Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Going...Going...Home.

Yes, that's me.
About a week ago, I went home. I went to Texas. I don't live there anymore, and I haven't in several years, so saying I went 'home' is debatable. The reason I went back to Texas is that my grandfather is dying. He's not on his deathbed yet, but he has reached a stage of health where one day he will have a fit of not being able to breathe (thanks to a combination of emphysema, asbestosis, and COPD), bend over to try and regain breath, and will not be able to get back up. He is not expected to see Thanksgiving.

So, I wanted to get down there while he was still healthy enough to see me, healthy enough that I could get a few more good memories with him. Admittedly, I was never my grandfather's grandson. I would much rather go through my grandmother's art supplies or play in her garden or go to the museum than get a few bamboo fishing poles and sit by the pond for hours on end. But, I love my grandfather, and I have my memories of him.

Of course, other things happened. What follows is an incredibly personal look at my small town, my family, and myself. It's taken some time to write, as I wanted my thoughts clear. Enjoy.


My father ran in the 1976 Olympics. He was a track star, back in his day. The guy is, and always has been, fast. I was never the athlete in the family. That was my brother. Because we lived in a small Texas town, all it took was for my brother to not fall on his face on the football field, and my parents coddled him as though he were the reborn sun king. I was the actor. The poet. The artist. Qualities like these aren't exactly praised in small towns in Texas, especially when the person with those qualities is the obviously gay kid.

Something about being my father's son, though, made me want to run. I would, from time to time, go with him to his running club races, and there was a time I thought I would get up before dawn to train with him. Many of these things never lasted long, and I was never really the son that could keep up. That was the aforementioned brother.

My second day in Texas, I woke up early. Well, early to some. I rolled out of bed around 7:30am, and I put on my running shorts, a tank top, and my running shoes. I was to join my father and a few members of his local running club for a 5-mile run. This would have been daunting at any point in my life. I have to admit, it was daunting this time around. We drove the few minutes to the donut shop - yes, they start and end their route at a donut shop - and met up with the runners. I was introduced, the strange being from the far off land. I answered the obligatory questions about whether Chicago is cold and whether I've seen Oprah. Then we started running.

Here's where my trip got weird. I was faster than the group. I was faster than my father. I was....a lot faster than my father. I kept circling back to rejoin the group, and dad finally told me to go ahead and run ahead and don't let the group hold me back. These were my roads, after all. I knew them. I knew the way. I couldn't possibly get lost. I could run these roads blindfolded. I could run these roads even if I had been gone for years and miles of distance had kept me from those roads. So I did. I ran. I outpaced the group by a little over a mile.

I could've cried when I got back to the donut shop, not because I could smell cream filled dough cooking mere feet from me, but I'd done something I'd wanted to do my entire life: I'd beaten my father. Now, you have to understand that for me - the artist in a family of athletes - beating my father wasn't about showing him that I was better than him or anything. I mean, come on...he was born in 1955. I'm 25 years old. If I can't outrun him, and I exercise as often as I do, then there's something seriously wrong. But in being faster than my father, even if it was just this once, I was able to bond with him in a way I've never been able to do before. And when the group got to the donut shop, he was smiling. He was happy, and he was proud. Of me. He was proud of me.

That day was spent with friends, eating food I hadn't eaten in several years, walking sidewalks I hadn't walked in years. My brother made an appearance at lunch. Our relationship, on my end, has become a bit more of a cerebral exercise than an emotional bond. We've never had anything in common. I've always said that if you listed everything about me - my personality, my physical traits, my manner of speaking, my philosophy, me beliefs, etc. - and then you made a mirrored list of the antonyms to the words in the first list, the first would describe me and the second would describe my brother. You could not find two more different people if you tried. Honestly, my brother is an example of a person that shares my blood, but isn't necessarily family. We spend little time together, a tradition started at a young age as he was always staying at friends' houses or running the roads with the girl of the moment, while I was home reading or at theatre rehearsal.

The small time we spent together was a cerebral exercise. I was jovial and knew where I could tread so as not to aggravate his temper. Thanks to a lot of nurture and a dash of nature, the guy has a hair trigger temper, and he can get...well...physical. Violent at times. He's so far out of control, my parents are very much at a loss as to how to deal with him. He respects no authority, unless that person can - and does - physically put him in his place. Psychologically, he's sort of a throwback to a time when the biggest, meanest caveman ruled because he could club everyone else to death, but he's waiting on an even bigger caveman to come along. Or...something. I can't put him in his place. My mother can't put him in his place. And, given that my father had to work away from home beginning when I was a Sophomore in high school, that was a problem. My father can put him in his place, but he just wasn't there. For months at a time, he wasn't there. So, between encouraging him to play football in place of all other milestones (a first job, doing well in school, getting into college, etc.) and nobody in his life that could instill some kind of legitimate discipline, he has become that guy. The one that peaked in high school. The guy that's 6 years into his 2-year Associate's Degree. No. I'm not kidding.

Though, granted, we all have our flaws, and we all should be allowed to blossom at our own pace. I understand this as a concept, but when it comes to family...when it comes to him, I just cannot understand the sheer lack of desire to accomplish anything. Not that I'm accomplishing much myself. So, I suppose, who am I to talk, right?

