Saturday, May 19, 2007

Nostalgia, noun

When I lived in Spain, in Salamanca, on Calle de Espiritu, I fell ill in the fall and was ill all through the wretchedly cold winter. The illness, so mysterious, never named, sprang upon me with a vengeance, and then settled in, hosted itself in my body, a comfortable guest there I suppose because my body was brittle from starvation, self-imposed. My mind, fuzzed by fever, could not grip the reality of what was happening, and I lived so much a spectator of myself, that I might as well have been watching the movie of my life: a depressing one, at that.

Every day at the comida, the family I lived with, talked around me to one another about the minutia of their lives, catching up, even though they lived on top of one another in a palatial five bedroom apartment that could not have been larger than 1000 square feet. Sometimes, I sat silent throughout the meal. They talked about me to one another, weighing in their opinions about what was wrong with me, as if I were not there. One afternoon, the lady of the house, La Senora, told the family that I was muriendo de nostalgia, dying of nostalgia.

I was only 21, and I translated her diagnosis, this nostalgia, as loneliness. I was dying of loneliness.

Years later, a man who was pursuing me although I had a boyfriend, lived with him even, diagnosed me with the same illness. "You know what your problem is?" he said, a little laughingly. "Your just lonely."

"How can I be lonely," I answered, "when I'm surrounded by people?"

"You don't understand," he said, "do you?"

Years after that, another man, a friend named Christian, told me that he described me to his friends as a beautiful cynic. I took it as a compliment because of the beautiful part. But tonight, I thought of that description as I sat alone on our balcony, not lonely, just alone, and I thought about how this description, which was probably right at the time he said it, was no longer right. Or that I no longer wanted it to be right. To be a cynical person is a way to distance oneself from the fray of life as it happens, to sit outside of one's life, to judge it and dismiss it with a carefully crafted sentence, tossed out lightly, but weighted with sarcasm and defeat tucked inside the sentence's syntax like stones sewn inside the hem of a coat. What is meant to be a terse quip is actually an admission of the incredible longing for connection, for a feeling of fullness and grace. Cynicism can become a mental stone, a heaviness that results in a coldness of being.

Nostalgia is like that, too. Defined as "the condition of homesickness", or "a yearning for situations, people and places in the past" (, nostalgia eats away at one's consciousness so that the grace that exists every moment in the present sits like a specter at the banquet table, the same table where one sits, also, surrounded by people, still lonely as a stone.

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