I board a flight in Hanoi on a grey Northern Vietnamese day and arrive some two layovers and 40 sleepless hours later to a grey New York day. I have been to 20 countries over the last 11 months, and now i’m home.
Or am I?
Stepping out of Terminal 4 in JFK feels like stepping through a time warp. Everything is instantly familiar, all tinged with a touch of yesterday. The yellow cabs, the New York accented English being spoken all around me, the chilly bite of the January air, the long grey highway packed with cars that leads back to Brooklyn. It is all that i left behind, and all that i have returned to. I am home.
I step out of the cab and grab my backpack from the trunk, slinging the straps over my shoulders. The bag’s embrace is comforting and familiar. I know the weight of this pack, i know all of its contents, and i know where it has been. This knowledge reassures me.
The Brooklyn neighborhood that i left behind almost a full year ago looks much as it always has. Every single building is exactly where i last saw it. Some shops have closed down and replaced by other shops, but the shape of Greenpoint is identical, a fossil imprint on a slate of grey concrete. I walk down the main street, through the exhaled innards of man and machines and i am like a shadow on a wall, a fleeting reflection in a rear-view mirror. I am there and i am gone, and no one as much as makes eye contact. I am home.
The bar is dim, loud, speckled with lights and shadows cast by the TVs mounted upon its walls. We stand shoulder to shoulder, our backs turned to each other, speaking to whomever we came there to meet, who ever we arrived with. I lean my head towards my companion’s mouth to better hear what they are saying but i am lost, awash in a sea of murmurs and music. It all runs over me, around me, into me, past me. I was once here, in the flesh.
This was my home.
I stand on my roof, my warmest jacked zipped up to my chin, wishing I still had a hat and some gloves to protect me from the caustic wind. The Manhattan skyline dominates the horizon, just over a small grid of Brooklyn rooftops, just beyond the green-grey East River. The lights are all coming on in that steely metropolis, hundreds of thousands of darkened eyes suddenly opening. I stand, small and shivering, unable to move. I am home.
Or am I?
Home has become a nebulous term, a word with a familiar cadence but an unknown definition. It associates itself to a vast web of images and emotions inside my head, but none of them seem quite right. Home is a rusted key and i have lost the lock. There is nothing to open. The doormat, dusty and downtrodden, lies silent.
Home is not an answer, but a question. This place that i have returned to, for a very brief period of time, is just a place. It is a place that i grew up in, it is a place that i transitioned from childhood to adulthood in, a place i have worked in, drank in, explored, loved, hated, and dated in. It is a place that dominates the memories of life before travel, it is a place i rarely think about at all anymore. I am here, and soon I will be gone. My home is now out in front of me, always waiting to be discovered. Home is where the road goes. Home is where my backpack is.