The final day of my stay in Texas was strange. I had been thinking about something my grandmother asked me when we went to her house. She asked me if I was glad to be back in the country. I think, at the time, I mumbled something about how nice it was to see her. The truth is I love the country. I love the change of pace and the opportunity to slow down and breathe air that isn't filled with exhaust. I rather enjoyed going for a run and not feeling like I'm about to get run over or choke from all the fumes. And I live in the suburbs. I don't know that I could ever survive the urban jungle, despite the Oprah-siting opportunities.

I realized that I'd found my home, and it was elsewhere. It was back in Chicago with Partner and Kika and Bella and Partner's Brother. It is here in Chicago. I realized that not only was my stuff in Chicago, but my heart was in Chicago. My family was in Chicago. My hopes are here. My opportunities are here.

I left the small town, and outside of that town, outside of the borders that corral those few hundred people, I can be a different person. I can be successful. I can be attractive. That's kind of new and different for me, because those are all things the small town said I wasn't. I believed that town for a long, long time. And, when I'm there, I can hear the whispers in the corners of my old bedroom, at the entrance to my parents' driveway, at the one stoplight in town. I hear them, and I become paranoid that I'm going to be faced with one of those high school tormenters. I stay in the car at the gas station and I just avoid looking at my old school altogether. I suppose Chicago is my home because I chose it. It wasn't chosen for me.

I'm sure there are still things I'm unpacking from the trip, but this is what I have to offer up at this time.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

5 comments:

  1. "Not that I'm accomplishing much myself. So, I suppose, who am I to talk, right?"

    That's...you're kidding, right? Your podcast, your art, just creating a life you (appear to) love - if you don't see those as accomplishments, maybe you should look over your definition of that word.

    I really, really hope you were trying to be sarcastic there & my sleep addled brain just missed it.

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    1. Hey BHooke,

      I suppose that line is reflecting some personal ish deep inside me. With as many people as have been touched by the podcast and blog and PPE and all the rest, I still don't feel accomplished much of the time. It's nothing I share with my family, and it isn't lucrative in the traditional sense. Yes, I feel very lucky and like I have achieved many things, but there are times when I simply don't feel accomplished. I still make crap money working a crap job dreaming of a day when I can do something else.

      Like I said in the beginning... This is a very personal post for me. So, yes. I meant it, but I'm not devaluing any of the achievements Fire Lyte has made in the last 3 years here at the Riot.

      Love and Lyte,

      Fire Lyte

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  2. This really hit home for me. I, too, am from a small (south)-east Texas town (though I was born in Lufkin.) Anyway. There's something about small town Texas that is very...Stephen King-esque in the way it whispers to you, about who you were, who you are, who you have or haven't become. The memories, mostly the bad ones, are very palpable when I go home. Funny, even our brothers sound similar--mine eventually took to the Army, and is starting to slowly make his way in life. It's been a hard road for both of us to have a semblance of a relationship. It only really happened after almost a decade of being apart.

    Anyway. Nothing much to say except, from one small-town Texas refugee to another--I get it. Good post.

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  3. Well, I'm not from Texas and my family might not be as drastically different from me, (though both my brothers work in fields that rape and pillage the earth and my cousins hunt, while I'm a crunchy earth loving vegetarian) but I too have had a similar experience in terms of homecomings. I love the west coast of Canada. It's home but it's not home. I've lived out east for over 12 years now and my life, the one that I chose, is here. It's a weird moment of realization when you know that "home" just isn't the same place it used to be. And with each time that I go home now, that feeling gets cemented in just a little bit more, both in terms of the friends I've slowly grown apart from and the family that wants me to come home but now realizes that it'll never likely happen, even if I miss them and the ocean.

    And mister Fire Lyte... you're still young and have plenty of time for grad school (I went back at 27 and finished at 31 and I wouldn't have changed it for the world because I was really ready to appreciate and make the most of it at that time)

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    1. Elizabeth aka witchkittybell5March 29, 2012 at 7:43 AM

      Oh dear Fire Lyte, I am another fellow small town Texan. I only made it 40 miles away from the town that labeled me as typical "white trash" everyone was so sure I'd never amount to anything. My mom doing the best she could after my dad decided to leave us on Christmas Day, six kids and 32 years of marriage later. When I got pregnant at 15, it seemed the prophecy had been fulfilled.
      Present day I'm a 42 y/o female earning a six figure income and have raised a beautiful self assured daughter that is in law school. I am proud of my accomplishments but can still hear the whispers of the past. It's bittersweet...

      Thank you, once again for sharing with us a part of yourself. Reading this gave me moment to reflect and hug the little girl inside of me that still feels the stigma of long ago.

      You are an amazing young man, I love the confidence in yourself to withstand the convictions of your beliefs. I am still learning to stand my ground on my own beliefs. You're blog, podcast and art are very inspiring to me. For what its worth, the son I had at 15 passed away soon after he was born. Dustin would know be a 25 year old young man and as a mother I would be incredibly proud if he had shared your character.
      Blessed be in love and light,
      Elizabeth aka Witchkittybell5

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