When I came out of the bathroom, I saw it there, tangled and delicate, next to the pillow, the sheets that had stayed miraculously white during my 2-day readjustment sickness. It wasn’t my favorite necklace, an innocuous dangle of silver that clung close to the skin. At some point over the years, it’d become my traveling necklace—I’d put it on one of the first days of a trip, then just leave it, forget about until I’d noticed myself absently fingering the chain, digging the tip of the winged heart under my nails.
I picked it up. The chain had broken.
I smiled. If this were a novel, it’d be a metaphor.
I arrived in Phnom Penh nearly a week ago—flew in, which I hadn’t done before, but even at the airport, that familiar smell of mildew and cooking rice, overripe fruit and a faint whiff of urine underlying it all. I took a taxi (when’s the next time I’ll be in a car?), and we rumbled over pitted roads exploded with smoking meat, food stalls, cell phone shops, baskets of fruit, motorbikes and bodies, bodies everywhere. It didn’t seem insane or lawless or overwhelming—it just felt really good.
I dumped my bags at the guesthouse—the first one I’d gone to, back in February, which made it feel like I was coming full circle—and went out for an early evening stroll. My feet knew the way, my feet remembered how to traverse the traffic, how to cross the street (slow and steady and smooth), my feet took me to the pharmacy and a corner market and a street stall where I sat on a plastic stool and ate soup for $1. I went down the block to the sticky rice stall; I bought bananas for the next morning. I bought a giant fucking coconut, and the little lady hacked it open with a machete and stuck a straw in it and I took my first sip and, after 4+ months of $3 Vita Coco, a long sigh was unleashed in me.
Which is all basically to say I’ve been experiencing an extreme and bizarre lack of culture shock. I had more culture shock entering Albania from Italy, or any time I’ve reentered the US after traveling. What is about this place? How did it come to feel like home, after only a couple months last Spring?
I’ve spent the last few days hitting up my favorite cafes and street stalls and going to meetings and jogging at Olympic Stadium and trolling the town for For Rent signs (and getting one of those requisite, paralyzing stomach flus that gives you chills in 90 degree weather, that leave you sleek and lean and mean after, ready to take over the town). And all the while, I’ve kind of been looking over my shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I’d expected my arrival back to be something like the final scene of The Graduate. All this effort and stress and energy and hullabaloo, goodbyes and good riddances, and then a month+ of traveling, cruising around the planet in the most unprepared and overpacked of fashions. I’d been kind of delaying it, you know, worried that I’d get back here and it’d be like that moment at the back of bus when Elaine looks over at Ben and he just stares forward and you see them both thinking—“Well now what the fuck?”
And I suppose there’s still time for that. Plenty of time, and I suppose there’ll be moments of that. But so far, all I’ve had is this feeling of being, not home, but somewhere close to home. I’d been doubting myself right up to the very end, right up till my Air Asia plane hit the tarmac. But more than ever, I keep having this feeling that I’ve made the right decision, that I’m in the right place.
I’m here. Really here. I’m not traveling anymore—just look at the necklace.