I don’t know where to start.
I hate the very question.
I am a run-away balloon floating out of sight. I am a puff of dandelion seeds. I am a dust cloud that will soon dissipate into nothing.
My home is a bubble that burst long ago. My tribe is a diaspora of ghosts. My family ties were broken down like moving boxes and put out with the trash.
I grew up in a place within a place. I wanted to be part of it all, but not if I’m honest. My refuge inside it protected me from the poverty, the political turmoil, most inconveniences, most discomforts. I had a room with a view, a spectacular view. Of the profound beauty, of the priestly mountains and the expanse of the valley and the mystical forests and the dazzling birds of the air and the fearfully graceful elephants pushing their way through reeds and the rust- colored soil that gives everyone a green thumb and makes vegetables taste like candy.
I saw the children’s hollow eyes and snotty noses and torn clothes. I saw them hungry and afraid. But I got back in the car and went home to a soft bed and a full meal.
I saw people risk their lives to rebuke a dictator. They rose up and turned out and hunkered down and watched their houses burn. But I had a golden ticket to ride in my back pocket.
I saw good people, brilliant people, talented people given no chance, their pearls thrown before swine. But I turned my more meager talent and softer steel and crooked spine into everything I could ever need and more.
I couldn’t stay because I always hovered near the exit. It couldn’t last because it wasn’t built to last. I didn’t belong because I never earned it.
People were kind because I didn’t belong. If I had belonged, they wouldn’t have been so kind. Guests always get the best, especially in Africa, especially if they come with white skin, with its inner layers of money and power.
But they were and are so kind, I still think maybe I belong. I could belong. They make me clothes and give me names and teach me their language. But all the imperfections are removed, all that they give me is polished and clean like a marble floor. It is a room from a magazine in which no one really lives. I stare at the page and think, yes, this is my home, I can make this my home. But then the book closes, the plane departs, the crowds thin. Til next time. We’ll see you later. Safari njema.
I wish I could stay. But I know staying won’t help. It wouldn’t be the same. It will never be the same.
I have a new home. I have a family in which I fit. I am a member of a great people. I am safe, I am rich, I am thankful. There is never a day I’m not thankful. But there’s also never a day I don’t remember and yearn and grasp for something that was never mine. A summer fling. An unrequited love. A miscarried child. A vivid dream.
Some people are good at letting go and moving on, riding the waves and inhabiting every space along the way. Some people don’t need a place to sleep. I look like I am good at this. I look like I don’t need a place to sleep.
I’m from a planet beyond travel.
I’m from a moment in time.
I’m from the place where quarks disappear as they move.
I’m from a land of make-believe.
I was raised in a make-shift family, a slap-dash culture, a made-up country. Wakanda for white people.
No country for old men.
Everyone leaves before they are old. Few of our bones are buried there.
I wonder what it feels like to know your place. Maybe you wander far from it—most of us do— maybe it changes—everything does—maybe you don’t quite fit—none of us fit. But it’s there to try on for size. You can slip back in undetected. You don’t need a passport. People will remember you. You will remember.
Not many will recognize me. I don’t recognize myself. My cells have turned over too many times while I’ve been away. Far away.
Perhaps I’m not so different. We all have to grow up. We can’t go home again. We can’t take it with us. All lives are filled with good-bye and grief and gut-punch.
I like to think I’m different. I hate being different. When I tell you my story, do I want you to wonder at my strangeness or see yourself in me? Do I want you to understand or not?
I don’t know. If you identify with me, I lose something of myself. To grasp your hand, I have to let go of something else. If you can’t fathom who I am, I remain a singular figure, the citizen of a one-person nation that exists as long as I do.
I think I want to stay a little bit lonely.