Saturday, July 18, 2015

Summer Blues and the Ghost of Snow

I sit at the kitchen window, staring at the cat. It's hard to believe I'm here, that the cat is beside me, that this window is one I can consider mine. We are back in Seattle -- home -- but we've portioned off too many pieces of ourselves and left them in enough corners of the world that now, home is too small a word to hold all the places it recalls. California, Seattle, Seoul, and now back to Seattle, with countless other cities and towns littered in between. Our first month back balanced on the endless generosity of friends and family, of their air mattresses and spare floor space and patience. Meanwhile, our backpacks strained, as did my sense of belonging; I felt like a blur in a photograph. Physical distances can close so quickly, but traces of isolation still lace my blood, and coming back to Seattle - the same apartment building, even - make all the changes in me and in the city more acute and harder to reconcile. It's not reverse culture shock - nothing so urgent as that. Rather, I imagine I'm resurfacing from amnesia, that the world I knew spun on and lives were lived while I chased my own unseen. Events were missed with the details excused, and stories retold for my shadow. There are moments of dissonance, feelings of being invited to laugh at an inside joke you don't remember, of trying to recover a dream first had by someone else. In every overdue phone call or delayed hug I feel that lingering gap, gentle and persistent: a mild miasma of time apart settling over the reunion. The smoke of foreignness and inaccessibility to which I grew accustomed just needs to be given the time to dissipate. 

It takes longer than a plane ride to catch up. It takes longer than the fall to land on your feet.

Regardless, it feels good to be back.

So much has happened that I haven't really processed. Adam and I got engaged in Cambodia at the dawn of the new year, alone atop tucked-away stone steps inside Angkor Wat. Just a few months later, we left the lives we'd built over 2 and a half years in Seoul, parting with friends, muddling my way through heartbreaking goodbyes, and making last trips to favorite haunts. We became the ghosts we always used to feel.

We spent a week with elephants in the mountains of northern Thailand, helping in small ways to keep their sanctuary a reality. We were ceremonially blessed by grandmothers from the nearby village, befriended by resident cats, and escorted to breakfast by rescued dogs. In Chiang Mai, we trailed our fingers along the stripes of tigers lounging in the late morning heat, and at night we wandered the stalls of markets crowded with noise and smells and sweat. In Krabi, we watched the rain smooth mountains into mist and swam between sheltering islands to tease the smiles of giant blue clams.

Farther south still, we stepped into autumn on the edges of Australia and met old friends along the way. Countless marsupials were fed and cuddled at every opportunity. We drank whiskey with Ned Kelly's death mask, close enough to count pores in the plaster, and felt cold for the first time in weeks. Adam drove on the left while I questioned if the maps were right. We held our breath for the chance of a platypus, scrutinized tree lines for fur among leaves, and scanned waves for a flash of dorsal fin. We startled wallabies in the underbrush and played chicken with geese made indignant by our very presence on the path. Our voices echoed in caves and drowned in the thunder of waterfalls. 

In New Zealand, we sat in silence under the Southern Cross while cows whispered through the neighbor's fields and we witnessed how stupid sheep can be. I saw how green the grass is on the other side. We solved puzzles to escape a bank vault and rushed through a vertical cycle of luge and gondola while recklessness reined over better judgment. I lusted over mountain ranges and touched moss-coated history lessons. We marveled at the faded corpse of a giant squid before we were crushed by the weight of war memories one hundred years heavy. We sipped Sauvignon Blanc on a train passing Mordor and drank ale at the hearth of the Green Dragon. I cried at Hobbiton, at my nerd dreams come to life, at having to leave. My arm was tattooed and my appetite frequently fished-and-chipped (and craft beered).

And then it was over. We fought jetlag to rejoice in familiar faces and forgotten foods before preparing yet another rearrangement of belongings, and now here we are, resuming life as ex-expats from scratch. Despite leaps in progress toward the trappings of reestablishment, I'm finding difficulty in the stillness. I keep expecting another airport, adjusting phantom backpack straps on shoulders rapidly losing their tan, and making acceptance of where I am - geographically, metaphorically - a daily exercise.

We documented our travels well, and I'll be fleshing them out here over time with the stories they deserve as the hundreds of photos are organized and edited. For now, I'll just revel in the Seattle summer blues, paying dues of adulthood, and await the ghost of snow.

We're home.

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