“- a parcel of the soil not wide enough
or firm enough to build a dwelling on,
or deep enough to dig a grave, but cool
and sweet enough to sink the nostrils in
and find the smell of home, or in the ears,
rumors of home, like oceans in a shell.”
– Malcolm Cowley, The Exile’s Return
I walked alone in the middle of the iced-over street, huddled against the Indiana wind. Stars in the clear January sky lined my path above the bare trees, the only things that had lived through that harsh winter. Everything around me was deserted and silent.
The one-mile route from the campus of my university to my apartment ambled along fraternity houses, a dog park, and streetlamps reflecting light off the snow banks, but I didn’t really see them. In the silence I could hear the pages of the book I had just read in class rustle against my keys, some pens and a few pennies at the bottom of my bag. The cold and empty streets reminded me of something the author described: how the young of his generation were like tumbleweeds. As cliche as it felt to think it, I couldn’t help but imagine myself as a tumble weed two-thousand miles from home.
Winter never dropped lower than forty degrees in my hometown, Yuba City, California. How warm my parents and brothers must have been back home at that moment. No warmth or friendly faces awaited me at my apartment. Most of the people I knew in town left for the long weekend.
I thought of old friends that might keep me company on my solitary walk. There was Chelsea, who I still called my best friend by an occasional slip of the tongue. But she hadn’t spoken to me in two years. The last letter she ever wrote to me rested between the pages of a dusty yellow scrapbook buried in my bookshelf. And there was Luke, who lived a mere half mile from my childhood home. Only a few weeks ago, he held me in his arms as I struggled to say I love you and goodbye in the same breath.
The subtle sound of my boots scraping against the snow and ice on the street echoed against the gauntlet of buildings. My legs involuntarily moved one after the other, the repetitive crunching smoldering under my memories. Slowly, relentlessly, each step built upon each other, spilling through my edges and reminding me that I was alone.
In a moment, tears streamed down my cheeks and my lungs panicked for breath as my feet continued trudging forward. My eyes searched for any sign of shelter in all the stark white, finally landing on a small patch of cleared asphalt. I unconsciously headed toward the black oasis. One foot fell numbly onto the gravel, and then the other. All sense of strength escaped me as I sank down to my knees. My apartment stood only a few dozen yards away, but every part of me ached, refusing to move a single step further. Everything was once again silent and still.
My cocoon kept me anchored on that small patch of road, with my eyes on my apartment in the distance. That building was not my home. Uprooting from one place to another had become second nature, as if existing in the same place for too long would imprison me. People I loved used to substitute these permanent spaces. But people and love now seemed as transient as the snow that surrounded me. They drifted into my hands and melted. I was always waiting for the thaw.