Of reentryPosted: July 12, 2012
Going home is a complicated affair. Especially if you’ve spent a few weeks roaming the Italian countryside, eating yourself silly, and watching your toes through the clear waters of the Adriatic float up to the horizon line and dip back down with each lulling wave.
Your life (if it is anything like mine, and probably even if it isn’t) sits waiting for you in just the shape you left it. There is work to be done, relationships to tend or mend or break, laundry to fold, coffee to be made, groceries to be bought. The mundanity of it can be oppressive, the obligations stifling.
I’ve never been very good at coming home.
When I was a child my family used to take a week or two each summer in San Diego.* Once, I remember, when I lay in my bed in Albuquerque upon the evening of our return I couldn’t stop crying, raging really, with a ferocity that shocked my parents. My state was induced by an intense, unmitigable longing to build another sand castle combined with the terrible fact that I could not do so, or at least not on the beach surrounded by my cousins with the Pacific waters creeping toward me.
That horrible longing is not what I feel now. But I do think the little kid I was knew something about the ephemerality of travel. She knew that when you are present in a place, particularly when you are happy, you let slip away the ongoing trajectory of the life you otherwise lead. This is why people do terrible and amazing things when they wander elsewhere. It is the explanation for the genre that is travel literature. You learn something about yourself, true, but you also let so much of yourself go.
It is difficult to return to a place when you are changed and the place is not. When you have let go of little pieces of the thing you thought yourself to be only to find that the you that is left still has to do the stupid laundry. And every time we return, we do so as new animals. We do so as creatures lighter than we were (though it might feel like a heaviness) when we left.
But what’s more, we know the place we left in order to return will begin to be lost. The minutia of living sticks around, the wild clarity of foreignness dissipates. Or it does for me, anyway.
It would be better, but more difficult, to recognize that the shifts in what and who we are, are constant. To believe that while travel may bring the flux of us into relief, just leaving the house to engage the world also makes us new and new again. It would be better to let memory do its editorial work and know that traces are left none-the-less.
Of course, I do believe this. I just can never seem to remember it when I’m doing the laundry, or buying groceries, or making my morning cup of coffee, the image of my toes seen through clear sea waters still fresh but fading in my mind.
*Yes. We were the sort of bourgeoisie family that did such things. It was what was done, as they say. Don’t complain about the incompatibility of my Marxism with my bourgeoisie upbringing or I’ll get real mad and point you to an earlier post.