Five years ago last week, I left America for a life abroad. As I was 25 when I left, this means that an entire sixth of my life has now been spent living outside my own country’s borders. That may not seem like much, but to me those days feel like an old film being played back in my mind’s eye. Scenes both remembered and invented, of final encounters and quiet optimism that my flirtation with the rest of the world would not last long.
Five Years Lost
“You didn’t say goodbye.” A friend told me over the phone as I waited at the gate at Orlando International Airport.
“I don’t believe in goodbyes.”
Besides, I was as confident as the rest of them that I would return before long, having had my fill of the world.
Turns out I was wrong. I should have said goodbye.
This film of remembrance is playing out on an old videocassette, and much like those old Disney videos housed in their thick plastic cases the tape is wearing thin. Certain scenes have become more difficult to see, certain scenes have disappeared entirely.
Yogurt on Park Avenue. Coffee with sister. Conversations with mom. Friends talking, late into the night.
My youngest brother was 14 when I left. Tomorrow he turns 20. We used to play tennis in the mornings and I would win. Now, when I visit, he wins. But the game isn’t the only thing I’ve lost.
It’s strange when you start to feel like a parent without being one – when you start to consider the lost years.
But you forget. It’s only when you go back that you remember. It seeps in slowly. By the time your visit is up you’ve remembered what it was like, you’ve settled in again. Then you’re gone.
Five Years Found
I arrived alone. I spent the afternoon walking through the streets of Reykjavik. It was a stop halfway between the world I was leaving and the world I was entering, a week long layover between the new world and the old, the old life and the new. It was purgatory.
A land of literal fire and ice, Iceland represented all the contrasts that my life had become. My desire to be and not to be, to exist here and there, then and now. I had many questions. The street vendors at Reykjavik’s fish market did little to answer them. They lived on land and on sea, and at the time I didn’t think to ask their insight into what “home” means.
London town and breast milk ice cream. It was already gone, some friends come and go too.
The strange melancholy in East Berlin. Cakes eaten with sadness in translucent cafes.
The azure waters of the Vltava in Prague. The light from the bridges reflected in evening.
Cities came and went.
Soon I was spending my mornings trying to wade across the congested streets of Casablanca. I would be late to class if I didn’t summon my courage and step out onto the road.
An ill-fated Bucharest affair. Autumn leaves.
Then Kharkiv. Ukrainian winter. Impassive faces on the metro. On the street. In darkness.
An idyllic town in the heel of the Italian boot. Polignano a Mare. The sea. The food. The people. St. Anthony behind his glass case would meet me on midnight walks. The Patron Saint of Lost Articles. But what had I lost?
Volare. io volo.
Then, Roma. On the Aventino, the church spied through the key hole. Kissing on the bridge of angels.
Baku. Tea and piti. Broken clay pots. Heydar, everywhere Heydar.
Back to Ukraine. I ask myself why as the time goes by …
I’ve fallen in love in all the wrong places. Literally, the wrong places. Made connections to worlds I would be fine leaving behind. Countries that would not let me go.
But where is home now? Only those Icelandic fishermen know.
A road less traveled in Iceland’s Westfjords.
The cakes at Cafe Anne Blume in Berlin
Prague Castle rises above the Vltava River
In the Moroccan Sahara
Autumn in Bucharest
On a Ukrainian marshrutka (bus)
Street in Polignano a Mare
A fleeting kiss on Rome’s Ponte Sant’Angelo
Former Azeri President Heyday Aliyev