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Outside my attic window I watch the winter dawn over the river. Inside my attic window I write in a journal. I hear my pen scratch across the page and I think, I am home.
For immigrants, this ‘home’ business is always fragile. In truth, this may be why some of us left – why we swapped one country for another – all those years ago. Some mornings I know that when I leave this chair, this page, this window, ‘home’ will be gone again, and this New England place will revert to being just that – a place, a territory where I have washed up, set up; where I make too much noise and take up too much space.
Away from this river is the interstate highway that runs north to Canada and south to Miami. Yesterday I was one of the drivers on that wet, southbound highway, swishing past the overpasses and the exit signs, the offices and condo developments. I was all dressed up and rushing to a meeting.
Oh, America, I thought. Please tell me how on earth a woman like me comes to be driving here, on this day in winter?
These hands on the steering wheel. These arms inside my woollen coat sleeves.
Once, in a faraway time and place, those were chubby baby arms reaching for my mother’s embrace. Later, on a farm that smelled of old mud and wet trees, I hooked those arms around a low tree branch, a girl soldier hoisting and hiding herself in an apple tree. In that damp green country there was a village school that reeked of old chalk and old fears. Inside that school I held out my right hand to wait for my pencil, my copybook, my beatings.
Years later, on another winter day in an airport room, I held out that same hand for my stamped passport, for my passage into America that was, back then, a land of strangers. Nowadays I keep my hands to myself. Nowadays I will not beg or reach for things that may not be worth all that waiting, for things that may never come.
Here inside this attic window or away on that south-bound highway, I should not be surprised at the differences, the transposition of times and places, the switcheroo between those old winter days and this one.
For centuries our ships have traversed the oceans and the time zones. Our aeroplanes have ascended from the tundra to land in the tropics. So there is no magic here – unless we count the Alfalfa farm and its roadside grain silo and how, even on a highway like that, there are these people who persist; these holdings and farms that hold out against time.
The story is not about how I come to sit inside this attic window above an American river. It’s not about happenstance or about all those roads I have taken or refused. The story is not about me rushing along a wet highway. It’s not about the slow and secret tick of hours and days and years and decades.
Perhaps there is no story. There are only my American-accented words on a page. There is the holy mystery of mutation, the bio-miracle in which one thing becomes another, in which the foreign turns familiar.