Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 194: Living in a Changed Landscape

I'm part of a continued community of writers and mourners in a 30-day writing workshop found here:

September 10, 2014


How do you live in a landscape so vastly changed?

I live in a landscape saturated with you, dear Gareth. Today I met friends (your friends) to visit with their new son who you didn't get to meet. I made the 40 minute drive to your town thinking of you the whole way, even when I was simultaneously thinking of other things.

The landscape I pass holds the cemetery where you were cremated. I pass it each time I drive to your town. The town in which I can no longer find you.

The highway of this landscape weaves me through painfully green rice fields and past small convenient stores and gas stations. This is a route you would be unfamiliar with. We did not drive these particular roads together.

As the highway becomes more and more rural, then turns into a country road, then morphs into a city street, it takes me right to the turnoff for the apartment where you moved 3 days before you fell. 6 days before you died. I was never in that apartment with you. We didn't wake up late on sleepy weekend mornings there. You didn't make your famous chicken stir-fry for me there. Our shoes didn't hug in the entryway. We didn't fall passionately into bed there.

Our landscape was shattered when you died. It was covered in craters from the grenades you launched in rapid succession. It was still smoking. I had to walk carefully around them, tip-toeing through the debris, to reach you laying still in your hospital bed. I had to bend over carefully to cover you with kisses. I covered you with kisses.

Korea is a place with a stunning landscape. Most would agree. A drive out of any of its cookie-cutter crowded consumer cities will take you to what we both loved- layers of hills in deepening greens and greys. A water-color panorama. Rivers glistening and twisting through ancient fields. Cranes stretching their long white necks while flying overhead. In late summer the cosmos bloom with such intensity that it almost hurts to see. In spring the same happens with cherry blossoms.

Hadong, South Korea- the town where we met and spent so much time together.
Every sight outside of the city is a painting. Ancient. Asian. Foreign. Beautiful. These are the landscapes that brought us to our knees. A walk along one of these rivers or a drive through these hills often caused us to, hand in hand, try to describe what the landscape was doing to each of us internally. We were sensitive to our environment and we were eager to speak the language our landscapes evoked.

"How would you describe those hills?" you'd ask. And we'd spend the next 20 minutes trying on words and phrases, chewing them gently, tasking their tang, trying to find the right fit. "Take a look at that golden light," you'd say. We'd note how a particular landscape would be lit by the last glow of the setting sun. We'd drink tea on the balcony of a tea house nestled in the hills of Hadong and study the landscape around, above, and below. The path along the river that we ran. The bridge that carried an occasional little train through our town. The wooded pines we used as home bases while chasing each other around in the moonlight.

We were wrapped in these landscapes. Blanketed by them. Comforted by them.

I had no idea that you were leaving yourself at each of these places. In each of these hills. In these rivers and on these streets. I had no idea you were weaving the last threads of yourself into these landscapes as you unraveled into not being here at all.

I know this is what happened because you are so inexplicably there in these same settings. While in your town today, walking along the river with our friend and her new baby, the landscape was painful. The river ached. The hills wept. The sky hung low and suffocated me. Our friend didn't seem to notice, so I pretended the landscape was the same. "Isn't it beautiful here?" she asked. I agreed, seeing the hospital where you died right beyond the aching river, next to the weeping hills. I agreed but I knew I couldn't see what she was seeing. My landscape has changed.

In Gyeongju, the town you called home after Hadong.
Sometimes I squint my eyes to only take in a little of a particular landscape if it feels like it's going to bring me to my knees in a different way. Not out of awe but of my own unraveling. The sight of lovers holding each other on the escalator steps as they ride up. A couple eating ice cream in the very place that was "our spot." The hill where we stood and kissed and you read to me a poem about the moon. These parts of the landscape are made brighter. Splashed with hurt and trauma and then illuminated. Others live in them and around them like nothing's the matter.

How can no one see what I'm seeing? I'm baffled that others walk through these landscapes unfazed with legs that hold them up and chests that don't heave from sobbing. It's like I'm wearing an incredibly cruel set of lenses that I can't remove.

I want them removed.

I want to watch time go backwards like seeing Koyaanisqatsi in reverse. Slow motion in reverse. Time-lapse in reverse. Things being restored to how they were before. Landscapes renewed and made beautiful again.

I want these landscapes to be beautiful again.

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