where we are
by Gerald Locklin
(for edward field)
i envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london;
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris;
hawaii and switzerland.
there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.
I am about halfway through my glorious (first annual?) visit home, and I am fully immersed in the duality of emotion represented in this poem; I am home, yet I am missing my other home. I am surrounded by my family and friends, yet I feel my absent desert family like phantom limbs. I am absorbing all that I love about Minnesota, yet I am wishing I could bring my favorite aspects of Cairo here with me.
I am making the most of this trip, though, and not just counting the days until I am forced to leave Minnesota/get to arrive back in Cairo (17). I have already eaten my fill of my dad’s chocolate chip cookies and my mom’s [any delicious meal you can think of], imbibed on a microbrew or two, practiced yoga in the grass (GRASS!), loved on Seamus the big red dog and his people, listened to the silence of perpetual dusk in Minnesota, listened to flowing inanity (well, at least to anyone trying to follow along) while reuniting with my girlfriends, and enjoyed lunch dates/dinner dates/picnics/gatherings with many, many of my favorite people in this world.
Home is more than just physical place; it is all that tethers you to that place. And I am doing my damnedest to relish in each thing that provides weight to this, my home.
That tethering, though, is now distributed across places. And coming home no longer feels like returning to the place where I am most familiar, where I am known and where I know. It’s not that home has become unfamiliar, but time marches on and things change. I, especially, have changed.
Let me illustrate with an example about my other home.
When I arrived in Maadi that first night last summer, the van drove through narrow, car-lined streets with branches reaching out and scratching the windows. In the dark, I could not follow the twists and turns of our journey, and I felt almost claustrophobic and definitely lost. By the time we arrived, I was terrified, convinced even, that I would never recognize my street well enough to make my way back whenever I ventured out.
That last night, when Hany was securing my luggage in the trunk of his car, I stopped to look down my Egyptian cul-de-sac, and I felt nostalgia already settling in. I closed my eyes and saw all of 219, my street, in perfect, minute detail: the fondness for the pow-wow corner, the familiarity of the car growing out of the tar, the feeling that I could find my way home easily. When I return to this street, it will be different, alive with shadows of people who will never again live here, of moments that turn into memories that turn into the bite-sized stories I will eventually serve as hors d’oeuvres at a party. Easy to digest anecdotes of this other existence, finger food for my family and friends.
In my mind’s eye, I cannot reconcile these disparate images of the same place. That first Maadi is not the same as my last Maadi is not the same as my next Maadi.
Coming home is similar. Things are exactly as I remember them.
Things are also not at all as I remember them. And, just like in Maadi, I see my home through different eyes than I did a year ago. This home I have returned to has a new, distinct flavor, aroma, aura.
When I left SPCS, I received a card from a student that verbalized this and shrouded it in humor: The road that leads you away also leads you back. Just make sure you drive on the other side (paraphrased).
And that’s it. I’m taking the same road back home, but now I’m on the other side. And it’s the same, but it’s also not.
My memories, I’ve learned, have bones, and my bones have memories. No matter how many places I settle, or how many times I experience the freshness of arriving, the heft of these memories will walk me home when I fear my feet have forgotten which road to take.