The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Motherland

I am home.

My day of traveling wasn't great but it wasn't awful. Traveling, especially flying, always makes me nervous and causes my stomach to have a psychotic episode, but I was able to eat this time and that helped a lot.

On the flight from London to Atlanta I felt like my body, mind, and soul were completely rejecting the idea that I was on this plane, traveling farther and farther away from London with each passing moment. I felt like clawing at the window to get out, like there had been some kind of mistake and I wasn't supposed to be here, on this plane, going away, never to return until who knows when. It seemed impossible that tomorrow morning I wouldn't get up and walk down through the park to York Terrace, then cut down to Marylebone Road and fight through the throngs of annoying tourists to the station. It seemed absurd that come Thursday I wouldn't get on the number 74 bus on Baker Street and claim my seat at the front on the upper level, then ride it down to Oxford street, past Hyde Park, through Knightsbridge and South Kensington down to Putney for Lindy Hop Swing Dancing at the Rowing Club. I felt like I was leaving myself behind in London, that I was still there, walking down the Marylebone High Street towards Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, and that the girl on the plane was an unfortunate emissary, a counterfeit copy being sent back to Missouri to placate the family and friends waiting for her.

When we reached Atlanta, though, I had bigger problems than mourning for my London life and my London self. I realized I was going to have to face Home, in all that entailed. I began to dread meeting my family (I knew the whole bunch was going to be there, even though my mom had tried to keep it a secret), not because I didn't want to see them, but because I knew it was going to be all squealing and hugs and crying and laughing and etc, and I just didn't know if I could handle it. It's Tuesday now and I still get really nervous each time I go to see someone again for the first time, just because everything is so intense and I don't know how I'm expected to act. I'm thrilled to see everyone, but anytime I have to deal with something socially Big like this I freak out a little. I don't know what it is that I get nervous about, what it is I anticipate that makes me freak out, but I guess it's just the expectations themselves.

On the plane from Atlanta to Springfield I realized that as we got closer and closer I was getting nearer and nearer to really being gone from London. Up until I saw my family, it didn't seem real, and I knew that once I set foot back in Springfield I would have to face the fact that I was really home, and really not going back to London for a long time. I'd done so much traveling in Europe that hanging around on planes and in airports was familiar, and didn't mean that I wasn't going back to London. But I knew that when I saw everyone that it would be real, that I was really gone, and that I'd have to let go of the life I'd made for myself in the city.

I hesitated a bit when I got off the plane in Springfield. I wanted more time to collect myself before I rounded the corner and re-entered my American life, but there was no more time. I moved forward, stepped back into my hometown, and left London behind.

When I woke up in my old room yesterday morning it took me a second to realize where I was. Of course that's happened to me before, as I'm sure it has for everyone, but never in my own room, the room I've lived in my entire life. I felt misplaced, and closed my eyes again thinking that when I reopened them I would be back in my dorm room with the window overlooking the park from four stories up, and I would feel the roughness of the dorm sheets on my arms and the hardness of the cheap mattress on the rickety metal bunk bed. But the bed stayed unreasonably soft, the covers irrationally heavy, the frame strangely steady, and when I reopened my eyes the same pale outlines of my shaded windows against the semi-darkness of my blue room met me.

I think I only let two tears drop, then threw the covers off and stood up. I put on my glasses and listened. It was 6:00 in the morning and the house was quiet. I could hear birds outside, sweet chirping and trilling, instead of the loud, strident quacking and screeching of the park ducks. It was incredibly quiet. There was no white noise of the general city roar of traffic and talking and thousands of pavement-pounding feet. There was no sense of a great bustle and hurry going on outside that used to filter into my brain when I woke up, making me realize that there was a vibrant life of endless possibility right outside, that there was a humming city full of anything I could imagine just a few hundred yards from my window. There was just calm, and quiet, and peace. I shuffled down the hall like a ghost and sat on the widow seat in the front room, looking out into the front yard, at the trees with their branches barely wafting in the breeze. I felt like I had somehow died in the madness of London and my ghost had come back here, to my home, to haunt my former life. It was so quiet that the house felt empty, like everyone had gone, and I, a confused and muddled reflection of myself had foolishly returned here, as if I didn't know that I had left this world behind long ago.

I stared outside a few moments more, feeling like I wasn't there, until I heard a shower turn on. Life was still here, still happening, still going on, and I would have to rejoin it. I went back to my room to collect the things I would need for a shower, then realized that I didn't need to collect anything for a shower. It took me a few moments to remember that. I ran through the list of what I would need to take with me to the bathroom: towel, shampoo, conditioner, soap, loofah, contacts, toothbrush, toothpaste..... They were all already in there. It was my private bathroom. I felt unnerved by the fact that I'd just had to *think* about how to go through my morning routine in my own house. I went into the bathroom and turned on the water, still amazed to see all the necessary elements of my toilette already in place. I began to undress and then realized that my Lush face scrub that I loved so much was still in my suitcase. I put on a towel and walked back to my room, searched it out, and brought it back with me. The act of having to carry a toiletry from my bedroom to the bathroom gratified me somewhat, and the feeling of the surreal passed somewhat, at least for the moment.

My shower was cold and I realized that everyone else's would be too. I'd forgotten the fickleness of the house's hot water supply. After Seth got out of his shower I went into his room to sit while he got ready for school. His loud music and flurry of activity and routine comforted me somewhat. I found the Bansky book I'd sent him for his birthday on his dresser and flipped through it, looking carefully at the pictures of familiar places, like the South Bank and Portobello Road, and felt even more comforted. London still existed, somewhere.

I went through the rest of my day that way, feeling my way around tentatively, trying to remember the contours of this life that was supposed to be so familiar to me. Eating at the snack bar in the kitchen, watching the Today show with my parents, playing the piano, driving, etc.

Some things are different than when I left them. My parents got a new TV in the kitchen, Courtney got a new apartment, trees all over town are gone from the ice storm. Some things are exactly the same. I find the that the things that are different are much easier to cope with than the things that are the same. I'd grown accustomed to discovering something new every day, to constantly meeting with the unfamiliar and having to figure out instantly how to approach it, deal with it, navigate it, avoid it. It's the familiar that I now find so disconcerting.

As odd as I feel, and as much as I mourn London, and the people I left behind there, I've been comforted by just being with people who know me. Returning to friends and family, just sitting in a room with those who know and care for me, is like slipping back into my soft, deep, enveloping bed. It's a little strange at first, but being back with the ones I love is an immense comfort and relief. Living in London is a thrill, and I have to be on guard at all times, in every sense of the word. Being home is a deep relaxation, and like any relaxation it takes a while to really let go, to let your guard down, to accept that it's okay to be comfortable again.

I feel embraced by everything; my bed, my friends and family, and perhaps most beautifully, the land itself. The air here is humid, and warm, and sweet. Springfield summers, I've always felt, cradle you. The air nurtures life, enfolds you like a mother. I'm back in my Motherland, I'm home.

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