There is a certain grace to being in exile, a certain élan, a kind of style. There is a kind of balance that has to be found within the separation from your tribe and your cultural context that plays itself out in a constant struggle between safety in your exile and your discomfort in your alien surroundings.
I am currently in the safest place for me, which affords me the chance to stay with my child. I am also alien to here, this city that I love and I am trying to make my home in. The nervousness in riding that cultural bicycle, to exist without offending your new neighbors, whilst not talking in a way that is of where you are and also staying yourself, true to you, is something that myself, as a writer and an artist, finds absolutely terrifying.
I exist in a state of flux, of anxiety, of nervousness. I want to fit in but I do not, I can not, not ever. I listen to Roger sing about Us and Them, the created walls, they are nevertheless walls after all, and walls that will never come down for me. There are walls between me and the rest of the world that I will never overcome. I will always be Them. I am never to reach the safety of “Us”. I wonder about trying to return, but there is no going back, there is no safety in that. I am unwanted, cast adrift. I have no ‘Us’ to run back to. Instead I comfort myself with a small hope that I might be allowed to continue to exist, and exist with my child at my side. It is far from assured.
Some days are easier than others. I sometimes feel a pang of longing for places I can never return to safely. Sometimes I feel like I need some walls, some context, I need to feel like I belong. Other days I almost feel like it is ok for me to be here, to exist, to try and live safely. I realize my being alive is improbable at best.
My exile from the people that raised me doesn’t hurt like it used to. I miss my uncle, I miss my grandparents, but apart from that I am glad to be free. My grandfather kept bees and chickens. He would take me out on his shoulders, with a knife flashing in one giant paw, telling me stories of people long gone. I would hear about brothers, sisters, cousins, none of them alive, none of them survived. He would give me handfuls of feed for his beloved koi, and I would feed them like an indulgent Queen-Bee from my fingertips. I would stand and watch him suit up and get the smoke so he could get the thick creamy honey from the hives. I would watch as he got a chicken for grandmother, horrified as the blood was drained out of supper and into a dirty, defiled dug in patch at the back of his garden. My grandfather made me spring crowns of flowers and I rode on his shoulders above the world. My grandfather loved me. My grandmother was always chiding a cat for muddy feet, or sitting me on her kitchen sideboard as she grabbed a pot of something hot and filling and spiced: he dwarfed her, and my memories of her are mild and meek in return. I wished I could have stayed there, but they were too old, and that was that. They were good people, the best. They were kind and strong.
When I feel the weight of what I have lost I remember my granddad and how he would tell me about things I have no right to speak of: they were not my wars. I would sit there as he whispered terror and strength into my ears. I would sit there as he told me of an evil above evil. Grandma would chide him, and the adults talk in hushed tones, but I think my grandfather knew. My grandfather could see I would have to fight too, and was speaking strength into me. He was speaking life into my bones. He was warning me about the evils men to do men, because it was all his old tired hands had left to wring from life and give to me. It was bad knowledge. It was too much too soon, but he knew soon I would have to go away, I know he knew it, and so he gave it to me while he could.
He gave me survival. Prescient and quiet, resolved and gentle he seemed like a giant to me. I loved him for the way he lived his exile out in a country that took him in. I loved him for his thick eastern European vowels and the vastness of his white beard. I had no idea of the strength it must have taken for him to carry on and forge a life in exile that he did not choose, but was thrust upon him, but now I do.
I feel such joy for his mother! His mother that never knew he had survived, that did not survive herself. The joy! I want to shout so loud she can hear! He survived! He survived! Now I understand and it makes my heart heavy, it makes my soul sing that he survived. It makes me sad to think that I will never see him again. Some veils cannot be broken, and I am outside looking in, and always will be. But that is ok.
I am at peace with this uneasy exile of mine. I take it as a blessing, a sign I belong. My suffering is a stamp upon my soul that marks me as his granddaughter, though I threw my name away years ago. We suffer. It is what we did as a family. For what end I do not know. Perhaps the universe has a secret it will let me into in time. Maybe he will be standing there one day, to greet me, in his bee-keepers hat, his big butchers knife set down at last, with a new crown of flowers for my hair, with my quiet and beautiful grandmother standing behind him ready to take me home. Maybe that will be the end of my exile.
For now I hold onto my son like a life raft, he is everything I have left. So when people wonder where my anger comes from at this racism that is plaguing his life, it is because my grandfather breathed words into my girlish ear that told me of the endgame that these words bring about, that the final conclusion of evil is death, and I have not come so far away from home to roll over and die so easy. No. I will not die easy. It is not in my blood to die easy.