I recently moved back to my hometown to attend graduate school, and it was only this week that the words home and town seemed like two such disparate worlds.
What is home? Home is a reflection of body memory. A sensual experience involving the food I grew up eating, the smell of our house on cold nights in late winter, the sounds of the records that sometimes skipped while my dad and I washed the after dinner dishes. The awareness that wherever I went there were people I knew.
What is town? Town is a small place, in which social circles overlap so dizzyingly that there are rarely moments of quiet, despite the wide expanse of dried safflower and last season's tomatoes. Town is a place where people gather for the sake of gathering, where my grocer knows my rabbi, who knows my previous employer, who knows my parents and back again. And occasionally they all gather, and when I do go to the farmer's market, the wealth of social knowledge is so abundant that there is simply no way to just walk, and walk, and not talk.
I wonder at what point in our lives we stop longing. For years, I wanted nothing more than to get further away, and further away still, as if with every mile I was proving the power of independence, of unleashed, unabashed curiosity about the world. And yet, each time I moved, I took with me a sense of what I had left behind. I carried photographs of my family and friends, longed for that nuclear sense of familiarity, missed what it felt like to be somewhere where people knew you were before you opened your mouth.
But what happens when you move back, and the dialogue picks right back up where you left off?
It's not a question of good or bad, or even better or worse. It is a revision of memory, a rewriting of the way things used to smell or taste, a new concept of the way you understand your immediate world. And sometimes, I worry that by coming home to work and study, I'm not properly home, but rather just back in town.