September 06, 2007

Coming Home

By B Kemp © 2007

"The best part of an adventure is coming home." Celia spoke softly, looking out the car window. I am not sure if I was the intended audience, but it doesn't matter. I know exactly how she feels. For five years we have been in constant motion and today is no exception. But we are in the car on our way home.

One of the joys of an adventurous life is that the most ordinary aspects of the day are made fresh by the constant change. Getting a cup of coffee, figuring out the logistics of taking a crap, having a coherent conversation with another adult, these are all things that most people appreciate, at best, as the passing of one's daily ritual. But since travel has linked us from our first day together, we immediately lost all semblance of those rituals that once defined us and the struggle to satisfy our most basic necessities became a large part of our days together. I have come to understand that the shuffling of locales is far less significant than the frame of mind one enters during a life of perpetual motion.

I suppose I should regale you with some of the sordid details from our travels. Certainly if Celia were telling this tale none of my self-indulgent nostalgia would be tolerated. And I do love the ranging far and wide, trouncing exotic locales to witness sights of wonder that cannot be adequately captured by a camera, but it does not consume me as it does her. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I am older and spent a good bit of time with a career, but to me our adventures seem more like a lifestyle choice. If she wanted to stay at home and lay in bed I would happily lay next to her, never leaving her side. But this rarely is what she wants, so instead we have chosen the road. To avoid revealing myself I have learned to leave the telling to Celia and I just listen with satisfaction, adding only details or perspective when asked. So I must apologize then to leave you wanting, but our adventures are hers to tell. My stories are only of her.

My life was not always occupied. For most of my adult life I struggled to top the corporate ladder. I bought, sold, and collected. My personal activities were selected only with the hope that the right people might see me spending "down-time." It happened on one of these occasions, as I sat down for a lunch that was more about being seen than it was about food, that Celia arrived. It seemed to me that the world was turned upside down the moment she entered the room. Suddenly there was Celia, filthy from life on the road, angry because those from the world of pressed casual-wear did not belong in her world. She was, at that moment, irate at some injustice that she had suffered and was screaming at the professional looking man that accompanied her. It was readily available to us all in the room that whatever chanced these two together, theirs was only a passing acquaintance. He was plain and dutiful, she was free and stunningly beautiful, despite the grime that coated her. Men and women stared, each with a separate type of envy. In those days my confidence was primarily unrevealed ignorance, so of course I intervened. Perhaps I thought I could ingratiate myself by assuming the role of her knight riding in to rescue her from this obvious fool who did not appreciate her. I do not readily recall my thoughts at that time, but I remember vividly the look Celia gave me when I interrupted them. I withered under that first look and withdrew, allowing them to finish their private business in the middle of that crowded room.

I am not quite sure how it happened, but she went home with me. And her presence in my apartment immediately pulled me out of that vapid world. With nowhere else to go, she graciously accepted me into her world. Before long I knew her entire story. This knowledge, however, provides me with no understanding of her. Armed with all the facts, I am still often as useless as I was that first day we met. She learned self-reliance early; her mother abandoned her before she was six months old. Earlier today Celia mentioned her mother and I studied her, perversely hoping to find the fissure of pain I still assume is there, but yet again I underestimate her. Celia is open and honest; she knows only love and cannot fault someone she never knew. She has never bothered to state it, but she leaves regret and remorse for the slack-jawed that need something to justify the meaninglessness of the market. The best I can do is stop questioning why I was saved by this dark-haired pixie. Within a year of our first meeting I quit my job and together we were off on our adventures. We are frugal in our needs, thus we travel at whim and live off my portfolio. Time is the gift we give each other, money has proven to be meaningless.

Some of my former friends think that she is using me for my money. It doesn't seem right to them that a man my age would "throw it all away," leaving my career for a life of unpredictability and adventure. My old friends are naturally suspicious of younger women wanting to spend their money, rightfully so I suppose. But I have no intention of becoming a rich old man sipping my bourbon in some exclusive club full of leather and mahogany. I am happy to fund her lifestyle as long as it is our lifestyle. If this makes me a sentimental fool trying to maintain his vigor by running around with a beautiful young thing, so be it. Celia does not ask for extravagance and I do not offer it. We are happy eating rice with our fingers out of homemade clay pots while sitting on a dusty floor. In fact this is her preference as long as the company is good. But one does not discuss such things with middle-aged men accustomed to luxury. Instead I see less and less of those people.

As we round the corner and see the little bungalow down the block, Celia's excitement grows. We have come home many times during our adventuring. But even at home we hold on to that altered frame of mind until we are back on the road. A couple of years ago we were walking through our neighborhood, not three blocks from our house, when Celia walked onto a lawn pulling up her skirt. To my horror she squatted behind a tree and peed on the manicured lawn. As she rounded the tree and walked back to the sidewalk, my embarrassed protests were met with kindness and pity. As I thought it over later, I had to admit that she was correct, of course. Throughout most of the world her actions would have be considered normal. Her token attempt at modesty was enough to avoid offending anyone watching and the dirt is usually happy for her water. Even tiny squares of earth portioned by asphalt, poisoned with toxins and then seeded, could be useful. The only thing wrong with her actions was that it exposed hypocrisy in our modern existence. It was my problem, my chore to release my shame of the body.

So our traveling mindset never wanes. We find any excuse to set off again. I say we, but to be fair it is Celia that seizes these opportunities. She finds the smallest edge, even in the most mundane details of daily life. It doesn't matter where we are, once she recognizes that something is not right we are be back on the road. And to be clear, not right means something is not as she prefers. It could be something as silly as a car driving down the street interfering with her solitude. Although I cannot predict the trigger, she was always put off by some infringement of the outside world into her defined space. Once formed, she is unable to suppress the thought of travel, although she rarely tries. It first registers in her eyes, and then almost immediately she is transformed by activity and emotion. I love her more in that moment, when she is filled with travel but has yet to act, than I do during any of the long nights we share. For only a second or two after she recognizes that something is not right, in that moment that she knows we must travel but before she is hurried by gathering what she needs to be on the road, her face is serene. In these brief moments she is more alive than anyone on the planet. She has the warmth of home and my undying love surrounding her and the world in front of her. Everything is possible and nothing will be denied to her. No woman has ever been more beautiful than my Celia in these moments. I believe the genius of da Vinci is that it was this look he tried to capture when he painted his muse. Although he came close, those of us that understand this expression know that he failed.

But for all of her restlessness, all of her longing to be on the road, my girl has the wisdom to love coming home most of all. Each time we round the corner, that old bungalow brings her more peace than anything we have found adventuring. Even those of us that use traveling as a tonic still need a home. Our own coming home routine is constant. Celia will shed the dirty clothes at the front door and parade, gloriously naked, around the house before retiring to a warm bubble-bath. I will open a bottle of wine and prepare dinner. But for now, in the car, she giggles as I pull into the driveway. As I unbuckle her carseat, she turns to me and says, "What an adventure we had at the store! I love you Daddy."

B Kemp is raising his two kids in Milwaukee.

No comments: