Sunday, July 18, 2010

Relief Map

I remember standing around a relief globe in some elementary school classroom or other. Aside from outdated textbooks, the relief globe was my portal to the world, the real world, beyond the confines of New Carlisle, Ohio. Was it really confining, did it seem that way to me at the time? I suppose not. I remember the physical symptoms of anxiety and dread I associated with the raw social environment of public elementary school in my small Ohio town, the vice around my throat, the fluttering in my chest when I would awaken and, knowing the walk to school, wonder which portly bully would accost me that day. They never harmed me physically, they just liked to intimidate. I was an easy one to intimidate because I was smart but not a good student, small, not really good at things I had been told I was good at. I found a kind of solace in books, from Time Machine adventures to the Hardy Boys. My parents bought me a Hardy Boys mystery novel for Christmas in 1983 and my father read a chapter every night for 20 nights (each of the 58 original adventures weighs in at 20 chapters, 180 pages). I resolved to read all 58 books and so I did, out of loyalty to the gesture of my parents and because I liked what I was reading. At my peak, I would read in classes, in empty periods, shuttering away the down time that never led anyplace good. I could read a book in a day.

The relief map was different. I could run my fingers over the Himalayas and try to make sense of Nepal, a country-sized cliff. I could see such bizarre countries as Jordan, named perhaps after the basketball star just then ascending, or Niger, which caused my classmates to giggle (and me, too, because I was immature and possessed no spine), or puzzling Chad. We joked about other names that might pass for countries. James. Matt. Jon. Charity. Nighthawk.

I remember actually trying to imagine life in those places, and I remember wanting to see…life, in those places, in all sorts of places, all around. I remember feeling, for the first time, the swelling of the world. It was large; I was a pinprick. I wanted to spread myself around. I remember wanting to live in one of these places—I sensed somehow, without any context I can call my own, that visiting was one thing, and taking up residence completely another. It dawned like I say as a sense, but today I can give words. I wanted to see the day to day, the way things worked in a place like Jordan or Chad, how the people went about their days. Their days must be so different from mine—the world was not New Carlisle, right? And I didn’t and don’t hate where I’m from, I’m not ashamed. But it was confining and constricting. Like a depressed person, I would fake an illness to convince my parents to let me stay home. They weren’t fooled, but often they relented. I loved the mornings alone, before the day aged and I began to feel the tug of company again, the weight of the next day, the obligation to act as though I’d recovered from an upset tummy. I always felt the nagging question of what the world held in its palms between fingers with pinpricked tips.


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