Saturday, February 21, 2009

sundialing

There's something that happens to me late in winter. I begin to anticipate the sweet relief of spring, so much so that I start to believe it’s there before it actually is. I convince myself, confuse myself, confound signals to twist them into what I want. Only to be disappointed in the end.

I woke up this morning to warm sunlight and birds singing, and became filled with that rejuvenated spirit of spring. My body stirred from hibernation, seratonin levels skyrocketed. But then I looked out the window to see the same gray winter sun, deceptively infused with warm tones by my green-gold curtains, and realized the bird sounds were actually from some squeaky diesel trucks merging into BQE traffic. My heart fell a thousand miles.

This happens every year, and I’m always just as crushed. But what happens then, when I realize that more winter is on the way, is that spring comes alive in my mind. Whether I like it or not, I can’t suppress it. It’s as if it needs to sprout there first, before the real spring comes.

I spent a good part of my Saturday listening to early electronic music composers, in a random music binge that consumed me for some reason. Maybe it was the shimmering mood of Steve Reich, or the intuitive sprawl of David Behrman, but I found myself deeply affected by the sounds, and unexpectedly experienced a wellspring of weird, long-forgotten memories that popped up all over the place, out of nowhere. Memories that had a significant emotional meaning, but also all had something atmospherically strange in common – in each of them, there was something about the sun that I’ve never forgotten.

The most prominent memory was from when I first arrived in Xela. In the weeks before, I had quit my job, moved out of my apartment, packed a few belongings in a backpack, and moved to Guatemala for an unknown period of time. I didn’t speak Spanish – but was hoping to remedy that – and didn’t know a single person in the country. I wasn’t looking to find myself, or start over with a clean slate, or to escape anything. I was just looking for something, though I had no idea what, and felt that I had needed to give up most of myself to find it.

However, my first days in the country had been marked by an onslaught of doubt, worry, loneliness, fear. My experience in the capital had been a teeming circus of whistling men, prostitutes on street corners, heavy traffic, diesel fumes, buses I needed to take that no longer existed, boarded up buildings, borrachos harassing me in the street, the constant fear that all I had brought with me would get stolen. My trip to Xela hadn’t been much better. I had held on tightly as my bus screeched around narrow mountain passes, teetering at the edges of cliffs, and blasting reggaeton so loudly that it actually succeeded at drowning out my thoughts as I second-guessed my decision to go there.

But then it all changed in an instant as we arrived in Xela, a haven for me after a nightmare journey. I was living with a family on the east side of the city for the first month, and when I met the mother, Blanca Aragon, we walked through the streets together toward her home. This is where the memory starts.

It was about 5 pm, the sun resting lazily in its seat in the sky, casting long relaxed shadows everywhere. The streets had the quiet feel of a late summer afternoon, despite it being early April. Cobblestone streets were lined on each side by small brightly-colored homes. Children played soccer in a nearby side street. Mountains and volcanoes rose around me, over rooftops. I walked down the middle of the street, no cars around anywhere. Stepping out of a deep blue shadow, I felt the inviting warmth of the sun on my face and stopped for a moment, struck by it. I squinted in the light, over at Blanca as she made her way carefully over the steep curbs. She smiled at me and said something soothing in Spanish. I started to walk again, this time slower. I was in a dream sequence in a movie. Sounds diffusing in the background, sparse, echoing. Warm yellow light everywhere, bathing us. A gentle breeze. Gentle noise. A feeling of familiarity overtook me. I was going home, but to a place I’d never been before. Miles away from everyone and everything I knew, to this place in the sunlight.

Maybe spring is like going home again for me. And I struggle with being so close, but still not there. But the moment of finally reaching it is so deeply enthralling that it makes this long winter necessary. Guess I'll just have to wait it out.