To love a people is one thing, but to love a country other than your own is treason.
I was 17 when I first arrived in the United States. 19 when I decided to stay, beginning a decade long love affair. I knew of love then, but its tendons had yet to find a way to make me stay, to make me leave. Too young to know of the love that seeps into your bones to cradle the best and worst parts of you so that you don’t know whether it is love or hate that oozes out of you when you wake to find yourself in that familiar bed with all your most intimate things at your side.
I fell in love with its people first. The ones who weren’t from here, a petri dish of dreams and lost lands. The synthesis of “America” visible on every confused street corner that screamed Pharmacy! Coffee! Best Turkish Restaurant! SAVE 3c WITH SA REWARDS! Mirror of Korea! Lawn Chairs! There were more subdued streets too. The ones with lawns whose grass was trimmed meticulously by fleshy men pushing carts and riding tiny tractors just so they could watch it grow again. Stubborn grass. Then there were their houses, with wide windows and curtains pulled back, opening their inhabitants to the world. The people in the windows never seeming to care much of making spectacles of themselves; sitting on couches, standing around tables, busy with their internal living.
At 24, I knew I couldn’t go back. At least not like this—with this new skin I had grown that left me exposed in frightening ways. How could one keep explaining what Queer meant or that Lesbian was not an abomination against the colonial Jesus the missionaries and settlers handed over in compensation for our land and tongues? I had fallen deeply in love with this country too; its people and its land. The air that tickled my nose in the spring, the waters that cut open cities and baptized sinners, the politics that muddied everything while keeping it pristine from the outside.
I had began to set out on adventures that unfurled themselves in open highways and heads fleshed against windows. On a road trip West to meet the ocean, I drove past the Great Plains, through Big Sky Country and into the Rockies and finally understood certain things. Historical events that until then had failed to make their impression entirely felt, unveiled themselves to me. Lakes with French names dipped into Idaho where I had expected potatoes. The breadth of diversity in all things America reached into me again. How could you not love this great expanse of land that sat nestled between two oceans and then some?
The thought had blanketed me then, “I know now why they colonized this land and massacred the Indians.” An absurd thought based in the undeniable truth of America’s devastating and daunting beauty. By the time I arrived at Wanapum Dam in northern Washington State, there were dead Indians underfoot.
The plaque read:
“The Wanapum Indians had never fought the whites…they signed no treaties and as such never received any territorial rights. Although numbering in the thousands at the time, the Wanapums are now virtually extinct.”
If only the Rockies had managed to keep the East out.
I fell in love with her much later, as these things are bound to happen. A natural progression-from wander to wonder to adoration to ownership. We made a love forged on sensibilities, hoping, no, expecting, that we were both sensible people. None of that proselytizing love for me anymore. By your late twenties you know that love songs are not made of love but by the loss of it, so you try not to lose yourself either. Our love would be reasonable, demarcated lines in a ledger, a detailed account of assets and liabilities, and most importantly when and where it would end. But what two partners don’t think they are sensible, in romance or in business? And what two people ever are?
At 27, I began to fall out of love. I fell out of love with this country first, then its people, and eventually her. One perhaps the consequence of the others. You stick around long enough and a person, a people, and a place will reveal themselves fully to you. You must only wait.