By Sheau Yun Lim
It rushed at me the second the glass doors of the arrival gates slid open. I always somehow forget the humidity, the spectre that hangs above us all, slithering around the perimeter of the airport trying to find its way in. It had managed to crawl through the cracks between the plane and the jetbridge, but I didn’t really notice: at that moment I was just grateful to be home, a fleeting discomfort soon forgotten in the air-conditioned coolness of the airport.
The funny thing about home is that you remember it so fondly. You remember the streets, and the food, and the sliced fruit. The night before I left Yale, my suite mates and I sat together on a round table at Ashley’s that was much too small to fit the six of us. We were right beside the door: the wind blew in uninvited and we all pretended not to shiver. It was my goodbye, and as they reminisced about the freshman who came in worried to death about not having worked for a tech startup, I couldn’t help but laugh. I tell people I miss the naivety and the relaxed air I thought I had before I left, but I couldn’t even recognise the person I had been less than two years ago, the person who had left this place behind.
You forget home like you forget the disagreeable person you once were, covering it with the smooth sheen of a matte finish. Homecoming is uncomfortable, the heat unbearable. The first night I was home, I was put up in the room I occupied when I was six. I lay on the left side of two child-size single beds that had been unceremoniously shoved together, sleeping next to my sister at home for the first time since I was sixteen. The sheets were cartoon-covered, coloured bright blue, yellow, green. The walls were peeling baby pink paint and the air conditioning was blowing at full blast, its hum at the back of our conversation, at the back of our minds.
That night, we spoke of much that I no longer remember, conversation rising and falling in an arc across the white noise. But I do remember this: we spoke of us, of being separated from our parents by a thin wall between our bedrooms, by years of international schooling, by college degrees. We had come to belong to two places in a way our parents’ rigid medical schooling had never allowed them to fully step across the pond, to interrogate culture and navigate a modern identity. Our parents were wrapped in layers of familiar people and kitchens that smelled of home, with the certainty of return to this hot, hot place. We were thrown into America, with the exhortation that we must not come back to this country of stagnation: those who must come back labelled failures, and those who choose to remain, idiotic.
It would be tempting to step back into this world and slip back into the skin that we once occupied: the rebelliously-obedient daughter, the forgetful niece, the present friend. But it is not home that has changed, it is something within us that has been painted a different shade of red, white and blue. The shells and coats and clothes no longer fit though we insist on trying them on.
I study modernity because I am obsessed with identity. Through my time at Yale, I am perhaps seeking a certainty. A label, a community, a theory- that will claim me as readily as I claim it. This is the space within my sister and I exist: a cool, suspended glinting glass box in the burning heat, looking out and looked in.
Our ears had long been trained to notice our parents’ footfalls and the muted slam of the door. And as if on instinct, we froze, my right hand and her left one clutching the surface of the mattress, sharing in the silent moment of tension only we both could witness like we were five and not twenty-five. It passed, a door closed, and the hum of insulating machinery continues.
Sheau Yun Lim is a rising junior at Ezra Stiles College and an Architecture and History double major. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.