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Going Back Home for the First Time

Main ghar aa gayi.
I’ve come home.

My hands fall into the usual routine.
Muscle memory:
I am washing the dishes
and checking the washing machine
and serving my siblings food
and making sure water glasses were full.

Flick, flick—why isn’t the light turning on?
My finger doesn’t make contact
With the toggle light switch.
Oh, this is a rocker switch.

My brother’s soft hands,
my sister’s warm arm.
Singing in the car
playing video games
watching Pokémon
pressing one M&M at a time
into palms.

Three of us together.
That’s how time goes by,
how time goes by,
how it’s always been.

Purple winter jacket,
Engineering textbooks,
and graph paper.
My whiteboard with my schedule
all orderly and arranged
with most hours structured.
Becton, Mason, Dunham…

“Were you here when—?”
“Were you here when—?”
“Yeah, that was right before I left.”

“So when did you leave?”

You want almonds?
Cabinet next to the fridge:
third quadrant,
second shelf,
right in the front,
steel container.
Set it on the counter
before you twist the top off.

Vines of irritation creep into my thoughts.
Wasting time on my phone,
wasting time watching TV,
not turning in assignments,
not doing something that makes me feel
like I’m making progress.
I need to wor—you need to relax.
Slow down. I remember
walking up Science Hill and back,
up and down stairs,
thinking about my schedule constantly
to email about my availability.
You’ve done a lot, so slow down.
I bite my finger, wanting to snap the vines.
I don’t have a schedule!
I shrug my shoulders.
That’s the whole point.

I used to think
I am in the New World,
I will go back to the Old World,
and things will be different.

But I feel like the same person
in two places.
and relieved.

I am the toughest sister, the coolest, the calmest,
so I think until the tears fall from baby eyes,
his head down and shoulders shaking.
Time for the big sister to play her part.
“Don’t cry! I’ll be back!
I’ll be back.” I say the only line
I’ve rehearsed enough to say
without my voice locking.
I give a hug, and I smile with eyes wide open.
I’m the softest sister,
but I know that
the promise of coming back
is stronger than the reality
of saying goodbye. I’ll be back.
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