Essays > My bilocal life, both perilous and pleasurable

From East Village Magazine, September, 2014

I’m finally admitting, after years of dithering about it here and elsewhere, that I’m bi-local. That is, I have two places I call home.

Two places where I keep my stuff (well-worn favorite walking shoes, decent corkscrew, poufy pillow, jar of good pens, sharp tweezers, bag of unexpired granola).

Two places where I have history. After 13 years of back and forth, about both places, now, I can say to my husband, “Remember that time we…” and “Why don’t we go back to…?” and he knows exactly what I’m talking about.

In both places, I’ve been known to advise outsiders (not too smugly, I hope) about what to do and see, how to get there, what to avoid. About both places, I can now offer “in” jokes and chummy complaints.

This marriage to my California guy seems to be hanging on, and it looks like our dual domicile life is going to last.

And now that I’m retired, I am extending my absences from Flint to about five months a year.
I hope, dear Flintoids, that you will forgive me for my divided loyalty.

If you are tempted to disdain me, remember this: I’m a Protestant from a Puritanical tradition. So I am apt to torment myself artfully at both locales. It suits my constitution.

To be “of” two places can be perilous and confusing. Especially when one is a fairly glamorous place – the portside of Los Angeles, where a lot of people want to live -- and when the other place still wrestles with its nagging, if unfair, notoriety.

I’ve always wanted to be an insider. But it has not often been my destiny. Somebody always seems to know better than me – to be more credible than me, more altruistic than me, better informed than me, better connected than me. I remember once being bitterly derided as a family counselor by a client who asked me, “Do you have kids?” and when I said no, she retorted, “How dare you presume.”

Sometimes I feel that way writing about Flint. Even though I’ve lived here for 33 years, I don’t know everything, don’t care about everything, cringe over many things, and studiously ignore most simple-minded cheerleading.

When I’m happy in Flint, there’s a competing drumbeat, an undercurrent of shame: (how about all those who aren’t happy here?) I have to smother murmurs of disingenuousness and denial (what AREN’T you paying attention to? Can’t you see – don’t you understand how awful it REALLY is) Or this one, pricking at my Boomer vanity: You must not be very cosmospolitan if you like living in THIS town…

I feel guilty and disloyal when I’m in San Pedro and restless when I’m in Flint. It’s my nature. Yet none of this would be possible if I wasn’t actually pretty happy in both places.

I experience a kind of vertigo – sometimes literal dizziness -- when I first arrive in one place from the other. I stay in Flint for a while and then I don’t want to leave. It takes me two weeks to get used to San Pedro, and then I don’t want to leave.

What is happiness, anyway? I wasn’t happy when we had our break-in two years ago. I wasn’t happy when a couple of hundred houses burned down. I wasn’t happy when VGs closed. I was brokenhearted when somebody pushed a gun into Johnny’s chest at the Golden Spot and when they put up that awful but understandable Plexiglas wall. I was outraged when Jimmie Allison got murdered.

But then, people in San Pedro commit suicide off the Pt. Fermin cliffs and the Vincent Thomas bridge, and we’ve got a bad, bad water shortage that means that I collect runoff from my shower and we only flush on brown. I barely know my neighbors and gangs skulk around the narrow alleys like the ratty raccoons.

But I’m still happy – both there and here. What can I say?

My upbringing steels me against gloating even in the slightest about good fortune. My mother often asserted any good luck I stumbled upon had nothing to do with me. She credited the merciful grace of Providence, inexplicably delivered in spite of my knuckleheaded ways. She might be right.

Last winter my husband and I were in Flint for The Great Ice Storm. We lost power, helped our neighbors, moved for several days to a Frankenmuth hotel crowded with other Flintoids. It meant something to me that we shared this big event with my fellow refugees.

But then on Jan. 8 we got out of Dodge and came to California for the winter, where the weather lodged most days at about 72 degrees. While my neighbors endured a weeks’ long—months’ long-- ordeal of Arctic temperatures and barrels of snow-depression, I strolled along the cliffs, lightly watered the pink and white vincas in my flower boxes, and slept like a baby in a room overlooking the Pacific. I know, I know: how dare I?

I don’t expect you to let me off the hook. I’m luckier than a lot of other people and my mother was probably right: what did I do, really, to deserve my plethora of choice?

But when I come back to you, I just want you to know, I like it. I love my friends, I love my neighbors, I love our house. I like knowing where I’m going and getting my wine from Maria and veggies from Roxanne and Franklin and Erin. I like the moon coming up over Connor and Jessica’s house and my cats playing with Nasreem and Rohan. I know enough to be grateful, and I know enough to do my part.

It’s important for a town to have some happy people in it. Don’t happy people, after all, add flavor to the party? That should be worth something. So here I am, back, happy. It’s my contribution to the community good.