Like most neighborhoods these days my neighborhood is in a state of flux. Foreclosures pepper the neighborhood like pockmarks. It’s strange to walk by a house its lawn once littered with hula hoops and bicycles, now vacant- coated in newspapers baking under the summer sun. My neighborhood like many others- a slowly transforming ghost town between the interlude of abandonment and new buyers scooping up the desperate deals banks are now willing to make.
I’ve written before of my acute homesickness for Pakistan, a place I’ve never lived in but whose DNA courses through me thousands of miles away. Salwar kamiz line my guest closet. I speak the language. My manuscripts evoke its dusty streets and groves of kinu. And yet the last time I visited, I was nine. It’s strange, this longing for a place I’ve never lived in, called a bedroom my own, or used as a return address on an envelope. And yet, when I think of Pakistan, I think of home. My grandfather’s home where I know I could sit at the doorstep and be recognized by passerbys because I have my mother’s eyes, my father’s stance. Where they might smile and greet me instead of the blank stares I am accustomed to by neighbors I have lived alongside for nearly eight years; learned indifference. Where home is not a thing you buy and sell to find stainless steel appliances and bigger better cabinets but the land my great-great-grandfather saved to purchase, which my great-grandfather tilled- which my grandfather expanded upon- which enabled my father to pursue an education in a career that led him to the United States changing the trajectory of all future generations, providing me with a life I could never have known otherwise. Every immigrant takes a leap of faith and incredible bravery to leave all they know behind and create a life from something wholly unfamiliar and new. I know this is not unique to those who transfer countries as my friends who have left the American cities of their childhood can attest to, the small towns where generations of family still live, have lived, for as long as anyone can remember, trading gossip over front-stoop rocking chairs, and where they can still return today, familiar faces in the eyes of those they pass by on the street. Loss and gain, hand in hand.
As I watch television shows predicated on the wonder of American mobility, the ability to house flip-hop-abandon-escape I see the freedom gained in being rootless. And yet with everything we gain, there is something we lose. As I look out my window and see the ever-changing landscape, the increasing anonymity and emotional distance from our neighbors despite homes stuck closer together than ever before, I wonder what its like to live in a place where home is not just your marble fireplace and tiled bathroom, but instead extends far beyond the walls of your home, where it encompasses not just where you live but who you are. I could just be dreaming, perhaps places like this simply don’t exist anymore, anywhere, perhaps these are just imaginings more closely aligned to mythology and fairy tales than reality, and perhaps we are all better off in this transient new world- but still, today as I paused to glance at an empty home once inhabited by hope and love- its neglect now clear by the weeds growing through the cracks in the driveway- I just wonder what home once was- and what that must have been like.