When I went away for school, I described the feeling as growing new flesh. Everything was new, and it stung and smarted, and every moment bruises blossomed. I was unformed. I was a bundle of nerves and impulses, I was an awful fear of everything. I was eighteen when I penciled “fearless” onto my wrist and told myself that it was a brand, and I was brave, and had nothing to leave behind and therefore nothing to miss.
I thought about fast cars and horizons and created nostalgia out of my present. “You’ll miss this,” I told myself as I wore an indentation into a dorm mattress. I thought I was living in the time of my life. How could anything be better than this? I rolled dice with new friends and kissed the boy I loved under a railroad track. There was a pizza place on Main Street that smelled like pasty tomato and I always felt drunk when I walked into it. There were rental agreements and job applications and parents moving to different states, leaving me well and truly alone. I was a small life among small lives in a smaller town. I let go of the fear because suddenly this was Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, fronds laid out ahead for me.
I tried to hold on to these moments. The desk I always wrote at in the library and the burn on my stomach, just above my belly button. Walking to get Bloody Marys with my best friend. The moped humming under me, the long walk across the soccer field, say what you want to say, and let the words fall out. Walking with a boy in fall, latte in hand and a new realization on the tip of my mind. Surely there would come a day when I would long for this town, for these simple moments, these people at this time and this feeling of almost-but-not-quite.
I stood in a muddy field and held my arms out and remembered the feeling of being, of existing, of how I felt in that town, in that body, in that time. Industrial towers belched orange smoke into the sky and Jerusalem was captured in sepia.
And then I left.
I did long for it. I walked back to my studio apartment in a new, unknown city with a six-pack and nostalgia for familiarity. I was told I should brag about the patch on my horrible new polo shirt that I spilled espresso on, but all I could manage was a vague compliment about the benefits package. I didn’t know how to feel about this descent into insurance-and-401k madness, but it’s miserable and magical, and there was a liquor store across the street. I drank IPAs and my new beer gut whispered that I should go back, that the best of my life had passed. I returned to my fear, I returned to my unformed, tangled state.
I went back a year after I had left. I was tired and hungover. Somehow I had started wearing the glasses I always used to hate. My hair had grown out. I was different, and when I returned to Jerusalem, it had been remade in God’s image. But when I looked for the apartment, I found the wrong building. No one kissed me under the train tracks. My best friend had left when I did.
You can never really return to anything. Not the time, not the people. Couples break up. Buildings get demolished. The pizza place was only ever passable at best. The town was no Mecca, no place to pray. I face the sun and the West and the future for now. There must be a clean piece of me somewhere, and I can see the years spilling out ahead.
Written by Sam Limmer.
Sam is a goofy jumble of comfy, weird, and warm who organizes information professionally and gets way too enthusiastic about absolutely everything. She is currently rolling dice and writing sci-fi in the Twin Cities. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @thatsameface.