coming home — a story from january.
America forgets. America happens, and then amnesic totality takes over.
I’m headed towards history.
But I’m at McCarran, a witness to slot machines calling out to all those who wait, in glitz, in fatigue. The air is cool, old, a Grand Canyon grandeur that beckons first-time travelers to snapshot the marvel of America in the making, in its money hungry madness, all allure.
I hear Japanese behind me, a sea of Farsi across from me, huddled Spanish and WhatsApp French. Airports are transient spaces, spaces where hugs are too short and goodbyes are played out longer than they need to be, but that time is important because a farewell could mean, well, farewell.
Immigrants create culture. America would be nothing without its bodegas and taquerias. I seek them out, find shelter in them.
As soon as I get off the plane, I see two women kiss. America is beautiful.
I’m here to visit a friend I haven’t seen in five years for five days, a day for each year. A way of inviting the last lost five years to our little reunion.
Brick homes line neatly along the street. Behind them is the Charles that curves out into the Atlantic. Little slushes of snow pile into street corners, salt cakes the sidewalks in broken streaks. But charm swirls with the frozen winds, creates a New England haze that is prided in their IPA, sharp and crisp like the tint of orange that remains in the wet winter leaves.
I miss a showing for Licorice Pizza. I just spent a hundred dollars on books from Brookline Booksmith that I will probably not get to for years. A line of preschoolers dot a red light and families walk close together, sharing laughter. Time passes through a record store and a Japanese market. I think of buying things I can’t get back in California, but I’m in an understocked Trader Joe’s where my west coast self begs for dips and pita chips and to hole myself into an urge to comfort, to return. I try to go to Tatte, but there are no open tables. Rain falls, and I’m soaked in a dread that beckons me back to my friend.
Return is a constant theme for when I am home. Because I see everything. I see old toys and the sophomore stain in the carpet where I spilled Grey Goose. I see rumpled posters for bands I don’t listen to anymore. I see letters from friends that are no longer young nor angry. Now, they’re tired or married, no longer friends. I think of throwing them out.
What have I returned to? Did I want to see all of this? All parts of myself wrapped up in objects I’ve nearly forgotten about? What do I toss? What do I keep? How do you let go on such short notice?
I am writing this as my friend is working on his thesis in the other room. A wall separates us. Winter cuts up our alonesomeness. We don’t mind this after three days of catching up. It takes me back to study dates on undergrad campuses. This soloism and togetherness at once. Here and there. Not here, but there. There and not here. This teeter-tottering on the existence and reliance of each other, that we remain a part of each other’s lives. It is a miracle that so much time has passed and yet we are here.
We find that there is actually another showing of Licorice Pizza, soon, and so we go. Him a beer and me a wine. Him a mature fifteen year old, she an immature twenty five year old. A decade divides their morality, but they understand one another in the small, adolescent years between them.
This was spontaneous, this gesture, this film. The audience laughs. The night is cool, rare in mid-January walk back home. We repeat things like, I’m gonna miss you, I had a really good time, thanks for everything, not because we’ve run out of things to say, but that we want to create permanence in who we are, that 10pm on January 18, 2022.
America offers free COVID-19 testing kits through USPS. America is remembering its people, the ones that are alive. America protects, profusely provides.
On the plane ride back, I’m already missing my friend. I wonder if five days is enough. I play the Licorice Pizza soundtrack. It begins with a Nina Simone tune, cracks a sunrise in me. I listen to the latest Beach House and the FKA Twigs mixtape. I repeat the jokes he said in my head and laugh alone on my layover in O’Hare, cry in my Chinese take-out, mumble preambles under my breath to pass through these hours, all this needed wintering.