This post is not about cinnamon buns, though I could say a great deal about how delicious they are. I could tell you to make them in the early evening and let them rest in the fridge overnight, so that upon rising you can fill your small apartment with the sweet aroma of delectable yeasted dough. Have a friend over and serve breakfast with steaming coffee from the french press. Pack the rest up and bring them to an almost neighbour who lives a block away. Walk through the park and give silent thanks for every inch of late spring sunshine. These are the mornings you remember when the city confronts you as a grey maze of rushed strangers. You fill the coffee cup again, breathe deeply, and know that in the midst of it all you have found a new home.
I’ve packed my life into boxes more than once in the past few years, trading one adventure for another. The place changes, and you try to start again. I want to believe that the essence of these journeys, and the people I met, is preserved in me. I had often imagined that it was only a collection of stories I would tell later when someone asked me what I left behind in the various homes I called mine.
When I ponder the accumulation of past experiences, and the faces that accompany them, I can’t help but consider where old love fits in. I dream of the assorted lifetimes ago and it returns to me, a gentle tug at a heart that has nearly forgotten.
I once fell in love in the span of an evening. Usually it’s much slower, but however it occurs, the shift is immeasurable. A different kind of happiness presents itself and there are moments I hold it in my palms in such a way that love becomes tactile, filling the gaps between our tightly clasped hands. I feel it there in the nook of his chest in the precious hours before sleeping.
I want to know where it goes.
Where does he place my secrets and where do I hide his? You come to know someone so remarkably, and I ask whether this knowledge of the other is lost.
I know that I carry it with me. I throw the tangible remnants away, but something settles there. I might lose track of the details, but this does not alter the deeper sense of remembering. I cannot forget that I’ve loved, even when the spark has burned out and the scent of old ash can no longer be detected.
Perhaps it’s a bit like the patch of ancient earth I left. I used to be perpetually covered in a fine layer of dust. My hands and feet were stained with the stuff, no matter how hard I scrubbed. If you saw me now you’d never guess it. My nails are polished, and my curls are tame. My skin is clean and grows paler each month. I live in a city now. There are fewer spiders on my walls and the bugs (mostly) stay outside at night. If, however, I examine the parts that aren’t so visible, I find that I am still altered by it. The dust and dirt have marked me further beneath the surface. The heat of African sun warms me and sometimes, when I blink, I see George and his billowing eyelashes. His steady and proud gaze is upon me and for a moment I am back in the swamps, at peace in the shadow of giants. I would like to know that the earth that I so loved remembers me too – that my soles left some imprint there – but I will never be privy to such knowledge.
A place changes you. The people you loved change you. The wisdom, the joy, and the hurt take up residence in your being, undetectable to everyone else. There is pain in asking where the love goes. There is sadness in wondering if you carry its memory in solitude. Then I imagine that to know this is not so important now.
I have loved – men and corners of paradise – with equal earnest. I have said goodbye to both, but this does not erase the acts I performed, both tiny and grand. All that I gave away I gave to myself too. I remain marked with the wondrous colors that reflect the measure of my passions.
I used to begrudge the reminders. I considered them an intrusion – an affront of sorts to the life I was trying to build for myself. Then I came to understand that I owed my current contentment to all that came before, even the parts I thought I should forget. Every story begins and ends; there are difficult chapters and joyous chapters, and to remove any would fragment something that was never broken. Cup of coffee in hand, standing in the first kitchen that belongs to me, in a city I already adore, I am no longer afraid to confront the memory of old places and faces. They brought me here, and for that my heart is grateful. Nothing more and nothing less.