From the first day back in my hometown of Sharon, MA I had the sense of being in a ghost town. It’s not that the businesses have packed up and left, probably thanks to the fact that there’s hardly any industry here to begin with. It’s not because all of the boys are overseas fighting and only the elderly are left. But rather, there seems to be a hollow edge to the same streets that I walked and rode my bike on as a youth, and later drove up and down as a teenager. They are the same tree-lined tertiary roads where you’re likely to pass a family of deer or even the occasional wild turkey, safe from criminal activity or pollution. Yet things don’t feel the way they used to.
This is the part of the story where the buzz has started to wear off. The rush of coming home and seeing old friends while simultaneously running up and down the east coast has kept me busy. Fortunately this resulted in a prolonged happiness to be back in the United States, and even though I am in between work and study, my hands have been far from idle. There’s a lot to take care of after returning home three years later. In the last couple of days things have started to slow down. Returning from Washington with an apartment seemingly wrapped up, I continue to search for a job and see old friends, yet I’ve had spare time set in, allowing me to think and dwell on certain things.
I want to remember as many things as possible, and focus on the little details. The parquet floors of Buenos Aires, the random pine tree forest high up in the Andes between Quito and Cuenca, cropping up between the thick clouds, so close you could touch it. Once I start thinking about that stuff, I start to feel the emptiness where my deflated dream has started it’s backwards retreat. I’ve already lived out my lifelong goal, well before the age of 25, and now it’s back to the real world. Or is it?
What exactly is the “real world” to me anymore? Not some TV show on MTV, no way. It’s not a traditional summer vacation that a student would enjoy, with three months of work and play. In coming back to this ghost town, I’ve learned that my vision of reality is totally skewed and messed up, but worse still, I now have no vision of reality. At least for the moment. You see, most of my friends have moved out of the suburbs and into the city of Boston, and those who haven’t soon will. While summers used to mean hanging out at someone’s house, playing poker or drinking some beers while watching a movie, I now have little to do during the week. I drive around and check to see if I’ll recognize the driver or car, but I wince when realizing that no one will be around who I know. Even people younger than me from high school have graduated and moved on. I’m an old timer out of my element. This town is no place for someone in their mid-twenties.
While in summers past the middle of the day could be filled with the possibility of seeing a friend drive by, I now know that I’ll be here alone and there will be so surprise visitors. My reality used to be school, summer, work, etc. At first my job in Buenos Aires didn’t seem real–it was just something I was doing to live in Argentina. Then it became my reality and my only purpose for being there. That’s over now. But the real world is only what you make of it in front of you. Though I considered it a different part of my life, the last 3 years were my reality, and now this place is not my home, nor is it where I belong. It’s a comfortable setting and being surrounded by family is refreshing, but I clearly can’t spend much time here before I move on again. I’ve outgrown this role.
I went abroad and though I pictured coming home to the same place, it is no longer what I imagined. The neighborhood has grown up and left, and accordingly so, new people have come in to pick up the slack. No longer in my reality of Latin America, and not yet in my new reality of Washington DC, I’m simply floating along on vacation. It’s like a decompression chamber before starting the next journey, which will no doubt be as complex as the last one, but for different reasons. Little by little I see myself starring a little longer and thinking a little deeper, remembering those who I’ve left behind and wishing it wasn’t so. Where will they be when I have the ability to see them again, and when will that happen? It will never satisfy me to speak of them in the past tense, and I suppose that’s one of the many curses of being a returned expatriot.