Inverted Homesickness

Last night I walked along the beach listening to the ocean. The stars lilt like gold dipped candles across the waves. It’s as if God leaned down and breathed against the black glass of night, the vapor of his breath still lingering, forming the intricate shape of the Milky Way. Polaris, Sirius, Alpha Centauri, the Pleiades sisters, Orion, Cassiopeia, the big and little dipper all looming in the same spots as they were 5 months ago. They appeared immobilized, frozen, suspended outside of my linear life. For a moment I let go of logic, my mind drifting into a child-like dream. Maybe the stars had conquered Time in all of her indifference.

Looking up at the sky my life re-winded. Suddenly, I wasn’t standing on a beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I was halfway across the world standing on top of a concrete roof in a quiet neighborhood on a little island in Indonesia, lifting my hands to the stars, begging God to peel them back and reveal himself. The hum of Hindu worship impending, the smell of sandalwood, vibhuti, and milk hanging in the air like marigold flowers in nearby temples. Nimbostratus clouds gathered rain in the distance and orange light from villas on the hill cut the night like a knife.

My clothes never felt fully washes and my stomach swelled from the unfamiliar food. The afternoons were a dream floating by, my head swimming, beating with the rhythm of the unrelenting sun. I was exhausted and happy. My eyes were sharper and my head clear. The feeling of possibility rose inside me with the morning, a canopy against the tropic heat.

An old Muslim woman wearing a pink hijab sold corn at the local beach. A teenage girl holding a puppy in her hands whispered “cantik” in my ear. Fishermen shared durian with each other at the market. A little, toothless village boy giggled behind a banana tree. I remember their hands folded into mine, trusting and eager. Their umber eyes, beautiful, brown storms bending in the light. Boundaries of culture, language and age crumbled when we prayed. A woman with a skin condition, an orphan girl with back pain, a mother with depression, a grandmother with a swollen knee, a villager who couldn’t walk. We laid our hands on them and watched in wonder as God healed.

“When will you come back?” they said.

Smoke drifted from palm leaf offerings spilling red, orange and pink flowers along the streets and the days passed by, quiet and fragile.

The memory came and went, like a breath escaping through the lungs, the waves in front of me, teething against the Alabama shore.

The months back in America went by like this. A kaleidoscope of memories superimposed on present time. Reoccurring flashbacks carelessly triggered. Rain against a window, the smell of clove, taking a cold shower after running, a white flower on a bush, hearing my name mispronounced. The mundane, day-to-day things had a way of squeezing into the cracks of my mind, forcing me to travel back.

I collected myself, pushed the inverted homesickness down and headed back to the condo. Sand slipped slowly through my fingers and the memory became more diluted than it was before, an opalescent beam refracted by the night, waning with the tide I’d left behind.

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