Thursday, January 26, 2017
Walking the white dog. I took the whitest, bourgiest dog ever (sorry Dexter, but you are a golden retriever) for a walk in the white bourgie neighbourhood where I grew up. I was re-immersing myself in pedestrian memories with an earlier, even whiter dog (Alfred, 1992–2008) in these same streets. I thought about how I would yearn here for real life to begin, in all these interstices of suburbia that kids and teenagers sense and gravitate towards: the lanes and half-overgrown parks and deserted train platforms and the rundown old tennis courts and vacant lots and weird tiny slices of unused land backing onto two rows of houses, which feel forgotten by money and the need for niceness, and where you can feel alone.
The lacquer of capitalism and the soft patina of gentility now cover Tom's house and Greg's house and Cassie's house, none of whose families live here any more. I could disdain this, but I also felt shame today to recognise what I fancifully used to disavow: that I've fitted in here, with my white sneakers and white dog and white skin and polite smile to the teenager raking leaves from the footpath. I felt wrong for having always felt at home in these spaces I thought belonged to nobody, among my weird imported fantasies of flower fairies and nature gods, of dairymaids and duchesses, singing songs of the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa ("Umoja: unity that brings us together!") and Bulgarian laments ("three rifles fired, three heroes fell, three mothers cried") and queer yearning ("if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can't I?") without understanding if they had anything to do with me or this place. Seeing that low brick fence where in year 10 on my walk to school I found a weather-crimped paperback of Bryce Courtenay's Tandia just sitting there, and this trashy and intensely probbo novel was my introduction to South African racial politics.
When your memories spring from stolen land, are they only ever fantasies? When you plant foreign seeds in stolen soil, does the fruit make you sick? All we can do is listen and learn from those whose home this was, is, and always will be.