After two days I get out of bed and pad barefoot to the bathroom. There is no one in the house and I haven’t showered since I slept on the east coast. America clings to me like aftershave and sweet sweat on a T-shirt. I don’t want to be alone with it any longer.
In the bathroom I stare back at a strange naked woman. She is dark: the scorched earth of her skin sits stark against pale lines of intimacy at the top of her thighs, the scoop of her chest. Her hair is bronzed, strung with veins polished a perfect gold. Her nails make crescents. There is a scar on her right shoulder where the skin is taught and pink.
I touch the scar, gently. Once upon a time a girl rode her bike across a sunny campus and saw a friend. She threw up her hands to greet him, both hands, with the rucksack on her back, because she had forgotten what it was like to try something new and fail. On the ground, wheels still spinning and her shoulder chewed up by hot tarmac, she couldn’t stop laughing.
I don’t know where I have gone. The scar is mine, the girl with her hands to the sky is me. But the creature in the mirror is alien here, in this dark small room in this dark small place. She is meant for wide freeways and blue skies: you can feed her only sunshine and sea air.
Don’t you know that she survives on that feeling, each night as she falls asleep, that tomorrow holds a handful of Something New?
I trace the slash where California meets England on my chest. Adrienne Rich talks about the place which inhabits us. Here it is, marked on me: its own sun has softly branded my body as I ran across the contours of its earth. You lay down under redwoods, it promises me now – you swam in my ocean, you slept in my desert, you stood atop the world that morning with everything you needed to be happy.
I run my finger along the line, draw my nail across the place it pales. Perhaps it never touched me there. California, in its stark brashness, couldn’t have taken all of me, the truest and most tender parts? It is stupid to think so. I gave them willingly. That is why I feel this way now, why I can feel the residue of that place living on inside me, knocking against my ribcage, tightening my throat.
I have returned to myself and found myself gone. Now I inhabit a body that is foreign in its homeland, marked for another. A shower will not rid me of this. I cannot scrub America from my skin and reveal an older version of this body underneath. I am someone new, now – neither the person I was when I stood here last, nor the person I was three days ago, on the edge of another country. I am foreign to myself, entirely foreign. I belong nowhere. I am going to have to find my story again.