I decided to take the long way home from work. From moving around and living in urban walk-friendly cities in the past year, I’m used to walking. Also, I like to walk with a city to get to know it—just the way I walk with a man to make sure I like the way he puts words together while putting one foot in front of the other. Even more so, I already am drawn to Salt Lake City, and thus, I am already trying to find ways to spend more time with it. We all tend to find excuses to do more of what we like, I think...and to be with the ones we love, I hope.
Sometimes the high-rise buildings sneak up on me. The banks and hotels stand erect, flexing up towards the cloudy sky. Sometimes I look up, and I remember New York: the cold, the color, the concrete; but then I turn to look and see the mountains and all is well again because I know these mountains. And when I see them, my heart beats the word “home.”
In the day, I see more men in dress shirts, ties, and suits than I did even on Wall Street in New York. Or perhaps it just seems like it. Maybe I’m already forgetting my passionate affair with the Big Apple. But the suited men are different here from New York. In New York, their eyes were sunken in with dark rings from red-eye nights. Their suits were expensive and glossy, and their hair was always more gray than the youth of their faces should have allowed. In Salt Lake City, the men were young and fresh. Their suits were bought on budget, but their bright faces and springy steps made up for the lack of shiny material. Hair styles varied from military cuts, to simple and short, to the sides faded up to the top where a nice head of hair was gelled stylishly back. Some wore ties, and some wore bow ties.
Most of them seemed nervous. I always wondered if they were heading off to an interview or a big presentation by the way they kept tugging at their sleeves. I wonder what they thought of me. Some that I walked by looked at me for a few seconds. They smiled awkwardly and then looked away and their glances never return. I don’t know if they were bashful because I stare so openly, so curiously, or if it’s because the shirt I’m wearing is not covering my shoulders and is also revealing my naval. Or perhaps it’s the color of my skin—I’m not the only bronze-skinned girl in Salt Lake City, but I certainly am not lost in a crowd of colors like I was when I walked the streets of Brooklyn.
The way I dress, I believe, also makes me a sure target for those trying to spread the word of God. I’m practically advertising my need for salvation when my belly button shows. I’ve had women and men alike approach me with a smiling face. A young man with a handsome face approached me once. “May I please tell you about our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Not a chance. “No thanks.”
“Oh,” he laughs, “We aren’t all that bad.” He tries to pretend to read my mind—to pretend that he knows they’re a little strange. To pretend that he's different.
I’ve heard that one before. I can’t help but think he’s almost flirting with me. “No thanks.”
“It will only take a minute of your time. Just give us a chance.”
I had once. And it broke my heart. “No thanks.”
And so the story goes.
Still, the dress shirts and ties turn my head. I like the way they look. I even like the way the three-quarter-length skirts sway around the ankles of the church women. They all wear name tags as if they were on the job while walking around in twos and fours around the city. They wear pretty braids and ribbons in their hair, and smile sweetly at all strangers alike. I can’t help but sense judgement behind their smiles when I jog by with more skin showing on me than they probably allow even when swimming. Or maybe that’s just me imagining this religion thing to be so much more constrained than it actually is. I don’t know, however, I admit my imagination can get the best of me at times.
The city speaks to me in many ways. In the same way I have always wanted to visit Korea to get in touch with my mother’s homeland, I feel that I’m fulfilling my desire to understand my father a bit more by being here in Northern Utah. The LDS buildings including the temple, the Brigham Young Memorial, and the Church of Latter Day Saints Conference Center are all incredibly beautiful. They reek of blind power and secrecy, and I feel always like I’m being watched from a high towering window. I think of the stories my dad has told me about my grand parents, and I wince ever so slightly. The structures stand over bright and tall with majestic water fountains and granite tiles covering the outside walls. So much that these buildings symbolize make me shiver and bring goose bumps to my arms despite their beauty. Every now and then I see an LDS security guard go and shoo away the homeless trying to find sanctuary in the walls of these enormous structures, and watching the dirty lost men get up and walk away in compliance with security only makes the entire environment more perverse to me. I hear the chilling voice of Esmeralda from my childhood Disney watching days sing words that I struggle with:
God help the outcasts
Hungry from birth
Show them the mercy
They don’t find on earth
God help my people
We look to You still
God help the outcasts
Or nobody will.
