A love-hate relationship with a city

The City
         C. P. Cavafy (1910)

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
 
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.
                   (Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard)

My city was new when Alexandria which inspired these words was old but the sentiment  rings across the century, speaking to me.

Copyright JM Schreiber, 2013
Copyright JM Schreiber, 2013

I live in a glass and rock cast stucco bungalow, the kind of finish that will slice your palm if you lose your balance and put a hand out to stop your fall. It sits on a 6500 square foot lot overgrown with 60 foot spruce and spiky hawthorns. The garage stands, roof sagging, without a foundation and no more than a scratch coat for stucco that was never applied, at best a large shed. It is only a matter of time before the sewer line to the street which is already oval shaped, collapses in on itself. After a few years of eager redecorating, projects remain incomplete, even though all the paint and supplies were purchased long ago.

This year my house will be 62 years old, I have lived here for 20 of those years. Due to the location, the lot size and the high property values in this city, it is assessed at a value that shocks me. I have ample equity in this house I own, but no secure income. And you can’t eat equity.

More and more the house is closing in on me. It is filled with the artifacts of 20 years of raising children. And a 25 year-old alcoholic son who seems to have taken root in the basement. After being a single parent for so long, I am done. My career prospects hanging on a thread frayed by mental illness; I feel haunted by the house, the responsibilities that weigh on me, and the fatigue of facing it alone.

And this city is no more a home than it has ever been. Without my job it holds nothing and never has. I love the pathways and wild areas, I love the wide open skies and the mountains on the horizon, the rolling foothills stretching to the west. But the city has no soul, or at least not for me. My relationship with this city, one to which I chose to return at one time, is fraught with complicated anxieties.

It may be my fault. Perhaps I am the one who failed to open up and build connections. But that has never been easy and the more I go out to meet people or attend events, the deeper the loneliness settles in on me the next day. Like it or not, there is a fundamental disconnect between me and this city of glass towers and oil executives.

As I walk these streets I am haunted by the sense that I have wasted so many years here, not certain what I have to show for it, feeling all is lost, fearing that I am, as the intended recipient of Cavafy’s advice, destined grow old in the same neighbourhood, turn grey(er) in the same house.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

15 thoughts on “A love-hate relationship with a city”

  1. My 27 y.o. son just moved out, I started al-anon (family groups for those who have a loved one w/ a problem with alcohol) to help me know how to ask him to leave, and what does he do? He moves out before I have a chance to say something haha… I am continuing al-anon so I know how to keep him from moving back!!! it is not easy. I hear your despair too talking about wasted years and nothing to show for it due to mental illness and etc. Some days I manage to keep moving w/o that occurring to me, and other days it is in the forefront of my mind. Ugh. The days where I accomplish a small thing and/or find something sweet to do that day are a lot more tolerable. “This too shall pass” and you will have a better day.

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    1. I grew up rural and I am not sure that was better. I need a new environment I think, though what I am trying to escape is the history I carry, body and mind, and likely to come with me.

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  2. I have had a similar experience feeling trapped, suffocated and oppressed in a house and a city – it does have a huge psychological impact. I eventually left, sold most of my belongings and left the country to travel then settle elsewhere. The massive change felt like the beginning of a new life and I can only encourage you to do the unexpected and the new. I appreciate that your situation is very different though, e.g. I didn’t have a son living in the basement. I wish you all the best. Beautifully written post – love the photo and poem too.

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