Of Many Lands
In the sixth grade we were assigned to write poems introducing ourselves and Where We’re From. I turned in a piece oversaturated with metaphors and alliteration, rhetoric I’d been taught but hadn’t yet practiced. I wrote about my mother’s cooking, her father’s round belly, her mother’s unchanging hair. I wrote about my father’s humor that he learned from his mother, my grandfather’s ear for music. I wrote about London and Buenos Aires and Manhattan and their smells and sounds and every other extension of my identity, or what I thought it should be, pieces of which have since detached or come loose.
Growing up is weird. Entering your twenties tends to feel old at first, like this sort of limbo between two versions of yourself and they both feel distant and foreign. You’re on the cusp of something tight, almost ill-fitting, and something extraordinarily new. You’re bloated with potential and probably beer. You are ripe and ready to brave the storm of adulthood, sure that you can see it coming in the distance.
A coming-of-age novel doesn’t prepare you for the self-doubt-or-deprecation that penetrates whatever you’ve constructed to understand and protect yourself. No one warned me that I’d wake up in a different body every day, this skeletal structure housing someone new all the time. While I was traveling I found myself reciting a different autobiography each time I was asked Where I’m From. That’s, like, a loaded question! I would throw my head back and laugh as if this felt casual and not rehearsed. Eventually they all tasted like lies in my mouth and I stopped feeling like I was From anywhere at all.
I began to miss things like bagels and sarcasm and the way my family sings when they fight but they don’t mean to it’s just the way that they talk. Homesick was not what I felt because Home had been redefined. It came to mean the walls that housed the bed in which I will sleep tonight and I wondered if morning would bring that strange feeling again.
When I returned to the United States, my parents had just finished furnishing their new Home in the East End with treasures found in flea markets and prints I’d made before I ever knew how it felt to be displaced. We brought all our kitchenware and tablecloths and built the coffee table out of two birdhouses and a barn door. My mother hung up curtains that let the light in, that let the house breathe. She planted seeds and watched them grow and we ate golden tomatoes from the vine. It tired me a little bit, unpacking again. To fill a new closet with my stuff, my things, seemed unusual because there was a permanence about it this time.
I am rushing to button my shirt and pull my hair back and I know that I will be late again if I take the time to wash the dishes so I rinse everything and shove my feet into the new pair of shoes I bought for my new job. I don’t drink wine. But my father instructed me to keep that to myself for as long as I’m employed and I know he is not wrong. Customers often ask me Where I’m From as they take long sips, shifting their weight between their shoulder blades the way people often do when leaning heavily onto the bar. My script has been reworked and revised and I usually go for the simplest answer, not the most honest one. I tell them I’m From New Jersey, not From the dampness of London’s crisp air or the way the whole city of Buenos Aires seems to smell like aftershave. I say that my parents actually just moved out here, and I don’t talk about how odd I find it to shake hands and not kiss. We supplement our narratives with things we find along the way, and now I’m From here too. I’m From my father’s broken clam shells that pave the new driveway. I’m From the pebbly beaches that line the Long Island Sound. I’m From shucking your own and pairing them with sparkling rosé. I’m From that golden light that sets over the vineyard in the evenings. I’m From a Home whose door remains unlocked because we’ve lost our fears here. I’m From the smell of the bay and the long strip of island that forks into the Atlantic that fills the space between my versions of Home.