On a late Sunday afternoon in Lincoln, Nebraska, I emerged from a movie theatre feeling like someone had just put a skewer through my life and slowly barbecued it for three hours. I was alone in this big, flat, corn-fielded state; there was a slight coolness in the air and colour was leeching from the denim fabric of the sky. The movie I’d just seen was American Beauty and I’d spent time in the darkness wincing at the truth about myself and my marriage that I had somehow submerged beneath the surface of work and achievement and dutifulness.
I stood uncertain in the street feeling a long way from home and with the need to do something welling in me like panic. And then it struck me that I didn’t know what to do or even what home was anymore. Not really. I could see the kids playing on the floor in front of the television, the furniture, the garden; the comfort of known things spread before me like a gift to which I could always return. But then there was my wife with her sad eyes and observations stained with disappointment, her angry accumulation of lists and things and places for everything. I remembered that before I came here I would escape from her and plan the study tour of America in fine detail so I could fee l some control over my life, so I could apply order to growing uncertainty of where I fit.
Now I was where I had planned to be and the only place that was left to go was home. There were to be no more easy decisions about airline schedules or early morning pickups; no more hotel beds turned back at night or the respectful handshake of strangers. I was in the movie, I was returning to a place where there was no time to watch the miracle of leaves dancing.
Some Nebraskan college students walked ahead of me up the street. They were laughing about something. Their heads were full of themselves and their cleverness and they had an air of immortality. They were full of fries and philosophy and Friday nights and they thought that death comes only once.
I looked at my watch and made the now automatic calculation of Australian time. They are all still asleep, I thought, but in a few hours they will wake up. It comforted me, the thought of my children dreaming. And then I realised that I had just woken up too but that I could not go to sleep again.