Clean. Salt Lake City is a clean city. That is what many people say, and they are correct. However, I wonder if the learned trick of Utans to turn the other way when the dirt does, on occasion, resurface is what makes the city so incredibly “spotless.” I suppose even on a cloudy city, if you can dodge the raindrops, you’ll never be wet. Why bring an umbrella and worry about the rain if that’s the case, right?
The homeless here roam about the city in a surprisingly large amount. In New York, I used to converse with them. They had voices as smooth as jazz and skin as rough as burnt leather. They told some great stories even in 4 degree weather. The subway had made us all one people. The homeless slept on the subway seats in the rumble of the night, and the ones who had homes slept on the subway seats on their way to and from work in order to keep the little spaces of home they could. In Utah, the disparity felt greater. There was no connection, and the poor seemed to be incoherent. They twitched, and moved about like broken ballerina dolls that made you think that at one point in time they must have been graceful and vibrant. It made their strange jerking movements that much sadder. They talked aloud, approached strangers aggressively, and were always moving quickly, licking lips, and darting their glances. They seemed to have a hunger that could never and would never be satisfied. They felt more dangerous than I would like to give them credit for; I don’t like to admit when I feel fear from others who may have the best of intentions, but hunger that goes unfed becomes desperate and desperation, I’m afraid, can become anything.
And I walked through it all until I reached little houses that made me think of the cottages from Snow White. I couldn’t help but notice that I am the only one alone. The young men and women that dare walk to the park alone come with a dog, or two, or three. The others come in big families or in couples. I counted 8 couples in a row on my way to the park. I am alone, not lonely, I told myself, but the fact that I had to keep repeating it to myself caused me to doubt my words. And soon I found myself sighing in my mind: Where are you? As if the man I have not yet met is somewhere out there taking his time when I wish he would hurry up and find me, meet me, and fall in love. I snap out of it. Stop. I am alone, not lonely. And then I remember the feeling of being held. And lonely, or alone, it all suddenly seemed the same.
I let myself fall into the past—not necessarily to him, per say—but just to feel safe. To feel loved. To feel like you don’t have to trust the world, you just have to trust one person and it can feel as wonderful as wonderful can feel. Being held and feeling more emotion than a body can physically contain was the most...
I am alone, not lonely. I told myself.
I’ve been taking advantage of yoga intro specials here in the city. Many places offer a 3 class for the price of 1 special or a free unlimited month. I headed downtown to take advantage of a free afternoon and class. I sat cross legged beside a man with better tamed hair than myself. He was attractive and the dark shadow given to him by a couple day’s break from a razor on the lower half of his face made me a little weak in the knees during downward dog. In front of me a girl with tangled hair, tattoos of birds and arrows and letters of hope breathed in and out very deeply. She looked like she was a child of the forest that did not walk, but frolicked to yoga class. She looked so free and happy, and I hoped that being in the same room with her would help me feel the same.
After yoga, I sometimes take my time so I walked the streets yet again. I stopped to get coffee at my new favorite place and was quite happy. Everyone looked so hip with their cute avocado tattoos, nose rings, and high-waisted jeans. I doubted that I looked anything like them, but when I sat at a table with my coffee, I felt like that didn’t matter. And that was nice.
On the way home, I past by the joggers and mountain bikers too out of breath to say hello or wave. They were fit and ready for ski season, I guessed. They made me want to put on some spandex and a sports bra and go running myself. Instead, I only continued on my way home from yoga and coffee.
Reaching my front door, my big beautiful green door, I thought of the young men in suits and the women in their pioneer-length skirts. Of the tall and timeless temple and the chilling waterfalls that flowed from the mouth of the LDS Conference Center. Of the homeless finding a more welcome roof at public bus stops than at the feet of the church walls. Of the drug addicts, the rebellious spike wearing punks, and the clever tattoos of fruits and vegetables. Of the forest girl who could do the splits, the man with nicer hair than my own, and of the people that looked like they had just gotten off the Bedford stop in Williamsburg. Of the active bike-freaks and pace-obsessed runners, dog wielding singles and couples alike, and the old couples holding hands.
And I began to wonder…Oh, Salt Lake, Where will I fit in? This wonderful city. My home. My city. I turned and looked at my street. Where will I fit in?
And suddenly the wind replied softly to my ear:
Where won’t You?