a (wo)man without a country

“Americans are always afraid of coming home,” said Karabekian, “with good reason, may I say.” “They used to have good reason,” said Beatrice, “but not anymore. The past has been rendered harmless. I would tell any wandering American now, ‘Of course you can go home again, and as often as you please. It’s just a motel.'” Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

“Coming home.” Home. Home? It’s a word I no longer associate with America. America stopped being capital “H” home after I’d been away for over a year. After my friends and family scattered themselves across the country making trip planning complicated and visiting everyone I’d like to see impossible. Once I started thinking of it as that far away place across the sea where the letters and emails come from and where there’s no good bread.

Coming home. Home is where the heart is? Home is where I hang my hat? No, no. For nomadic gorillas, home is in the eyes and arms of the people called friends, even when those friends are living in cities we’ve never visited in apartments we’ve never seen with flat mates and friends we’ve never met. It means no matter where I am, home is always nearby. It also means that no matter where I am, there’s always someone that I miss.

Afraid of coming home? Yes. Excited? Yes yes yes. Cartwheel-excited, trembling-nervous, drunk-giddy, by night having nightmares about missing my flight because I never am quite sure what day it is, by day obsessively trying to imagine what it will feel like to get out of a plane in New York City after two years sans visit. Will there be rolling tobacco anywhere? Will there be good bread? Will I accidentally open a beer on the street out of habit? Will I be allowed to smoke anywhere? Will my friends recognize me? Will I recognize them? Has the past really been rendered harmless?

“I’m leaving for America soon!” I’ve been chirping at friends all week.

They smile and ask me about where I’ll be going and what I’ll do while I’m there. Not many people I know have been to the states themselves, so I draw maps of my travel plans in the dirt. “Ok, so if that stone is New York, then this one is Baltimore. And see that stick over there? That’s Chicago, and that tree over there is Colorado. Saratoga is over there above the stone that’s New York.”

Nods, then sometimes, a nervous smile: “But you’re coming back, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll be back. I already have my return ticket, I get back into Frankfurt at the end of July.”

0 Comments on “a (wo)man without a country

  1. We did the grand tour of friends and family all over the US in November and December (and in 6 weeks and 10 states still didn’t get to everyone…). It was interesting.

    Have fun!

  2. Wow, enjoy it. I left Boston for 7 years before coming back this year, and it’s been wonderful, crazy and weird… No doubt you’ll have reverse culture shock, but you’ll have a blast!

  3. I agree with most of what you say (I left the US 10 years ago), other than the fact that I don’t get excited about going back to the US – I feel it’s a waste of my holiday time (I visit once every four or five years more out of duty than desire).

    Have a great trip.

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