It had been almost two and a half years since I had last set eyes on the Seattle city lights, gleaming like a forest full of little animal eyes in an inky night. I sat bundled up, peering out the window as my plane landed onto Washington ground on December 20th, 2014. The air may have been what felt close to freezing, but it was as if I could feel my blood warm as soon as the wheels hit the tarmac.
It’s a strange thing what happens when you stay away from a place you once loved for so long, but began to loosen your grasp on for time’s sake. Phnom Penh became my home, my Kingdom of Wonder. During my time living abroad Washington became dimmer and dimmer in my memory like a Polaroid photo, developing in reverse. There were things I could remember appreciating and truly, deeply loving, but the images were vague and the soft focus only lending enough clarity to fleeting moments. It didn’t take long for that to change once I got back. While I stood outside the airport with my mom after she picked me up, the mist of rain and the slight bite of cold weren’t off-putting like I thought they might be. It was a soft kiss from where I was born saying, “welcome home darling.”
My first meal back was Taco Bell and many more fast food adventures followed along with a vast offering of hometown favorites from Smith and The Top of Tacoma and Bastille and The Tides and Christmas dinners of Veuve and brie, truffle soup and homemade roasted chicken. If food is a language of love, then I speak it fluently. And those around me know how to do so as well.
Jet lag didn’t set in until about four days after I’d even been back stateside. I had been running off adrenaline and the thrill of reunions and reconnections for those first few days so my body didn’t even register the fifteen hour time lapse backwards- but when it did it felt like I was carrying a sack of bricks on my shoulders. Sleep came quickly and randomly throughout the day and drive for interaction and socializing arrived in bursts, which were quickly sated and abated by wonderful friends and family.
To rehash every day and night in detail would take a novel’s worth of writing and even then only stills and screenshots of my experiences would be within understandable grasp for anyone else, like an Instagram library of a week’s worth of life. There were a few specific times though that stand out like glittering lights on a Christmas tree: one being when I surprised my best friend of fifteen years, Brooke Miller, at the airport when she got into town from San Francisco. Somehow everyone was able to manage to keep my homecoming a secret from her, even with me being there two full days ahead and social media user’s snapping photos and sharing left and right (quickly being told to take them down!) After a bottle of bubbly (hence the slight slur, the word “deskade”, and extremely gummy and excited intro) and a bowl full of mac and cheese at Smith later, her sister Nina also one of my best friends, Oscar- Nina’s beau, and I rolled down from Seattle to the SeaTac airport for the surprise. If a photo says a thousand words, I can’t even imagine how many a video speaks.
*thanks Nina for your video making skills and Oscar for your double handed iPhone filming
*song credit also due to The Raveonettes, “The Christmas Song”- Mill’s and my favorite since we were thirteen
Another incredible night that stands glowing in my memory was my brother in law Ron’s fiftieth birthday, held in a barn at his and my sister’s sprawling property in Amboy, Washington- absolutely Cullen worthy. You can call me Rosalie. It would have received Martha Stewart’s aesthetic stamp of approval, bon fires were built, live bands played (special treats were my nephew Rex showing off his harmonica skills and my niece Paige’s growing vocal prowess), masses of meat were eaten, and whisky of every kind flowed….and flowed…and flowed. That might have been a cold night, but again my blood ran warmer than usual- not because of the Fireball or red wine or even the roaring masterpiece of a fire- but because of the immense amount of love, tenderness, and thought put into one evening by people far and wide. I love Ron more and more each time I spend time with him and getting to be there on such an event was an incredible part of our family’s history.
Sitting around tables, fires, and kitchens with friends old and new, sharing stories and laughter and food and drink was like a tincture for a wound- one that’s been growing for quite some time now that I pull back the gauze and look at it with clear eyes. It’s nothing that can’t be healed, just as other emotional damages have before, but it’s a bit of a shock to see that you’re close to gangrene when you thought it was only a paper cut. While the pain is there, I know there is a remedy- and to continue to take that medicine on a regular basis is all part of what will allow me to continue to grow.
As I was driven back to the airport last night, I had to say out loud, “I have to remember these things.” What things? The lights. The sound of the turn signal. The smoothness of the pavement. The warmth from the car seat. The feeling of a down coat and its puffiness and swooshing fabric. The hint of a sting on my left fore finger from a fresh sliver. The semi daze I left in from a few last drinks at The Parkway. The clean, brisk air. Grizzly Bear drifting through the speakers. My slight shivering, even with the heater blasting. The weight of saying goodbye, yet again, somewhere else.
I’ll hold onto those things for as long as possible. The small things that create the place called home for me- and eventually, I won’t need to hold on to them. I’ve created a space for those memories so that when I need them I can go back, but I know that there’s living… and there is truly living.
Where I draw that line or how I decide that definition is entirely up to me. But as I breathed steam into the dark night, pulled my jacket a little tighter, and my eyelids fluttered back tears I reminded myself:
this is why you’re here.