Cedar Rapids, Nowhere

by Mark Hahn

When I was six, I suffered a memorable existential crisis. I had taken the James Street bus downtown with my mother and sister. We got off under the old iron and glass awning behind the main department store where we were going shopping. I liked going there because they had the last clattering hardwood escalator in town. Riding it terrified and excited me.

Stepping off the bus, I looked up at the awning and the sunlight streaming through the dirty glass. Then across the street at the small park where the winos and bums spent their days. Then I turned around and looked at other buses arriving and dropping off more shoppers.

While taking it all in, I suddenly realized that I didn’t know where I was! I saw everything around me and my mother and sister. I just couldn’t place where we all were. Somehow, a massive break in the perceived linearity of my life had occurred.

What was so disturbing about this was not that I was confused or frightened by not knowing where I was, but that I couldn’t figure out why it actually mattered. I guess until that moment, I thought that the entire world was built up in little blocks emanating under my feet until the totality of everything was connected around me. If I didn’t know where I was, I could no longer construct this orderly world around myself.

My family had just driven across the country, moving me from Bakersfield to Syracuse. Other than my sister and I baking in the back of my parent’s blue Chevy as we drove across the desert toward Hoover Dam and eating saltine crackers, the trip was a complete blur of towns and gas station bathrooms.

My dad was a research scientist and he moved us back and forth across the country for his work. When I got older, I would always be excited at the prospect of a new move. I always imagined that there would be better friends, more fun and new things to do. The reality was that each move turned out to be more disappointing than the last.

My dad died when I was a teenager. My wanderlust grew stronger after this loss. I felt there was nothing tying me anywhere. I moved all around the country and across Europe. When people ask me where I call home, I have to say that I don’t have one anymore. I’ve moved too many times. My home is where I make it. Now I live in Tucson.

After living in so many places, there is now almost nowhere that I can go that doesn’t come with memories or baggage. Whenever a place fills me with emotions, I wonder why it should matter. It’s always just me standing there. The place simply is.

Sometimes it’s just the feelings of being between places. Sometimes it’s the unfamiliar feeling familiar. Sometimes I don’t even know.