When I told my cousin Peter that I wanted to visit the museum of military history, his eyes brightened. “Did you know that was your father’s favorite place? He visited it every time he was in town!”
I didn’t know this, but I wasn’t surprised. These last two weeks I would find myself standing before Budapest’s monuments, hoping to commune with a father who would only ask after others’ well-being and comfort, never his own. He learned far too young to hide himself, and he believed that if he could just get far enough away—to America, to his successful career and his less successful marriages, to the appearance of safety—he could simply will himself into another life.
Very soon after arriving in this strange, beautiful, and challenging city, I had the strangest sense I was somehow being carried. Every wrong turn seemed to turn on a dime into the right one. Hopping onto what turned out to be the wrong subway line would send me instead to a shortcut, or take me down some random sidestreet into a quiet reckoning with the past.
I was surprised to see an obscure symbol appear not once but twice this week as I prepared to travel to Hungary, both the place of its origin and of my family’s as well. It’s a loaded symbol, one that has signified both deep unconsciousness and real violence, and it gives me pause. I don’t know what I’ll find there, but I feel as though I’m being commanded to go.
I was never very “good” at being sick: It somehow always felt like a judgment, a punishment or a statement on my fragility. But this time around, I was being shown another way to see my predicament. Suddenly, sickness seemed to be a seam, a threshold. And like all such edges, it allows us to see around a corner, deeper into the shadows, or through a wall we had once imagined to be impenetrable.
In This House
I began working at a downtown bar, restaurant, and performing arts venue called D.C. Space in 1988, when I was still in high school. The sense of discovery, of having found a strange, alternate universe filled with brilliant weirdos was riveting, a mind- and heart-expanding thrill. For the first time, my awkwardness and damnable sensitivity no longer seemed like a deficiency. That would soon change.
I find myself more anxious than usual these days, and I’m coming to accept that my “anxious” may be different than other peoples’ “anxious.” There’s a harder edge now, an unwelcome questioning of myself and my place here. Strangely, the work of rebuilding this home does not hush this disquiet, but instead seems to animate it.
Monday evening. Soccer practice brought up complicated emotions, as it always does. The sight of strong young girls cavorting on the pitch, some still young enough to skip as they shag balls that have soared through the yawning and unnetted goalposts. The light fading a few minutes earlier each evening, as though I required a reminder that the world outside this sunlit field becomes a darker, less welcoming place by the day.
Many emotions today. The “tick tock” of our time on this Earth is heavy, a gong in my heart I can no longer ignore, but still hurts to acknowledge. What weighs most heavily on me aren't my own shortcomings: The inspirations I’ve ignored, the leaps of faith I’ve failed to take. No, it’s the thoughts of the dangers my child will face as this world continues to warm, becomes less livable, more stressed, less predictable.
Many fine artists began turning in covers of “Satisfaction” soon after it was released. But nearly 15 years later, it would be Devo—a surreal, puzzling and unabashedly geeky band from Akron, Ohio—that would truly own it. Unsatisfied with simply stripping down the Stones’ four-chord stomper, Devo instead plunged the song into a vat of caustic industrial waste.