“Choose to Stay” (Or, Virtute the Cat Contemplates Her City)

One reason I love the Weakerthans is that their songs are set in their hometown. The louder you yell “I Hate Winnipeg” the more I know which city holds your heart. So let’s listen to “Reunion Tour” and get emotional. Welcome to Washington, DC! The local time is 1987.

Like every other week I meet somebody who says, “Oh, wow, I’ve never met anybody from DC before.” Guess these people’s race! I meet people from DC all the time; you can probably guess their race, too. (I think I’ve been a gentrifier in every neighborhood I’ve lived in since age three, so yes, it’s not hard to guess my race either.)

The alleys and the yards are covered in white and pink leaves from the saucer magnolias, and the breeze is full of cherry blossoms. Their short season came a month late this year. I think they actually delayed the festival, the weekends when trackwork was suspended on the Metro.

Remember how two years ago the autumn was the most glorious one we’d ever seen? Horror-movie Halloween leaves, black squirrels playing in the heaps of scarlet and gold. Autumn is never DC’s great season. We’re a springtime city–and summer if you’re a masochist, if you like seasons that make you give in. But we had that great fall, and then the polar vortex. Apparently because the weather is changing. (“Talk about the weather or/How the weather used to be..”)

Hey, every other hour I pass the house
Where you told me that you had to go.
I wonder if the landlord has fixed the crack
That I stared at, instead of staring back at you.

It’s strange to live in a city where they’ve built brand-new buildings in the abandoned spaces where I used to keep my regrets. Where do ghosts live in a city where they tore down all the bottle trees? One year for Good Friday I walked “Stations of the Cross in the Neighborhood,” all through the U Street corridor, and it was a ghost tour: Let’s kneel and pray at this luxury apartment complex which used to be an AA clubhouse. These condos used to be a senior home. If I wanted to go back to the bad old days I don’t know where I’d even find them.

It’s a transient city and I’ll never begrudge my friends the decision to leave. This place usually wasn’t their home and we’ve all got to find our homes in other people’s hearts; the broken streets and speakeasies I remember aren’t there anymore anyway. If my heart were a house you’d be home by now and all that. That’s the only way anybody can live these days. We live in a mobile economy of regret. (Don’t delete the photos from your phone.)

But I read that phrase, “choose to stay,” in a review of Wesley Hill’s new book, and my heart ached just a little. Even DC didn’t choose to stay in DC so why should I? But I will. I probably will.

The owner’s not pulling his weight so Virtute the cat slips out the door into the back alleys, where the cherry blossoms are settling like ash on the trash cans. Home is always there for you, for now.

 


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