An American Abroad, Apparently

I can’t get rid of the accent and the questions that accompany it. They stick to me like gum in your hair.

“Where are you from? Was moving hard? Would you change it? Would you ever go back?”

Would you ever go back? I don’t know how to answer these questions. The idea that I am not native-born is still apparent. The idea of wandering and not-belonging has sunk into my identity, into who I am. The longer I spend away from America, the less I want to go back. Maybe it’s the stark, cynical view from grown-up glasses of a place that used to be mine. I see the flaws and the strengths clearly. I see my native country changing the past 10 years and I don’t like it. Maybe it’s the same all over the world and I only recognize it in America. Maybe the world is becoming more fear-induced, paranoid, and terrified but it upsets me more to see ideals of the supposed land of the free and home of the brave falling on the sidelines.

Each visit is an intense blast from the past, full of people who love us and who we love but that feeling of community is gone.  All of my childhood friends, I’ve lost contact with and I can only say for certain that I will see two or one old friends in California. We are all scattered, all changed, and have all gone through so much. Untangling through all of that is difficult. I don’t know if people realize that. I see change in people that I love and that overwhelms me the most. Years ago I ran to give my Grandpa a hug, who smelt of cigarette smoke, alcohol, and soap. I knew that might be the last time but that doesn’t prepare you for death. Last time I was there, my Grandma was the active, classy, and intelligent lady who would  buy me books. I’m going to see her soon but with her early stages of dementia, I am terrified that she won’t know who I am.  It is the idea of stable things becoming unstable. The lack of preparation and resolution that I don’t like.

Each visit is made up by relatives amazed about how much I’ve grown, satisfied smiles between old friends who are relieved to find that we can still connect, and hot and sunny days. It is made up of Mexican food and culture shock and smug realization that ‘oh yeah duh of course, 15 years old’s drive around here’. I am shaped by conversations of the past when at the end the past is let go. I am made up by measures upon measures of grace and the constant realization that I don’t have to have everything figured out.

Someone once asked whether I felt like I belonged in America or England. I had thoughtfully shrugged my shoulders and told him.

“I belong everywhere and nowhere.”

Maybe that doesn’t answer the question, but I’ve answered mine.


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