The first night I brought you home, and spent hours installing a white fence to separate your sleeping area from mine, and left you in there, you cried like a baby. The whole night I was afraid of moving about even the slightest; every time you hear or see me, you cry even harder. Paralyzed in my room, I worried about traumatizing your little heart, and about neighbors complaining, but mostly I was heartbroken thinking about your need for me. I had thought my porous heart to be immune to brokenness by now, but cries of need still tug the most sensitive string.
We had just finished a week-long road trip, seeing a great sweep of scenery, all under a thick, crimson smoke from burning mountains nearby. We slept in a different room every night, but always within two feet from each other. I woke up every hour or two to take care of you, and you learned to let me take care of you; we bonded that way.
It was an intimate start, but if I know anything about relationships, it’s time to take a step back and examine our emotions and work in some practical boundaries. For that eventually we want something that works in a worldly setting, not just in our rosy illusions, and that setting is in many ways icy cold and barbarous, deadly traps everywhere. A small misstep can suddenly lead to a heinous disaster. Only by adhering to proven safety practices like train wheels adhering to rails can we have a chance of getting through the swampland intact.
Humans are funny. We are so insecure that we invented all the guidelines to safeguard how we interact. Not too close, not too close, too close and there’s a chance of getting hurt, we say. Then we introduce creatures like you to our world and force you to behave the same — as much as it’s against your nature, as if the world is not as much as your as it is ours. In that, and in many other ways the two of us are the same creature. There’s a willful desire in us wanting to get closer; there’s a wayward spirit in us wanting to rebel against all the boundaries, laughing off all the elaborate games and rules.
For that, I curse this starchy, pretentious world full of cold knowledge that’s based on nothing but keeping distance. But I had also vowed to act pragmatically this time, curbing my easily boundless desire of giving in exchange of some training of manners, some building of character, and hopefully some safety. So I am sticking to the rules in a religious manner this time. I will not make you too attached to me, or me you.
There is already a fear that I got you out of desperation, that I view you as the one straw to my otherwise drowning life. A fear that I had placed all my sources of hope on you — unwarranted and unfair, eventually too heavy for you to bear, and too thin a thread for me to walk.
For a whole month and with no end in sight, I wake up multiple times a night to take you out. First I set alarms, then we developed a language. It irked me at first, but lately I have been looking forward to it. Our “midnight dates”, I would call it. I go to bed with the anticipation that I’ll see you in a few hours in a different, idyllic light, where all voices are out, all images faded, every conciousness suspended, and everyday struggles set aside for once.
Then I wonder, is it really you that needed all the midnight breaks, or is it me? Do I live through a whole day merely for the few minutes of escape in the deepest of night, to be with nothing but dead silence and boundless darkness and you? In the chilling moonlight, against the empty yard, you suddenly morph into a big dog, from the small jumpy puppy you are, as if ten years had gone by without us noticing. How I wish that is the case! Then I’d know we’ve made it; I wouldn’t be afraid of losing you any more. I’d know I’ve figured it all out, made my life whole and complete.
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Curious how a place unvisited can take such hold on the mind so that the very name sets up a ringing. To me such a place was Fargo, North Dakota. Perhaps its first impact is in the name Wells-Fargo, but my interest certainly goes beyond that. If you will take a map of the United States and fold it in the middle, eastern edge against western, and crease it sharply, right in the crease will be Fargo. On double-page maps sometimes Fargo gets lost in the binding. That may not be a very scientific method for finding the east-west middle of the country, but it will do. But beyond this, Fargo to me is brother to the fabulous places of the earth, kin to those magically remote spots mentioned by Herodotus and Marco Polo and Mandeville. From my earliest memory, if it was a cold day, Fargo was the coldest place on the continent. If heat was the subject, then at that time the papers listed Fargo as hotter than any place else, or wetter or drier, or deeper in snow. That’s my impression, anyway. But I know that a dozen or half a hundred towns will rise up in injured wrath to denounce me with claims and figures for having much more dreadful weather than Fargo. I apologize to them in advance. As a sop to hurt feelings, I must admit that when I passed through Moorhead, Minnesota, and rattled across the Red River into Fargo on the other side, it was a golden autumn day, the town as traffic-troubled, as neon-plastered, as cluttered and milling with activity as any other up-and-coming town of forty-six thousand souls. The countryside was no different from Minnesota over the river. I drove through the town as usual, seeing little but the truck ahead of me and the Thunderbird in my rear-view mirror. It’s bad to have one’s myth shaken up like that. Would Samarkand or Cathay or Cipango have suffered the same fate if visited? As soon as I had cleared the outskirts, the broken-metal-and-glass outer-ring, and moved through Mapleton I found a pleasant place to stop on the Maple River not far from Alice—what a wonderful name for a town, Alice. It had 162 inhabitants in 1950 and 124 at the last census—and so much for the population explosion at Alice. Anyway, on the Maple River I drew into a little copse, of sycamores I think, that overhung the stream, and paused to lick my mythological wounds. And I found with joy that the fact of Fargo had in no way disturbed my mind’s picture of it. I could still think of Fargo as I always had—blizzard-riven, heat-blasted, dust-raddled. I am happy to report that in the war between reality and romance, reality is not the stronger.
Excerpt from: John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley in Search of America.”
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Sometimes I look at you and think: what kind of soul is stuck in this crazy body?
You are so wonderful that I don’t feel I have a place in the equation, or that I am any special in your life. The thing is, I had always imagined getting an ugly little dude, the kind that few others would lay eyes on, because only then would I find a value in myself to love you in a way that no one else can. Probably in the same logic I’m always after broken souls.
But you are already beautiful and universally liked, Fargo. Everyday there are people telling me that simply seeing you had made their day, week, month. I feel largely undeserved — that if anyone could’ve been your human and loved you intensely, why me?
But this time I am working hard to dissolve this undeservedness, little by little. This time I tell myself just by being here it would be enough, me traveling the long past of mine and you the little past of yours.
This is us, Fargo. Feel it now. We don’t get another chance.
And when our time is up, let’s look into each other’s eyes and say our hearty goodbyes. Let there be sadness, an ocean of it, but never bitterness or regret, as we are blessed by the rememberance of the magical time that is happening right here and now.
Let this name, Fargo, be your amulet, with power to travel through time, to go far, far into the future, farther than I can ever fathom. May you take me afar too — after all you are here to lead my way, teach me things much more than I can do to you. Let this name be my faith, my unshakable belief that romance will win over reality, every single time.