Coming home is always strange, and the strangeness of arrival multiplies exponentially the longer you are away. There is no action without a reaction, and so every single thing that happens to you while traveling changes you, usually in such a small way so as not to be noticeable as it happens, but at the moment your feet touch whatever ground constitutes that amorphous and abstract place called “home”, one simple truth hits you with the force of something that has been building speed for eons: you have changed irrevocably while your home has not.
I think you subconsciously believe that the world changes and develops with you–it does, but in such ways that we cannot see them in our solipsism–and so evidence to the contrary kind of sets us back for a moment. In my case, I feel profoundly altered after my five months abroad, so coming back home to find everything where I had left it was–is–jarring. And yet within hours of stepping off the plane in Los Angeles, it also felt as though I had fallen back into the folds of normalcy. It was as though without knowing it I had split into two people. The one (la Güera?) had, only days ago, popped a couple of Valium and threaded every available limb through her luggage in order to survive a 19-hour bus ride from Máncora to Lima on a bus designed for people with a leg span half hers, had licked the juice of beef hearts from her fingers as she ran for a taxi, had split her knee open as a consequence of mixing salsa dancing and blood bombs (as sinister as they sound). The other me (E. Kaelyn Davis?) had continued her life here without interruption, driving the 405 to the 5 freeway and back again (between her parents’ houses), calling in pick-up orders for banh mi and ramen and pad see ew, playing Scrabble and Mexican Train with her family, drinking IPAs and flirting shamelessly in seedy but somehow endearing dive bars.
It’s such an odd feeling, because if there really is only one me, how do I reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of Orange County, California, organized so cleanly into its city blocks, with its traffic laws so reverently obeyed (relatively speaking), and the wonderful, wild, and often chaotic world that I’ve inhabited the last half a year in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru? How can two such tangible and living realities, realities in which I have a place and a purpose, exist in one dimension of time and space?
I am no Stephen Hawking. I don’t understand the complexities of dimensional realities. I couldn’t even tell you now what the formula for the theory of relativity is. The only thing that I know is that there is only one similarity between these two places: me. Of course they exist without my being in them. Millions of people’s lives continue without my ever even suspecting that they exist. But it seems that we can only truly grasp reality if we are part of it. They say that the human brain is absolutely incapable of imagining its own nonexistence. We can not imagine not being. This is the essence of solipsism: the idea that the self is the only thing that can be known, truly understood, to exist.
This idea of there being two of me, one that contains me and the other as a sort of space holder, is comforting. Perhaps when I return to Cuenca in two months, I will feel as though I have slipped back into the Kaelyn that never left her subequatorial paradise. Obviously this is all a physical impossibility, but the people whose lives we are part of carry us around with them so we are never truly absent. Thus it is only a slight stretch of the imagination to visualize a kind of shade of ourselves inhabiting places we have walked, lived, laughed, waiting for our real selves, our consciousnesses, to come back and make them whole again.
Maybe this is what we mean when we say we’ve left part of ourselves somewhere. Maybe it’s more than just a figure of speech.