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" … choice a person makes before they can take ramifications into full consideration."

I heard myself say it, perhaps more confession than admission, "I've lived as a resident alien since I was eighteen." I'd never heard myself say that before, and my statement stuck in my craw. The suppertime conversation continued, though I noticed that it resumed without me. I eventually caught up, though I continued to carry my inadvertent little blurt along with me. Did I really mean that or was I just mugging for some non-existent camera, making another signature outrageous remark? My disclosure held fascination for me. Was it really true? Had I never, for fifty contiguous years, felt as though I was of a place I'd lived? It was true enough, I decided upon further consideration. Except for that one decade where The Muse and I moved back home, I later confided, I've felt very much TheStranger everywhere I called home. Helpfully, The Muse reflected that even there, I mostly felt like TheStranger, too.

I feel very attracted to the concept of community, of clan, of tribe, perhaps because I've experienced so very little of these in my life. I've peg-legged along with streams of more temporary associations, close relationships for the duration of one project or another, feeling brotherhood from the steps of a passing train. I always seemed headed elsewhere, a temporary, an intimate only for the extent of my proposed tenure, which I sensed would never be granted. Was I destined to remain an adjunct in this life, in but never wholly of anywhere?

There were certain benefits from living such an arm's-length existence. I could observe with greater dispassion, since I had little skin in the game. I could carry criticism without a consequent sense that it might be my destiny to do something to improve a situation. There were doubtless costs involved, too. A growing alienation as I came to understand that I lived next door to a club I would probably never willingly agree to join. The future before me would eternally leave me isolated and alone.

I kept my home and work lives as separate as any church and state. I seemed to assume a role when working, one I rarely exhibited at home. Likewise, at home I performed as husband, father, and good old Handyman Dave, personas I seemed afraid to exhibit at work. Between the two, a short half hour bus ride morning and evening kept my nose deep into the latest edition of Harper's Magazine, invisible and anonymous even to myself. My neighbors thought that I must be some sort of lawyer stepping off in my three piece suit carrying an actual briefcase each morning and returning a little later every evening; a familiar Stranger to them, someone with which to exchange curiously chirpy Good Mornings and Good Evenings, but otherwise a mystery man puttering in his yard on weekends.

My first wife joined a church to find community. I attended the occasional neighborhood gathering where I immediately recognized a room filled with passionate partisans pursuing a common future. I knew we would be moving, sooner or later, and that this residency would be more a phase than a life. I felt I had other places to go, other directions to head, and that I was most likely Just Visiting this time around. I found nothing strange about this lifestyle, especially since it seemed so common. Millions of my generation had vacated their hometowns to head for some city where careers might still be possible. We'd migrate "back" on long weekends to resume the lives we'd abandoned to preserve ourselves, leaving again much more frequently than we ever returned.

The Muse and I finally returned. Well, it was a return for me and yet another extrusion in The Muse's ever-lengthening separation from home. She quickly found a community. I found somewhat greater anonymity, as I recognized that the me who 'returned' was not very closely related to the one who'd gone. I sometimes recognized someone as one I once knew, but could not always muster the courage to remember myself to them, letting opportunities for reconnections slip past me. I learned that certain myths about me had matured in my absence, that I was widely know to be someone I never once was, which left the me I'd known myself to be abandoned and misunderstood. No disconfirming evidence could ever realign the stories with the man. I felt every bit TheStranger again, still.

I still pine to return to a place that might have only ever existed in my more active imaginations. The town I found myself born into felt familiar by means of isolation, perhaps, for I'd never known another. Learning of other places, I found each attractive in some ways and also repulsive in others, wanting for some authentic characteristics which might have been more fanciful than genuinely real. I knew who people were there, I'd tell myself. The streets were populated with people whose stories I'd told and held close enough that I firmly believed that they might also be mine. In the city, I quite literally knew nobody. I made up stories in compensation for the deficit, stories I had to believe or else. Or else I might be TheStranger to myself as well as to everyone else.

I believe that my experience has in no way been unique to me. You might see some fundamental similarities to mine in yours. You, too, might know your present neighbors just well enough to offer a chirpy Good Morning or Good Evening, and few of them well enough to feel safe exchanging more than some infinitesimally small talk in almost desperate recognition, for a person only exists to the extent that their presence is repeatedly acknowledged, and TheStranger seems much more translucent than solid. It's a lifestyle, they say, a choice a person makes before they can take ramifications into full consideration. It spawns deep aspiration for community, clan, and tribe, and results in an isolation one eventually learns to abide.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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