May 8, 2006

Reflections on Fargo

Unless tomorrow includes disasters of TV-movie proportions, I'm ready to declare successful completion of my best visit to Fargo since I moved to Nevada seven years ago.

I'll never forget the look on my mother's face when she entered the Chinese restaurant and saw me and Sam standing there. She had no idea we were coming. Not a clue. Once the initial shock and confusion dissipated, she was happier than I imagined, even in my best daydreams.

Somewhere to the east, a storm is drenching the North Dakota prairie. It is too far away for me to hear the thunder, but the view across the flat, treeless prairie seems infinite. Spindly lightning bolts and bright washes of blue flash aganst the sky. I've been watching them like fireworks, each display more impressive than the last.

I had forgotten how quiet it can be here. It's too early for crickets, and the night is silent except for the occasional frog reminding me that the damp ground is full of life.

At times like this, I remember the part of me that belongs here, the part of me that will always be of this place.

I drove through my old neighborhood, to the house in which I grew up. The trees were so much larger, but my heart ached at the sameness I encountered. The brick mailbox at the end of the driveway was freshly dented, proving that someone else discovered what my mother and my high school friends also learned the hard way: It was a poor location for a mailbox.

I noticed some new additions to Fargo - Thai restaurants, Starbucks, a gay bar - that indicated the passage of time. Most surprising were the places that had not changed. The Northport strip mall is still home to the same tiny hardware store, independent pharmacy, and its anchor store, Ben Franklin. The Stop and Go store to which I used to ride my bike and purchase candy bars and New York Seltzer was unchanged, except for the price of gas.

I was reminded that family is forever, even as the dynamics change in unimaginable ways. As a child, I couldn't relate to my brother, but I was pretty sure I didn't like much about him. Sitting in his hot tub until the wee hours, spilling beer and scandalous stories, was an experience I could never have imagined years ago. Now, I only regret that we don't get more nights like that.

I've been contemplating friendships. Half a world away from their blood relatives, my parents began socializing with a handful of north Fargo intellectual types in the 1980s. I grew up with these friends and their children, spent holidays in their homes, adopted them as my own aunts, uncles, and cousins. Yesterday, my mom's friend Robbie held a birthday dinner in her honor, and she raised many a wine glass to their 24 years together. I considered the friends I have today, and I daydreamed about us sitting at a dinner table many years in the future, our adult children at our sides, looking at old photos and reminiscing about our young adulthood.

I noticed that things look greener than I had remembered them.

I noticed an abundance of churches and pizza places.

I couldn't drive through a single block of Fargo without reconnecting to a lost memory or piece of myself. I had a story for every neighborhood, every intersection, every street and place of business.

I killed a mosquito, stood in the rain, held my year-old niece, and saw a deer grazing on the lilac bushes outside my old house. I visited my father's final resting place, let my mother feed me lunch at 10 a.m., and had ice cream at the soda fountain that was my second home in high school.

I have crammed a lot of living into the last three days. Things feel richer and heavier here, weighted down with nostalgia and sweetness and the constant reminders that time only moves in one direction, but the journey includes a rearview mirror.

The rain has made it to the house now, and I've decided I would like to fall asleep to the sound of raindrops. Tomorrow, I return to the desert. I return to the forward-looking version of my life, the version where I am not the child but the person who might be making lifelong friendships, who might be forming memories that will be recounted at 65th birthday parties, who might be planting the tree that will tower over houses, who might be creating an idyllic childhood for someone else soon.

Good night from Fargo.

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