We’re back in the Land of the Free after four months in the Land of the Brave. If we had stayed a little longer, I think we would have become Scottish. Miki already started speaking with a Scottish (sco-ish!) accent, Dina now knows more about the intricacies of medieval Scottish clan rivalries than she knows about all the 250 years of U.S. history, Gil had found the perfect spot for the study of Chinese alchemy in his ancient tower high above Edinburgh, and I - the eternal chameleon - started forgetting that I had ever lived anywhere else than Edinburgh. I already imagined myself a clan allegiance and an ancestral home in the Highlands and considered joining the Scottish independence movement. And why not? Identity is in the imagination; not in the genes. But our tickets were already booked, our apartment promised to someone else, and obligations were waiting to be dealt with back in the USA.
For further confusion, we interrupted our flight from Edinburgh to Boston with a four-day stopover in Amsterdam, during which I saw family, friends, and old classmates from primary school. Suddenly my dreams are populated again by people who knew me when I was ten years old, and my memories seem more real than my present reality here in this new country, in this new house, which we had barely moved into when we left for Scotland.
Arriving in the USA reminds me of the countless previous times I arrived here with Gil: as graduate students in Indiana; as young parents when we moved from Taiwan back to Indiana; for Gil’s first real job, when we arrived at Dartmouth eight years ago… It all blends together into a blur of jet-lagged bewilderment: waking up at five a.m. amidst suitcases, boxes, and stacks of unopened mail, and then spending the morning opening and closing boxes, shifting through junk mail and getting immersed in J.C.Crew catalogs, moving piles of stuff from one corner to another and back, separating dirty clothes from clean ones and then mixing them up again…, too light headed to accomplish any task successfully because all we had for breakfast was some instant coffee with milk we bought at a gas station last night, and licorice that I brought from Amsterdam. The fridge is empty and it’s already past lunch time, but we haven’t gone out grocery shopping because our winter coats and snow boots are packed away in some box we still need to locate.
In the days before we left for Scotland, we hastily boxed up all our possessions to make room for the people who were renting our house in our absence. So every box I now open is a surprise, and I’m puzzled by my own motivations as I unpack expired cough syrup, empty bottles of shampoo with little bits of watery liquid at the bottom, three open one-pound-sized boxes of iodized salt, and ten packages of Kroger tissue paper which we must have moved with us eight years ago from Indiana to Dartmouth, because I know for a fact that there are no Kroger stores in New England. I’m finding hopeless amounts of socks – I must have saved every airline and hospital sock I ever received and hold out hope for every orphaned sock in my possession – and boxes with old toys that have been standing untouched in Dina and Miki’s rooms for the past six years, but which I haven’t found the courage to throw away because I still think of them as their favorite toys. I just threw away a collection of race cars without wheels, dolls with missing limbs, and three broken kites which I must have held onto thinking I could magically piece them together into one whole kite (and Miki and Dina don’t even fly kites!)
It gives pause to see one’s life go by in useless objects, especially when I get to the boxes that hold my sentimental objects – photos, postcards sent by friends, pebbles picked up from beaches, tins and boxes filled with little treasures, my dream journals, and other stuff I have imbued with meaning and become attached to. It feels scary that it can all fit into two cardboard boxes standing in the basement.
I don’t recognize the person I am in America, and, as is the case every time I’ve been away, I feel reluctant to take her on again.
I know it’ll take me a week or so to get back into American mode. I just need to put my postcards on the wall, hide away all the junk I’ve collected over the years, find a place to display my treasure boxes, take a walk in the forest, settle back into my routines, and see some friends. But in the mean time, I’m uneasy that coming home feels so foreign.