Here, there is a queer sort of nostalgia—a fitful yearning for a self that never could have been, but feels so close that its hand-painted memories catch, pool, and swell in the bosom like a soon-to-be-born child, demanding space and oxygen and acknowledgment. There’s just no space in the rib cage for this thing, this impossible design. It’s easy to explain the clutching heaviness that seizes the heart and the lungs.
Living in a foreign country where you neither speak nor understand the native language is like standing on a metro platform and watching your reflection slide across an outbound train. Yes, you are going places, but on some level, you do it to see yourself. You do it to see yourself in a new context. Maybe you’ll seem adventurous. Maybe you’ll seem sage, or attractive. Mostly, you hope to learn something. Is the self that you’ve tirelessly constructed anything close to what’s reflected here? The answer is hazy at best, and is usually unrecognizable and unsettling. You project your image onto an obscene number of strangers, hoping against hope that by analyzing the juxtaposition, you’ll discover something innate or true. It’s only during the act that you realize that you can’t possibly keep both parties—the irrevocably unjoinable “you” and “them”—simultaneously in focus. It’s a trick of the light; it’s an inherent limit to our ability to perceive. Something has got to give. You catch an iota of eye contact every now and then. Perhaps you sense a drop of intrigue, or disdain—or most likely, indifference. Throughout the endeavor, you are acutely aware of its imminent conclusion; at some unknown point, you will be rent from them.
All the while, the train chugs forward, unconcerned about your well-intentioned and myopic ruminations, ferrying the myriad stories you will never know of those who will never be able to know you, or understand you, or love you.
However, there will be those who choose to stand with you on the platform—the intrepid travelers and natives who are drawn to your presence. They will rub your shoulder, or hold your hand, or give you a smile crafted solely for your benefit. Whether these companions wait with you for one divine minute before they catch their train or diligently refuse to leave your side until you ruefully leave them on the platform, they erase the need to reconcile the reflection and the relation. They make everything worthwhile.
Here, there is a queer sort of nostalgia, and there is you, and there is me.