I have a friend here whose family was influential, once upon a time. There’s a street at the edge of town that used to be called after them because so many of his ancestors and relatives lived there. There’s a corner in the centro where three of the boutiques bear his family’s name – big wooden plaques on mortar walls, visible from down the block. Every time I hang out with him, he waves to half the people we pass. The other night, I was having a beer in a pub when I noticed the walls – exposed stone peeking from yellow concrete. They’re the same walls he has in his apartment. He built those walls, and he built the walls in the pub, too. Boy, if you wanted to get away from him, this town would be the wrong place to do it.
They’re fascinating to me, my new friend’s roots. My parents were immigrants; there were no ties for us in Crystal River, and I resisted cultivating any of my own because Crystal River and I were never a good fit. When I moved to New York, I finally felt home but, again, there was no history, nothing beyond the knowledge that my parents had lived in Brooklyn when they first emigrated, that I was conceived in an apartment on Henry and Atlantic. And then I left New York. No ties, of course, in Japan; none anymore in Ireland. Each time I visit home, I see ghosts of my girlish self at each subway stop – late for this, late for that, crying over this or that worthless boy amid commuters, train performers, and panhandlers. But roots? Maybe if I’d stayed. Maybe if I planned to go back. Anyhow, there has never been a sign on 6th street and 1st avenue with my name on it.
And then, coming home after running errands in the centro, I put my keys in the lock and remember that I’m living in an apartment building that was built by my grandfather; that I’m living in the apartment where my tremendous Roman great-grandmother harassed my father; that I’m sleeping in what used to be his room. I run into people who knew my people, who remember my mother when she was young. I look up at the Temple of Jove, where my father proposed to my mother. I see their teenage ghosts, too, up and down the lungomare, parked on street corners. My great-great grandmother was born here. In a sense, this town is where my life began. And then I think that maybe, just maybe, I have a chance at feeling roots to myself, too.