Home is home isn't home
'Return of the Mack' is a perfect homecoming song, did you know?
I ended up staying longer than intended or expected. Which is to say, here in Omicron head office, I finally tested positive for Covid. And so I could not fly back to New York on the date I had planned to.
I had already been having all these thoughts about being back in London for this holiday break when the test result came back (shoutout to NHS Test & Trace). It was never going to feel like a holiday, this trip. Too many people are not where they should be; grief is almost touchable in the gaps. But it did not feel like an overwhelming biblical-style homecoming either. I rolled into town at a quiet, shameful hour—why does landing at dawn always feel like you’ve come home in disgrace?—and the Uber journey after leaving Heathrow was long and silent. I hadn’t needed fanfare, and the return to London understood the assignment. Naturally.
In a previous letter, I wrote about home being both London and New York. “I like having two homes,” I said airily, back in 2018. By then, I had been in the US for two and a half years. The Brexit referendum result had long sunk in, and Donald Trump had been president for a chunk of time, elected in the election I had moved to New York to cover. The Covid pandemic was not even a blip on the radar — in relative terms, it was a blissfully ignorant time. Why, I had the attention span to read two novels a week! Returning to the city of my birth in 2018 did not feel like an obstacle course; I did not have to ponder who aboard the plane might infect me with a deadly virus, and upon landing, I didn’t have to take daily swabs of my throat or nose to see if the virus was thriving in my mucus. That distant summer I was a social butterfly, glinting in the brief London summer sunlight, meeting friends on roofs and at markets, clinking glasses, laughing uproariously, never sparing a thought as to the blast radius of our droplets. Meeting friends this time has been fraught, each person doing a special navigation of what they’re comfortable with, reconciling risk, resigning to what feels, in London, like inevitable infection… hoping not to catch it, bracing for symptoms. It’s a bad feeling!
Anyway, all that to say: London did not feel like home this time. For sure, it was a unique bliss to sink into the embrace of my family, my friends. To kiss their cheeks and inhale their ineffable scents. To eat my mother’s food, to prepare my usual Christmas dishes for my family and preen under the weight of their praise. To bypass a screen and touch their accomplishments and toast their success and happiness in person. To say ‘I missed you’ and well up before laughing because the joy outpaces the wistfulness. To sit in warm silence in the same room as opposed to over the phone, to scream-laugh together instead of exchanging written ‘lols’ or ‘😂’. To hear Yoruba spoken often, sweetly and loudly on the street. And all of that after A Crying Year or two? Extra special, so grateful.
And I still feel ‘right’ here; my feet have walked no other city as well and as often as this one. The local knowledge still sits comfortably in my bones: bus and train journeys have brought forth no anxiety, as I recalled with ease the routes of my life; the specific architectures of different neighbourhoods that Brooklyn’s brownstones had overwritten in the last 24 months I hadn’t been back winked at me familiarly; proper fish and chips!
But coming home, even when you have longed to return, can be weird. The spotlight lands on everything you have missed, and you have missed so much. And it’s no one’s fault, but it feels like yours. Because, after all, you’re the one that left. And on top of that, once you leave home… you don’t live there any more. I feel what is not here—my bed, the full breadth of my wardrobe, my plants, my bike, my pots, my very specific walk to the subway, and so on—as surely as I see what is here. It’s a discombobulating sensation. I am, finally, present. But much is absent, at the same time.
I’ll shake this off soon enough. A new year starts tomorrow, and though time has become a more gauzy thing since this pandemic began, it’s impossible to completely quell the very human urge to mark time, to make plans, to hope. Like many or most of us, I am a more tentative person now. But I am still hoping for small, quiet victories in 2022. I hope I continue to make good work. I hope I get stronger and healthier. I hope to be a better friend and person. I’d like to fall in love. And I hope New York continues to feel like home for as long as I need it to. I hope I get to come back to London again soon, and/or my people get to come and visit me in Brooklyn. Nothing lasts forever, good or bad. Feelings shift. What is gone may yet return. Who knows, eh?
My Covid has been mild. I am the only positive case in the household. I am forcefully reminded, every time I turn on the news, that things could be much, much worse. There is a negative test in my future. So yes, I will be ringing in my new year in London. But eventually, and soon, I will rebook my flight, and I will be driven to the airport so I can return to my plants, my bed, my pots and my very specific walk to the subway and so on. I will leave home, in order to return home.
Happy New Year.
I forget how much I like reading these sporadic mails until I’ve finished one. Much love to you Bim. I hope you feel better soon.
(To think that once upon a time, Yoruba Girl Dancing served us a regular helping of Bim....)
Thank you. You are missed. But thank you.