Friday, September 20, 2013

Being Free from My Pasts

When I was very young, I was free from my past simply because I hardly had one. Like all toddlers, I was building my past at lightning speed, adding to it daily, constructing my past as if I was a born engineer. Had I known then, that a few years later I would want to tear down this painstakingly erected edifice, I could have saved myself a lot of hard work. I could have sat on my toddler hinie on the couch, eat toddler chips and watch Teletubbies.

My past started to become a burden at the ripe old age of four, when my family moved from my native Hungary to Paris. The little past that I had created, made me stand out. I was the 'other'. Four is pretty young to realize that your past is not acceptable to the people around you. I spoke French with a weird accent, my clothes looked funny and in the process of learning how to navigate the four-year old dominance hierarchy of my new country, my non-native past was as useful as a sandbag in the desert. 'Haute-toi!' my class-mates would say. Move! I obliged, not because I knew what the words meant, but because playground body language indicating that you are not wanted is universal.

Being a healthy conformist , I took great effort to construct a past that fit within the confines of my new home. I was eager to 'fit in' and yearned for acceptance. My old past was quickly shoved under the rug, all traces successfully destroyed, including my native language. No need of that weird Hungarian language here, I thought. Finally, I was able to relax and devote my time to the business of growing up. But before I had time to learn my multiplication tables, it happened again. Bam! My newly constructed past had to go under the knife again.

Another move, another jolt, another journey. I safely tucked my French past in the bottom of my backpack, along with my newly acquired French accent, as we moved from Paris to Amsterdam.

This new Dutch world was clean, organized, affluent. I unpacked my French past, expecting the worst, but to my surprise, it was more a source of curiosity than rejection. My new friends took me for an exotic foreign creature that had suddenly appeared in their otherwise fairly dull lives. The French had dominated Holland's cultural life for centuries and I reaped the benefits from that past. My French past offered me a spot on the higher rungs of the jungle gym and for a while I magnanimously accepted my new friends' admiration. But the novelty didn't last; I felt increasing pressure to rewrite my past in this new awkward sounding language. I was back at the drawing board, ready for new construction.

The material I had to work with lacked the familiar smells and colors of a Paris that had somehow sneaked its way into my young heart. But there was the matter of survival and I began the familiar process of dismantling my French past. Anyone who bothered to look closer, could see that there was something buried there, but I covered the bumps and blemishes as best I could, trying to create as genuine a Dutch past as I knew how. My French was too tenaciously embedded and would always remain my 'native' language, although I learnt Dutch quickly and perfectly, without anyone noticing that I was an imposter.

My Dutch past was taking shape, a masterfully crafted fake copy of something that my friends possessed naturally. I learnt the art of impersonation to a T. But something started to shift in the buried scaffolding of my multiple pasts. Like forgotten perennials in a spring garden, my previous pasts began to push their way through the dirt, demanding to be heard.

As a teenager, I realized that I could not keep up appearances. Suddenly, as if I had turned into a bird, I looked down upon my most recently constructed Dutch past and realized that it was as flat and devoid of imagination as the landscape from which it had sprung. I was ready for another demolition derby.

I packed my bags and began to travel. Those were liberating times; nobody cared where I came from or where I was going, least of all myself. England, my first port of call, seemed like a nice enough place. In London, I discovered the exileration of anonimity. My soul and I could disappear in this vast, beautiful city. I met reserved, polite but colorful Englishmen who didn't judge me or care about my schizophrenic past. But I was thirsty for more adventure. From there I hitch hiked to Spain, a rough and much less civilized country than the Northern European culture that I was familiar with. I settled in Malaga, on the Costa del Sol. I was young, tall and blue-eyed and got so much male attention from the moment I arrived, that I acquired the habit of walking with a rolled up newspaper and use it as a fly swatter whenever an overzealous caballero made a move to invade my personal space.

Although I didn't know it at the time, I was in search for a place that would accommodate all my conflicting stories and Spain under Franco was as unforgiving of mutts like me as my previously adopted countries. I moved on. After a brief rest period between travels, to catch my breath so to speak, I decided that I should extend my search beyond the boundaries of the continent. I left for America.

The shock to my system when I drove through Harlem was so great that I wondered if I had landed in a war torn country instead of New York. I saw a big black man with only one shoe on, cross the street, barely able to keep his balance, the piles of uncollected garbage, the beat up cars, the dirty streets.. but all this is for another story.

America, with all its ugliness, its beauty, has accepted me and all my pasts. I was able to safely unpack them all, lay them out for everyone to see. Everyone here is openly rummaging through their multiple pasts. Everyone is like me, a mutt. And we are proud of it. leave comment here