Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lake Chelan, the ex

When I tell people that I grew up in Lake Chelan, nine times out of ten they say, “Oh, really? I didn’t know people actually lived there year round.”
After this response, I am glad that I didn’t lead with “I’m from Manson,” because most of these people don’t know where that is – even if they’ve stayed at Wapato Point or been to the casino.
But it’s okay – these people are not, obviously, from the Chelan Valley. They do not know the best park to swim at with the least amount of people (and I’m not going to tell them), that there are actually houses way out in Manson past the single main street, and they have no idea how fun it is to drive along Rocky Point after Labor Day when you can go the speed limit.
It’s not their fault, any more than it’s my fault that I had to learn how to give directions by street names instead of landmarks. Telling someone to take a left at the house with the chickens just doesn’t seem to get you places in Seattle, strangely enough.
The Valley is very different from when I grew up there. I want to blame it on the tourists; the fully-fledged wine industry that was just hatching when I left; the people who pulled out their orchards to sell their land for more than they could make growing fruit. I want to blame it all on someone else, but I can’t. The truth is that every time I go back to Manson, I don’t quite feel like I fit, and it’s my own fault.
On Memorial Day Weekend I walked into Manson Bay Market and was told by a cashier that I didn’t know that I could buy a container larger than a quart of milk for the same price. I answered without thinking that something bigger than a quart of milk wouldn’t fit in my parents’ motor home refrigerator. I instantly wanted to take it back. I wanted to explain, in ever-growing detail with an ever-growing line of impatient people behind me, that my family had had a timeshare at the Mill Bay trailer park for years, and that we were locals but it had always been our affordable waterfront. I wanted to, but instead I sighed, paid for my quart of milk, and left. Yesterday I went to visit my aunt and uncle, who are staying on the south shore in a rented house for the Fourth of July weekend. The whole time I was there I felt like I had betrayed someone, like I was cheating on the Valley that I knew, hanging out at a tourist rental when I could have been at a public park or on someone’s lawn who lived there year-round. Instead, I have perhaps become a tourist in my hometown, because I no longer feel truly at home there.
Each time I go back to the Valley I feel like you would about an ex-boyfriend. You see him, he looks great, your stomach does a flip, and even though you remember all those great reasons you had for breaking up, you can only seem to focus on why you should have stayed together. The longer you’re in his presence, the better a time you have, the more nostalgic you feel for what you once had. You no longer take each moment for granted like you did when you were together, because you know it is going to end after this one chance encounter. That idea packs the moment with bittersweet memories, feelings, emotions, and you are wistful, because you know you can never have it again. It at once makes you feel like you want to stretch out the moment forever, or end it quickly to get past the pain.
I don’t want to say that I could never live in the Chelan Valley again, because I have learned that things change in ways that are unexpected and there’s no telling where I will be or what I’ll be doing in the future. Emotions pass with the seasons, and eventually Chelan may seem like a whole new person to me, with only traces of the good parts I liked about that first boyfriend. At the moment, however, the breakup is still too fresh for my liking. I can’t imagine making a new life in a place so infused with my past.

Love and nostalgic kisses

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