“What is your citizenship?”
The flight attendant is handing out I-94s and customs declarations. Her smile looks like something out of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” video. In the past eighteen hours I met with an airline strike and a cancelled flight, re-routing via Munich, and got to watch my Dulles-bound 777 have its engine opened and tinkered with by strange men with wrenches and screwdrivers for five hours. By the time they boarded us I would have hung on to a Concorde’s landing gear naked if that meant taking off sooner. I am late late late and, as if my actions could actually make the plane land faster, I cut to the chase and say
“I’m not a citizen.” [=I am not a U.S. citizen and will therefore need both forms, please please please can I have them while you go to the cabin and tell the pilot to kindly step on it]
She looks at me like a Kindergarten teacher being patient with the slowest kid in class. Her smile gets even smilier.
“Oh, but you have to be a citizen of SOMEWHERE now, don’t you?”
She might have patted me on the head if I had sat any closer to the isle. And I would have deserved it. Because her common sense trumps my free-spirit bullshitry any time. Because she can function in this world, and I can’t.
Yes, dear sweet nice lady who has been taking care of me for the past seven hours. I do have to be a citizen of somewhere. I have to have a passport, and I can’t just go wherever I damn please on this planet. I can’t pick up a suitcase and move in with the man I love, because I have to be out of the country come November. I can’t look for a job for another three months because I have dues to pay to two governments. This whole “citizenship” thing is making me feel like a criminal about the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever been part of. Would it sound pathetic if I said my only citizenship was “this gorgeous Nation of Two?” It’s kind of funny that we’ve organized this blue marble around keeping each other out of territories that don’t really belong to us, should that really be happening? I don’t know what else to tell you.
There was this one time in my freshman year English grammar drill class in college, the topic of the day was definite vs. indefinite articles. The prof used the phrase “he knocked on the door a second time,” confusing some kids out of their wits. No matter how the prof explained it, it didn’t make sense to them to use the indefinite article.
“But if it’s not the first time they knocked on the door, why is it A second time and not THE second time?”
“Because the first time you mention the second time, it’s A second time, and if you mention it a second time, it will be THE second time.”
Delicious, isn’t it?
We pulled up to the house and it hit me a second time.
A first second time.
A second first time.
His. Mine. Ours. His, two years ago. Mine, eight months ago. Ours, every time we connect, to infinity.
I sit on the pier (his, mine, ours), wanting to stretch it out like a piece of elastic, like bubble-gum, like a finger dragging out a stain across a table-cloth, a piece of bird shit across the grass. I want it to extend into the sea for at least a mile, and I want to curl up at the end of it and sleep, neither here nor there.
And I have no words in English for how the sea looks right now. But it looks like someone cast a net over the surface which won’t sink, ripples rhomboiding through one another in imperfect frictional glide. So I say my word for it. And the sea accepts.
And I have no words in English for what the sea is doing right now, but it looks like someone lost a pocketsworth of half shells in a trail from the sun to the tips of my blue-painted toes just above the water. I say my word for it, sipping my European coffee with good old American half-and-half, and the sea understands.
I couldn’t tell you how we get to where we are. If the suitcases that we pack are mausoleums or survival kits. Why certain embraces feel like memory, and the squeeze of a wrist like prophecy fulfilled. Whether the melancholy anklet we jingle is the charms of our life’s fumbles beating in line with our step, or a summons from within a pair of deep brown eyes. How the vortex of a fellow human and his Triumphs and nuclear winters and calloused hands become the Möbius strip of a lover pouring salt on snails in the garbage disposal and leading you in a dance around the block.