In that first year living in Rome I wondered: when will I feel like I belong here? Maybe when I master the language. When I have more Italian friends. When I have my visa. When the country grants me a permit to stay. When I have a job with a contract.
I didn’t know it would take me so long to reach these things. Many years. I didn’t know that my belonging wouldn’t come with achieving them.
Anyone who has moved abroad knows the moment that is the most confusing, most jarring, that makes you feel the most out of place doesn’t happen in the country you’ve moved to. It doesn’t happen in the foreign land. It happens in the country you left. It happens when you return and expect to finally feel “at home” and instead feel even more out of place. The faces of your family and your friends are the same. The street where you grew up is the same. But… it’s you. You’ve changed changed so much that you don’t fit anymore. The familiar food is foreign, your hometown is strange, even hearing your own language around you all the time is bizarre.
This is the change and the growth you sought when you moved and yet it saddens you. There is a separation in yourself from who you were before and who you are now. There is an alienation in the core of your very own being. There is no going back.
Ok, it’s not like I would normally spend much of my time thinking about my identity and where I “belong.” But I am in the situation of being reminded of it every day. As a tour guide, it always amazes me that I get the exact same questions every day. Yes, usually about history or art but also and inevitably about me. These are questions that are natural and normal to ask and I usually think nothing of them. But there are some days when the questions feel like needles under my skin. “How often do your friends come visit you?” I presume they mean the friends I left. The answer: almost never. It’s not like I am close to them, mostly on the West Coast. “What do your parents think of you living here?” even though I am 31 years old. And the one that I understand why they ask but that is innately flawed: “When are you going back home?”
Ok, I’m not stupid. I’m on a tour of the Uffizi or the Roman Forum and I am fully aware that if I were to answer “What does home really mean anyway?” I would be considered at minimum a bit of a downer and at most downright creepy. It’s not a strange question to ask but it betrays something of the asker… that they are so linked with place that they can’t seem to fathom another choice. And they can’t fathom that they also had the choice to stay, that I might just as easily ask them, “When are you going to leave home?” That perhaps the asking of either of these questions is besides the point. There is less standing between us than they think.
I’ve written pages and pages in my notebooks trying to find the response to this question. It sticks in me. In essence this whole blog is about my search for the answer of where home is. But today what came out is a poem so that is what I’ll share. To be frank: I don’t write poems. But I think they are for the days when a straightforward answer won’t do.
“The Lines between Us”
I don’t belong
Is just a place.
Where are you?
Is outside of time.
Everyday I meet new versions
They ask me who I am.
How eager we are
To say, “This is me”
Before we know the unit of measurement.
“This is where I belong” before we know where
Do you belong
Do I belong
I am not contained by places.
Neither are you.
And you draw a box around yourself.
Find the comfort of a definition
And you are blinded
Before you can find
The language to talk about such things.
The lines between us
Are drawn in the sand
A children’s game.
Do you really think time exists?
(Really think you don’t)
Have a choice?
From your belonging.
From your measurements and
From your language
Unbalanced by here and there
Shrunk in place and time.
Where we are
“Writ in Water,”
Each drop falls into the sea.
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