow from a sapling to a pod-dropping nuisance. I think Mary was dead by then as I recall crossing the fence to stroll up in the woods, knowing I was to leave them.
I loved my hometown but I hated Indiana, the weather and the enclosing horizon, the culture of limits. While my parents, children of the Great West, sought a connection to the older American culture and savored, natively, the more circumscribed expressions of two centuries of Americanness and Midwestern folkways, I chafed. So when my sister died and my girlfriend wanted to move on, I did.
Fifteen years later, it’s clear to me that what I learned most clearly was how to be uncomfortable, because today I find Seattle as tiresomely oppressive as the place I left. There’s no doubt that the cultures are different. What do they have in common? My vantage point.