The Re-beginner

It’s true, I’ve neglected this blog to write about bábovka and apple dumplings from the family recipe vault. But I’m increasingly conscious of being an immigrant (though, unfortunately, not thinking like one), and of trying to tally up the starts of past lives while pursuing the present, new one.

In New York, the heavy scent of boxwood shrubs in Bryant Park is enough to call up a snapshot of the Hollins campus, my friends, and the creaky front porch of Main. At the last reunion, in 2003–the five-year one for my class–I’d come from Colorado, where I’d left a job teaching high school English in order to return to the Midwest and finish my M.A. The reunion was still too soon: all of my friends and I were in grad school, while the rest of the class had moved on to serious paychecks, painful-but-chic shoes, and business cards. My group contented itself by hoarding the leftover wine from Fancy Dinner #1 and lamenting the long tail of student loans. Later, I wound up in the library clutching a copy of Wordsworth and mumbling “Tintern Abbey,” which is to say that Reunion drop-kicked me straight back to my freshman year.

This reunion, though, was going to be small and informal–just three of us. A couple of weeks ago, I went down to Virginia and North Carolina for a friend’s wedding, the first time I’d been back (since the reunion) in six years. Sitting in the thirty-seat plane on the rain-pocked tarmac in Richmond, I felt excited, anxious, and tired. It had been eleven months since we’d left Prague, and I’d had two interviews. At both places, I was offered the job but (inexplicably, to my family) turned it down. The guilt I felt in knowing no real immigrant (including the ones in my family) would have been so seemingly careless kept welling up, month after month.

In the row in front of me sat a JetBlue pilot and a flight attendant who’d flown standby from New York to Richmond and had alternately chatted and slept during the flight. I envied them their ability to wake up and chat with complete coherence. Now they were stretching toward the window to look at the rain as we taxied in.

“Looks like they’re going to give us a jetway,” the pilot said happily, extending his arms over his head in a stretch. “No wading!” The flight attendant laughed, adjusted her navy vest, and pulled her hair into a ponytail. It had only taken them a few seconds to adjust. For me, it seems to take years.

On the plane, I’d tried to begin reading the copy of Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I’d picked up at the Strand, but I couldn’t focus. My friend Kim had asked me to be a bridesmaid in her Raleigh wedding shortly after we moved to New York, and I’d accepted instantly. The next month, a box from her arrived with a red leather jewelry case and travel bag, along with details about the dress–sleeveless, long, crimson–and the cost. At that point, I’d had zero job leads and publishing houses seemed to be boarding up their windows. It was impossible to justify the expense. I emailed Kim and backed out, folding up the gift wrap and filing it in the catchall kitchen drawer.

It had been six years since I’d seen the other friend, Angie, who, like Kim, was successful and established in her hometown, and who’d just bought a condo. Not for the first time in six years, I realized that I missed both of them sharply. In New York, I was just learning to miss the handful of close friends from Israel and Prague.

Part 1 of 3

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