When I was a kid, I had a book – several, if memory serves – of the constellations and the stories that inspired them. Greek gods and myths found their way to be written in the stars, an eternal picture book that has never faded or been rewritten. There was vain Cassiopeia, and her daughter, doomed Andromeda, who nearly paid the price for her mothers’ hubris. Or Pegasus, who bore Bellerophon to his glory and demise. Of all the constellation myths, though, the story of Orion has stuck with me, perhaps largely due to Orion’s prominence in the winter sky; bright Rigel, his famed belt, and of course, the misspelled and infamous Betelgeuse1I say infamous thanks to Micheal Keaton’s brilliant ghost with the most.. Orion’s appearance across the winter sky has been a fixture in my life; whenever the unfamiliar asserts itself, during the winter time, I can always look up and see the giant in the clear dark. So it goes in the tropics. Polaris isn’t visible here, and I haven’t found Ursa Major2the Big Dipper. Sirius burns as bright as ever, but it isn’t the Dog Star that I turn my searching eyes towards in the cold of fall.
Hah, cold. Nothing is cold here in the tropics, except for the ever present air conditioning in every building and mall. In Portland, the leaves are falling, the brilliant green of summer being replaced with the majesty of red and gold, orange and yellow. Rain brushes against the American Pacific coast as the El Nino systems move into their winter phase, this year promising nothing but fury and water, only one of which is in short supply. Here, the rainy season has begun, though it’s still dry, relatively, due to that same system.
It’s November and I’m still wearing shorts.
Beverly touched down in Portland this morning. She’s back in the States for a work trip to WHQ, her feet feeling the familiar pathways already, running 10K along the water “like it ain’t no thang.” The streets of Portland are wet and plastered with fallen leaves, a decoration for bare pavement and a danger for drivers who really ought to be used to this sort of thing by now. It’s six degrees Celsius right now there – or 43 Fahrenheit if you please – twenty-two degrees Celsius colder than it is here. At least the humidity is about the same.
It’s November, and I’m wearing shorts and short sleeves. My pants are folded and hanging in a closet, or in some unnamed and unknown storage facility in Oregon, or maybe even in southern Washington. Who knows? I have one jacket here, one sweatshirt, neither have been worn since the day I arrived in Singapore. It feels a rare treat to wear jeans. I’ve done so a few times indoors with the AC blaring, an indulgence.
It’s November, and Beverly is in Portland and I’m in the tropics. Is this my life? Is this my dream? Or is this someone else’s nightmare?
In a little over seven days I’ll take a taxi to Changi International, wave my passport, make some noises about upgrade possibilities and sit in a small seat for 20 hours and change. I’m going to make like El Nino, slamming into San Francisco with fury and intent – a desire to suck up as much Americana as I can in seven days. I’ll see my family, the heart of who I am, I’ll get to play my nephew, who is joy incarnate, laugh and hang out with my sister, who is apparently drastically pregnant with their second. I may get lucky enough to meet my niece. I’ll see friends I haven’t in years atop years, maybe even reconnect with some of the people I grew up with. Petaluma, the city of my childhood, has always been a fantastic place for a reunion. I’ll pack light, filling my bags with cheaper and better fitting American clothes, less expensive books, maybe a bottle or two of good American beer. My car sits like a patient animal in my father’s garage, and my hands ache for the feel of the wheel and gearshift, the comfort of high speed along country roads.
We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving, and I’ll have much to be thankful for.
So now can you understand why this week will be so long? I have events and groups and things with friends planned or being planned, but it’s November and I’ll be wearing shorts and my love will be in the city I love, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, drinking good Oregon beer in a city a tenth the size of the one which we currently call home. I’ll be in a city that’s hard to call home, but is none the less, despite the fact that I can’t bear to be outside for more than an hour or two before the sweat begins to drip.
Yeah, the doldrums have hit hard.
I sat outside last night, sitting on the patio watching the kids come in from the pool as families settled down for their Sunday evening. TV lights flickered in the opposite apartments, the familiar suburban ritual present even here in the tropics. Birds made their final calls for the night as bats began flutter about, their day just beginning. The promised rain never materialized, and above the cloudless sky revealed the giant, turned sideways, Betelgeuse high and Rigel barely visible above the condos across the street. I took in the familiar sight – I had seen him before, back in February, lying on his side above the high rises of downtown and the gaudy backdrop of the Marina Bay Sands. That calm came for a moment or two.