The Strange Beautiful

The Wonder of Home

When I was young, I walked through a door that led to the street. I saw the sun as if for the first time—first of the sun, first time I could see, first I felt of heat on my skin. The thing that is strange about this memory is that I didn’t know where I was, but there was a sense of homecoming that was both brutal and wonderful. Brutality of home an enigmatic longing for a time and place that was lost. But I could feel home on my skin and it slowly sunk in deeper. Time expanded and other worlds survived, my skin revealed to me from below—as light under the bones. The sadness that accompanied those days has stayed with me and turned into many things—openness, exhaustion, despair, disappointment, disaster, and, finally, a peace that always disrepairs.

The Ghost Cities

I had been searching for home, a place I would feel settled and connected, for the better part of my life. I grew up in Philadelphia, a place I always knew I would leave. I moved from there in my early 20s to the West Coast, to the city by the Bay, San Francisco. Over the 12 years I lived there, I saw the city change from one city into another, becoming shadows of itself. San Francisco, on its most substantial day, is a ghost. A ghostly presence occupying space near a stunning, golden Bay and on the cold shores of the unforgiving Pacific. The Pacific Ocean defines San Francisco in the way wind forms rock. Only the city is made of sand and smoke and brightly colored facades resembling houses.

There was a dreaminess to San Francisco when I first moved there that was inebriating, sultry, fantastical. Seminal to me, the city made me what I was but hadn’t realized, electrifying my creativity, music, writing, bonds with everyone I loved and how I loved them. The manner of the city, surreal quality, blurriness and never-ending fog were in me like an alien taking up a host. The city and all its beings existed underneath the auspice of the Pacific, underwater, in a translucence of algae. Even in its most urban neighborhoods, dusted with brick apartment buildings and Victorians, the city sat gently on itself, looking down from hills onto the glittering Bay.

A new sense of language and bodily sensation came from the ordering and reordering of sidewalks against cityscape, a new sense of Western sunlight and sky. Each city has its own sky. The color of sky in San Francisco was changeable, never static, soft and iridescent. It could be gray and still hold all the magic of the sun. The light was everywhere, like a planetary ring around darkness that illuminates an entire big sky.

As much inspiration as I found there, I always knew I wouldn’t settle down out West. I found so much there, and it startles me still to think about my life in San Francisco and how much it brought me. For as much as I felt a part of the city, I always felt alienated, like a part of me resided somewhere else. So my roots in San Francisco came loose.

After 12 years, I moved to New York. I moved in the summer, when the city smells of rotting garbage, your clothes stick to you like glue and you sweat in the shower. I had moved to the fifth circle of hell. My first apartment was a sublet in Midtown, right near Port Authority. After a couple months of unqualified misery, I moved to a teensy apartment and then, two years later, to a bigger apartment in Brooklyn. I hated every second of every day, knowing all the time that I had to be there. For some insane, fucked-up reason, I had to be in this city. It was loud and crowded and annoying, and I really couldn’t stand it. I spent the first four years planning on moving anywhere else. All the time knowing I had to be here.

In the middle of those four hellish years, I took a trip to Gothenburg, Sweden. As the plane touched down on Swedish ground, I had the strongest feeling of coming home. It was the strangest thing, I’d never been to Sweden and my heritage is as far away from Swedish as you can get. But everything about the city was familiar and warm and an amazing feeling of homecoming filled my heart. It was as if I’d left something there and was now coming back to get it. What I found of myself there, I am still coming to understand.

Gothenburg is lovely, humble and quiet, yet edgy and dark, almost secretive. The sky is huge and transparent, as if you can see beyond it to another realm. The air is pure and soft, permissive. I felt myself there in a way I’d never felt before. I was comfortable, walking in the streets, looking at the sky, the sound of Swedish around me like a native tongue. I felt connected to the earth there in a way I’d never felt anywhere else. It felt like home.

I spent a month there a couple summers ago and, as the month wore on, I missed New York so fiercely, it became clearer and clearer to me where my home truly is. I missed the sidewalks, the buildings, the language, the grit and groundedness of New Yorkers, the dust and dirt and grime. I missed the New York sky and the way the air feels, and the pressure of that air on the eyelids. I missed the cursing and the noise, the loudness of a city so itself, it can’t be anything else. What I missed most were the people, most especially one person in particular. In the end, my attachment showed me that this is where I have to be.

The Sweet Thereafter

The mystery of New York has humbled me and forced me to discover truer experiences and ways of identifying myself as part of them—like a simple, spoked wheel moving outward from itself, yet staying still. Simple shapes and simple planes—imperfect, glimmering, wondrous stillness and movement. What I dream about is an igloo in the middle of a white landscape, sleeping huddled with my family, snow, ice, the supernaturalness of animals. The dream of silence and space calms me and moves a part of me half-hidden in everyday life. Somehow, this space and quiet is contained in my apartment in Brooklyn.

The doors to different cities open and close at different times. This time is linear or not, circular in that time defines itself and loses itself to itself. The thing about New York is, it brings the unknown of each present moment right to your feet. It “rolls in ecstasy at your feet,” as Kafka wrote. The power in the sun and sidewalk is breathtaking. Memory of the sun in the present—everything comes forward, out of hiding, in this city.

The feeling in my bones of home is complicated and simple at the same time. I belong here, with all its flaws and magnificences, with all my flaws and small elations. I’m in love, and I accept all of it, take all of it, without judgment and with no wish to change even a single detail. Slowly, strangely, it is as it is.

- Arielle Guy