At two points on my drive to work—when I merge onto I-5 and when I drive the slight hill toward my exit—Mount Hood appears suddenly larger, as though a magnifying glass has been held to the sky. Especially on clear days when the mountain’s white slopes seem sharper, I risk turning my eyes away from highway traffic because seeing the mountain fills me with affection for my newest home. This is how I’ve been attempting to conjure a warm attachment to the United States, an act that was once very difficult.
I moved to Portland, Oregon, two years ago, making it my third significant home. I was born in suburban North Carolina but only vaguely remember my childhood. When I was nine, my parents became Christian missionaries and moved our family of six to London, England, where we lived for a decade. From there, my three siblings and I pasted together an image of America out of movies and our wilting memories, and as the years passed, a gap formed between myself and my homeland that widened with time. Despite this, I returned to America for college and have stayed. I’m now twenty-eight and living with my husband and cat in a fifth-floor studio. We have many flannel shirts and matching down jackets. My husband’s parents bought us a robotic cylinder that plays the radio, so every morning we listen to the news, and I feel proud of how I’ve relearned to care about America and Americans.
I continue listening to the news as I drive to work. On some days, the news informs me of a school shooting, and I drive blind. My brain fixates on the violence like a new romance. I think of my elementary after-school students getting shot. I imagine what I would say to the parents and which child I would least like to see with a bullet inside them. I imagine the dark-colored birthmark on his head as a patch of blood.
On those days, as the sun sets over the school, and the students pick between art, building, and group games, a mischievous few may push the oblong wooden blocks from the block basket and point them at invisible nemeses: pew pew pew. The children’s small faces shyly turn to see if I’ve noticed.
“They aren’t even real guns,” they tell me.
“I know,” I say and add, recalling my brief American childhood, “but there is so much else to pretend”…
Purchase MQR 58:3 or consider a one-year subscription to read more. Jillian Weiss’s essay “Home and Spectacle” appears in the Summer 2019 Issue of MQR.