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Tomorrow

"Tomorrow"

i shall not victimize myself to your icey grips

not disembowel myself o’er your sharpened tips

i will forever banish that word to hell

rejecting tomorrow for today’s soothing spell.

 
“I Didnae Ken”
I Did Not Understand
 
The term “American” never quite fits. Not that it bugs me… it just never quite works, like say, a killer shortbread recipe that never fails no matter the experience of the cook. However, my first complaint about the “American” word (to be referred to as the A-word) is that if it is meant to be an adjective for people who affiliate themselves with the United States, don’t the Canadians and the Argentineans feel left out?
 
I would.
 
I do.
 
This A-word has forever seemed to ostracize me from the supposedly euphoric splendor that is this land of plenty, of freedom, of endless opportunity, of everyone. Everyone. I do not feel as if I am an everyone. Sure, I speak English, am European. Should be easy to fit in to Suburbia, no? Ever since the address under my name on envelopes has been:
[my address] Naperville, IL
 I’ve considered [my neighbors' address]'s  inhabitants the “natives,” and me the alien.
 
Born a U.S. citizen to A-word parents, having gone to every school I have ever been to in the United States, seeing the A-word flag outside of our residence on holidays, no one would suspect this identity crisis until they were to set foot in my room. Mine.
 
The first thing anyone would see when they walk in my room would be the bright mural of the outdoors painted on all of my walls, then maybe my track ribbons, triathlon bibs, soccer trophies, a picture of my basketball team, a poster of barf bags from around the world, my violin… a discombobulated convolution of my devotions. When I walk in, my eyes float upward to the ceiling, on which is a large Royal Banner with the rampant lion imprinted. Immediately left is the Saltire in its splendid glory, greatly anticipating its debut when Scotland qualifies for the World Cup in 2008 in South Africa. The panorama of Eileen Donan Castle and another of me on Ben Nevis are on either side of my fiddle. My eyes then dance toward my desk which has a glass top; underneath the glass is picture upon picture of Scotland and my family. This room is where I study.
 
Studying is my way home. My one-way ticket. College could bring me just all that much closer to that first floor flat on Gosford Place, Edinburgh EH6 4, GB. A few meters from the Water of Leith, a skip over to the Royal Bontanical Gardens, the Firth of Forth with in a spangying distance.
 
When we finally returned in 7th grade on vacation, our friends immediately asked me to say something, bummed when I responded in a fluent A-word accent and dialect. I had to relearn the electric shower, names like Tesco, and manners. It took quite a while for my accent to start coming back. I had to fit in again. The States brainwashed me. I was sure I had finally fallen down the smooth crack in between Scotland and the United States and had been unable to shimmey up.
 
I recall being at my minder’s house in Lisle when I was a lass, and her boyfriend laughed when I asked him where the rubbish was:
“Rubbish? You mean garbage?”
“Yeah, t’wha I mean,” I replied in my Scottish accent.
I never used “rrrrrrubbish” again.
Words such as “insadoot” and “stovies” quickly disinegrated from my vocabulary, words that I loved. I can appreciate these words, now that I have stopped trying to blend in by humoring A-word people.
 
After the awkward stage in selfconfidence that was elementary and junior high, my room started to look like it does now. One by one, a map or a picture would appear on my wall to construct a collage of me that is my bedroom. I am now proud to sport my Irn-Bru biking jersey on rides. It took me even longer to get to the point where I could openly discuss how passionate I am about my homeland. After discovering that my South African football coach used to live in Edinburgh, too, I actually conversed with him about Princes Street and the Royal Mile. That was hard. Years of trying to blend in because I felt like I had to, lead up to moments like these. Proud of my birthplace.
 
Recently, I’ve noticed the Scottish vernacular creeping into my mouth or on to AIM, using “knackered” and “wind you up” and “saltanas” once more. Slowly, chimney climbing my way to the opening, I have been able to emerge from the crack between my two homes. I have grown enough now that I can jump across if need be, although it is easier to straddle it.
 
The A-word seems less severe now, although I still would not use it to describe myself—I don’t think I will ever be able to. I was, and will forever be Scottish first, then American. Although to me “American” might never sound as good as some fresh baked shortbread or stovies, an arm is reaching out for me. Both hands will soon be full: my right to my homeland, my left to the land in which I live in now.
There’s this lady that sits by the Jackson St. Bridge every day. She sits there on the ground with her cup asking for money as she smokes. She’s obese but looks like she’s starving for something more than food. She’s angry—always very surly. I wish she would smile, just once to flex the muscles that haven’t been used in over a decade, to crack the crust of skin that never moves on her cheeks, for her to have laugh lines.
But over time she has been swallowed into the city. She is no longer a lonely character perched on the sidewalk. She is the sidewalk, engrained in the concrete of the city.
 
You walk a little bit farther and you come across an old man whose skin is so dark and worn from the weather of the day, and yesterday, and yesteryear, and the past millennium. But he smiles—oh does he smile. He pours the same medley out of his sax like that of a virtuoso, but for a crowd of many more. Never destined for the concert hall, The Simpsons, The Flintstones, “Happy Together,” and some other songs. He wrings out his heart day in and day out.
You can find him there. He will be on that busy street corner as lonely as can be, at the base of the Sears Tower. But behind his smile is nothing but the cold concrete of the city. The donations are enough to keep him going, enough to keep his shoes firmly mired in the sidewalk for pedestrians to detour around, much like they would a road block. He’s on that street corner, destined to be there, destined to be the city, destined to dissolve in the concrete.
 
            On south in Hyde Park, as you coast towards Lake Shore Drive, there is a man who stands at the intersection all evening. He asks for a few dollars then moves on to the next car. I’m sure his feet feel as if they’re pooling blood by the end of the night, though—standing there the whole time, treading the asphalt to stay afloat.
            But someday he might run out of steam, and asphalt might get too thin. He will end up as the others, slaking the concrete’s thirst and incarcerated by the city.
 
            And yet on all sides of them, people “thrive.” Or so they say. They live their dreams of a spouse, two and a half kids, and an SUV.
            But they don’t thrive. They cannot thrive. They do not understand the concrete. They have felt no pain—to live with more pain, more sensation of what it truly means to live, more vivacious than any are the people in the concrete. The people of the concrete have felt it, experienced more grief and gratitude than we will ever know. They’ve felt what it is to live.
They have lived.