E. and H.'s backyard, 2006
For the past couple of days we've been in our former haunts of Vermont and New Hampshire, visiting friends and family. Very nice, the visiting part. Strange, the being-there-again part. Everything completely familiar, and yet...I am not the same person who used to live there. I moved through the old places with all the familiarity of a longtime resident, but felt somehow unreal -- like a ghost -- watching a place, people, and activities I was once part of, but am no longer. There was no wistfulness at all; I live elsewhere now. It was a relief to feel this, but it was decidedly strange.
The unreality was compounded by the fact that we were staying in a motel, only a few miles from our former house. One of the people we visited was my sister-in-law, now living alone in the house she shared with her now-deceased husband; during most of those years my in-laws were also still alive, and often with us when we gathered for a family meal. There we were, together, talking about her study of Arabic and what her father would have thought of it, and eating olives and lamb and baklava, with nearly everything else about our small family entirely changed.
We had come down particularly to see a close friend and former neighbor who has moved back to her native Iceland. She was also staying in a motel, and having some memory lapses about what used to be where, so we were called upon to give directions when in the car; in the hotel suite we cooked and ate together as we often had, but not, of course, in our houses that had been next door to each other. And her child, watching tv in the next room, now eight years old and competently bilingual, was herself the stuff of many memories beginning when she herself was only a wish; when they left for Iceland she had been only two.
It felt, therefore, like several different layers of reality and removal were operating at once, and without the ground itself to touch -- my garden, the woods I used to roam in -- we passed through the few days as if in a dream, and now, back in my own home and studio, I feel a slight doubt that we were there at all.