I assumed that when I got back it would feel like everything was set into motion again, like my life had been on pause and now I could finally press the play button and everything would jerk right back to where it was before, a rubber band.
From the moment the plane landed and I could feel the flat polished linoleum under the soles of my worn-through shoes, a cold sweat set in. My shoulders were barely even stooped under the weight of the backpack, but I wanted to curl into myself when I thought about seeing my family again, my girlfriend, about looking them in the face after everything that had happened, after everything I’d done.
After a few weeks when they had tired of hearing about the awe inspiring stories and how life changing everything had been, it all changed. They made fun of me, how I pronounced words in Spanish with the right accent instead of letting the vowels go flat. They thought it was put on, that the new way I moved my hips was just to prove to everyone that I had lived somewhere else. It was something else, though: I had a sickness, undiagnosed but something dangerously close to confidence. The bloody road maps of my capillaries had been erased and redrawn, and I didn’t know if it was good or bad, but así era and my neck was longer and my lips were fuller and I was pretty goddamn sure I could do anything I wanted. Lo que quisiera.
Instead of feeling the momentum that had carried me forward before, the kind that had me trying every new food and jumping into the car whenever anyone even thought the words “road trip,” I felt the unidirectional borders of this sprawling country pressing in on me from all sides, so tight that I felt I could only breathe to cry out.
I had forgotten how to speak English. My words, once knitted together in the most complex and accurate of designs, tangled. I couldn’t remember how to say “olive” in my mother tongue, and I had to ask my girlfriend if she could pick up the salty things that some people put in martinis when she passed by the grocery store after work.
The real problem was that I was in love, and not with my girlfriend. Not with anyone whose path I had tripped across along the way, either.
The real problem was that I was in love with myself.
But not the self that felt the airport tile under her feet and the insidious tightening of her chest as she got closer and closer to baggage claim. No, the self that jumped naked off cliffs into stagnant ponds, screaming. The self that argued with cab drivers alone in the middle of the night, who cares if they have a knife in the glove compartment or not because she is made of pure light.
Now a year has gone by and here I am still living, and my girlfriend wakes up beside me in the mornings and she asks me how did I sleep. As I drift down to reality and begin to feel her hand on my hip or my shoulder or wherever it is, I exhale the fever dreams from the night before, the ones that don’t need an elevated temperature to wake me from a dead sleep.
I am on the train on the way to work and I open an email telling me there is this discount on flights to this place I’ve never been but have always wanted to go.
And the email opens the door.