I stayed near a Kiwi couple as long as I could in the line for customs, just so I could hear the accent for one more minute. I stood staring at the American dollars before finding my way outside, where Mara was there almost immediately to pick me up and hey, wow, I was in California, dazed and plane-filthy and completely disorientated.
Within three hours I got three awful pieces of news about three different friends and for a while I was emailing and calling and forgetting how jet-lagged I was. Eventually I wiped my tears and washed Samoa out of my hair and Mara took me out for Mexican food (Mexican food!) and by the time we were done talking and I had sent a few more “Hey I’m back” emails and I’d had a giant cup of tea I was well and truly ready for bed. I thought about the beach fale, about snorkeling out on the reef, about walking with him under the stars and laughing about how Fucking Romantic it is to walk with him under the stars, and fell asleep pretending I was still under the mosquito net listening to the waves.
When I got to New Zealand I promised myself that I was not going to be one of those travelers who is constantly negatively comparing the new place to America, constantly being stunned that a whole different country might choose to do any number of things differently from the superpower. I completely failed at that, of course: the whole eggs-on-the-shelf thing, you know? Similarly, just last week, probably between a three-hour lunch and my second snorkel of the day, I was promising myself that I was not going to be one of those travelers who come home and pretend that the country of their birth is all of a sudden so straaaaaaaaaaaaange and weeeeeeeeeeeird. I wasn’t going to even mention the baffling lack of ginger nuts.
Yes, well. Right. I had a hard time with the light switches this morning and had to wait at the corner for a really long time because the intersections are silent here so I was just staring off into space not paying attention when it was time to cross. My 16-oz iced mocha was only $3.75 American and I was all “REALLY?” and then I had to throw half of it away because 16 ounces is just too many ounces of iced mocha. I listened to some of the songs on my Right Now playlist and as I was goggling at how the houses are different and the cars are driving on the other side of the road and how people are speaking Spanish instead of Samoan or Amharic and I would see everything, obviously, as I was walking down the street, see it right as it was, but overlaid on everything were little bits of Wellington, very faintly. The Berhampore graffiti bus stop at the corner of Waripori and Rintoul. The waterfront in summer. Looking out the lounge window down past the cricket field to the glimpse of the beach. I’d already had a shaky morning so I had to stop and shut my eyes tight a couple of times, especially when I thought about walking down Courtenay Place on a certain day this past summer, sunnies on, hair wild and crazy and ornate, feeling completely and totally free free free. And then I thought about this year’s ABL party and how I’ll be seeing so many people there in just a couple of weeks, and I imagined seeing Anna at the airport, and then I really did have to cry for just half a second, just one big hot tear, right there in the middle of a residential area in El Segundo.
At the grocery store, a Ralph’s, I got tired and confused but was sort of weirdly gratified to recognize, like, food brands (“Oh hey! Crystal Geyser! Luna Bars!”). It seemed to take forever though and I started feeling anxious and overwhelmed on the walk back to the house–not by the wide variety of energy bars on offer, but just about everything, the loop playing faster and faster: money job car housing friends family love backpack train plane visa residency everything everything everything. I started walking faster and started seeing more and more of Wellington, in more detail: fern tree in Alice’s back garden, the pharmacy on Riddiford, Mighty Mighty, Sylvia’s work. I need to eat, I thought. I need to paint my toenails and sit down with a cup of tea and some lifestyle magazines and just calm down for a while. I found myself thinking with great affection of my underwear, because my underwear have been to Wellington too and they know how I’m feeling–and then I thought, if I was at a stage wherein I was identifying so closely with my lacy unmentionables, perhaps I would need two cups of tea.
I’ve had those teas and painted those toes and tomorrow I go to San Diego to see Jessica and Amy and then Sunday I go to Miami and I finally get to see my sister and my mom in her new house. After that it’s New York and Sunnyvale and then Seattle, with all the people and places I haven’t seen since I left, all the familiarities and oddnesses, all the everything.
And still in the back of my head, underneath the details: where is my home, where do I belong, and how will I get there?