I recently found myself in an airport. I hadn’t been in one for over 7 months, which is a long stretch for me. I used to be able to mark my months by flights: to school, home for Thanksgiving, back for finals, home for Christmas, back for another semester, off to spring break, back again, home for summer, and off to my summertime adventures. Even after college, my days were still punctuated every couple months by a flight, usually home. But as I find myself with a “grown-up” job and a distinct lack of vacation days, I’ve been grounded, restricting myself to quick jaunts by train or car for an odd weekend away from the city clamor.
I love airports. There’s an exhilarating possibility to those grey speckled walls, the sense that you could go anywhere or be anyone. It’s a titillating anonymity, one that I find far more liberating than the anonymity of New York. Here too you’re part of a crowd, one face passing thousands of other faces you’ll likely never pass again. But where here it feels claustrophobic — caught in a scrum of humanity as you’re born along by tides beyond your control, subject to the hustle and bustle of all those souls trying to make it in New York — the mystique of airports is thrilling. People watching is among my favorite activities, and as I travel I find myself constructing elaborate narratives and backstories for my fellow travelers, and for myself. “Who do they think I am?” I wonder, “And where do they think I’m going?” If I throw on some red lipstick, I think, perfect a worldly pout, tuck a New Yorker under my arm, stride confidently with latte in hand, will some somebody write me a story, full of globe-trotting and glamour and far more romance than my everyday trudge through the motions of a not quite broke, but far from fully satisfied, twenty-something in Brooklyn?
So I got on a plane and I flew home, where again I had not been in over seven months, the longest stretch I can remember. It’s always surreal for me, going home. On the one hand, it feels totally normal to walk in my house and sleep in my bed, drive down streets and pull plates from cabinets on autopilot. My body remembers what has grown hazy in my mind: the chip on a certain mug or the curve of the stairs or the smell of the fetid air as I roll through NuLu with my windows down, the air conditioning in my now-ancient Volvo having long since given up fighting the August heat.
I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in haunting, especially when I go home. As I walk through the house, I’m constantly tripping over my past selves, who coat the walls and hide behind doors and under the dining room table. That patch of floor is where I posed for pictures before the Homecoming dance or in my Halloween costume on some long ago round of Trick or Treat. The mirror in my bathroom has seen my 11 year-old face, punctuated by glasses and braces and framed by thick bangs, to my 13 year-old face, rolling on lip gloss and adding a sprinkle of glitter to my cheeks, to my 16 year-old face, learner’s permit in hand as I posed for an early selfie, to my 18 year-old face, gathering toiletries for college, to my 22 year-old face, degree under my arm, to my now 25 year-old face, frustrated each time I forget the knobs on the sink turn opposite the ones in my apartment, unleashing a torrent when I mean to turn the damn thing off.
And it’s not just my house: The whole city of Louisville is full of my ghosts. Fourteen years of school and work and love and laughter and heartache have tinted the streets. I think there’s something about the South that lends itself to a good haunting. There’s more space for those memories to breathe, and a culture bent on storytelling and heritage encourages the lingering of our bygone selves. New York is so busy, with so many people humming about at once, that it feels nearly impossible to make a mark except in the smallest and most personal of ways. My Bushwick house is marked by my first New York self, it’s true, the seeds watered by prosecco and tea and stamped into the ground by kitchen dance parties. But the new owners are renovating, stripping the place down to the bones, and I fear my ghosts will be shunted out with the crappy linoleum and the wine-stained carpet.
It’s a strange thing, moving within a city. It’s not something I’d done before, aside from the traditional shuffling of dorms; my parents, well-acquainted with the colossal headache that is moving, saw no reason to submit us all to that agony unless a change of state was absolutely required. My old hood, the one I came to know and love over the past two years, is only 3.5 miles from my new home, and yet my life there already feels far away (this is not helped by the fact that MTA hates Brooklyn, and thus by public transit it takes me 45 minutes to traverse a distance that in Kentucky would take me 15 at the most). I find myself wondering what ghosts I’ll leave behind in this new space, when the last box is unpacked and picture is hung and we start to make it a home.
Thus begins my third year in New York. My first one kicked off with cookies and Kinky Boots, my second passed without fanfare (and in Louisville, as chance would have it), and this past Wednesday I started Act III with watermelon juice and a trip to the Met. I know this city better than I did that first fall, and I love it better than I thought I would during that first hard year. Slowly, so slowly, I have worn grooves in its hard face, little whispers in the great throngs of ghosts that lay heavy over the ever-changing landscape. This much I know: Someday I will leave. The call of greener fields and bluer skies (and grass) is too strong to resist forever. But I hope that when I go, I will leave behind a few friendly ghosts. So when some future me steps onto the jetway at LGA or JFK (please not Newark if I can avoid it), they will greet me with a smile. They’ll take my hand, and murmur soft for me to hear, “Welcome home.”