Unpacking

I remember this blender, though I didn’t remember owning it. In another box I find my emergency medicine textbooks. Among my former desk contents, a box of staples and a rainbow plastic slinky. Enameled Japanese-style soup bowls come out of newspaper. Everything comes out of boxes.

Is this my life?

I’m finally back “home.” I finally have an apartment. I can now own more than I can fit into my backpack, and suddenly I have a great many jackets and an abundance of fresh memories. I unpack more books and try not to think of these objects as my life. My stuff is not me, I keep insisting. A friend of mine says he learned this very clearly when his house burned down. How marvelously zen. I can’t throw out my first girlfriend’s leftover lingerie.

Or my iPhone, which traps me. I’m secretly ashamed of it, not because of the geek lust I feel, but because of its semiotics. To the casual observer, it pegs me as exactly what I am. Is some part of me an iPhone?

Hence the Chinese grocer.

Not only is the produce cheaper, but I don’t recognize most of it. I stand in front of bushels of something leafy and green, and discover that I can’t even read the name. I like this. Behind me there are tentacled things on ice, and sea snails. I had an excellent plate of sea snails in back alley of Saigon, and some others steamed on a beach near Danang. Those two incidents are the extent of my associations.

Not so for my distant counterpart. Is there, I wonder, some Vietnamese kid who even now is returning home and going out with his friends? He grabs a plate of food, reveling in familiar tastes, and at the same time thinks: is this really me? This home cooking, is it my life?

Because he got home that afternoon and started pulling all his old familiars out of big nylon duffels. He finds his old clothes, and a familiar pair of shoes. Knickknacks. Some books. But what books? What knickknacks?

I have no idea, and this excites me tremendously.

Everyone gets my jokes here; everyone grew up on the same cartoons and more or less the same food. Qarly found fish balls in my fridge the other day and said, ewww. What? Everyone eats them in Korea. I think. I don’t really know. They have completely different stuff there. If I was there I’d have completely different stuff too. I’d read different books and watch different movies and my nightlife would run in different neon veins.

I might be someone else. Do I really want to keep unpacking?

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