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Published:
7/1/04

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By H.G. Miller

I watch a helicopter streak across the fading sky and I know this isnít Kansas.

I only caught one sunset while I was back home. Riding with a friend to see his new house in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe. It wasnít something I had planned on doing, we were just cruising along the freeway and I noticed the clouds burning with a crimson hue that you rarely find in California.

ďWow,Ē I muttered.

My friend took note of the sky and replied, ďyeah.Ē

Tonight, I am back in LA, watching another day fade away and enjoying the dry air. It isnít often that this city has the kind of cloud cover necessary for a great sunset. The smog in the summer usually neutralizes the light so that the entire city is covered in a pinkish glow, which slowly turns purple until it is night.

Tonightís all right, though. A few jets left streaks across the sky, and the clouds over Century City have broken just so. Blue and pink and the green of some nearby palm trees give my eyes something nice to watch while I relax.

This could be a Kansas sunset. If you squint at the skyline just right and imagine it as wheat, the colors could easily be blanketing the plains instead of the city.

Only the helicopter gives this sky away. The police chopper makes the rounds in this neighborhood once a night. A brief scan before moving on to parts of town where more detailed surveillance is required.

In my old neighborhood, you got used to the hourly sweeps by the city police. I miss the sound of them sometimes like I used to miss the train blasting past my first apartment in downtown Hutchinson after I moved away. Itís funny the things that you remember about your homes.

On the plane today, a gentleman from Oklahoma asked me how long I was visiting LA. He was coming out with his wife and kids to visit Disneyland, look at the ocean and take pictures of the Hollywood sign. Itís a holiday weekend, so he assumed I must have some similar excursions planned.

I informed him that I live here, and that my trip to Kansas City was in fact my summer vacation. He squinted while trying to compute the reasons an individual would purposely choose the City of Fountains over the City of Angels. I helped him out:

ďFamily. And, a friendís wedding.Ē

ďOh,Ē he nodded. ďThat makes sense. So, KC is still your home?Ē

ďI guess.Ē

That was good enough for him, and he dove into the Sky Mall magazine to peruse deluxe grilling equipment with personalized engravings on the handles.

I wondered about that word: Home. Where is my home these days?

Iím coming up on five years in Los Angeles. This was my ninth trip to Kansas City in that time, and the city felt more foreign to me than ever before. All of my family and friends are moving around. Everybodyís getting married, buying houses, having kidsÖ

Everyone looks older.

I donít feel older. I feel out of place. Iíve deflected the question ďwhen are you moving backĒ so many times now that itís almost as much a habit as telling a telemarketer Iím not interested in cheaper long-distance or a shinier credit card.

The helicopter cuts left and heads into the dimming sunset and I realize that Iím quite comfortable here. This is my home. Maybe thereís a little more machinery in the nighttime sky, but itís familiar to me.

I spent six days being tense and curious about places I used to consider more comfortable than California. Only, they werenít familiar anymore. They were worn-out versions of memories and experiences that canít be relived. I think that home is now. Home is where my hope and future take precedent over others.

Itís dark now and the moon is fuller than when I glanced at it from my parentsí porch yesterday. Itís crossed the rivers and mountains and desert to get here. I know itís the same moon, but it feels different here. It feels like itís mine.

Iíve seen wheat and buildings and palm trees and a fat, full moon hanging over the Pacific Ocean and the Missouri River, and Iíve made my choice.