That strange and bleary-eyed man sitting at the desk, Imran, who has watched you grow from infant to 21 years old, gives you a bear hug and sprays laughter into your neck as he shifts an arm around your shoulder to guide you behind the front desk for the key. While he’s fumbling through a drawer you can’t help but remember when you were really young and he would buzz your apartment for visitors and say “Mr. Man coming up,” or the even more enigmatic, “Mr. Woman coming up,” and you can’t help but marvel at the vividness of your half-pint self struggling to reach the gray button on the intercom, and you realize you can’t even think of home without Imran and others who haven’t moved or quit or even aged, as far as you know, who have stayed, watchful and sedentary in your lobby while you changed and lilted in and out of their lives, although you’ve been slowly gestating the notion since you walked through the doors of your building that they’ve remained real people with real worlds outside of you when you see them, outside of the muted brown walls and polished wood floors. The smell of the elevator reminds you that the same thing is true about your mom and dad and your sisters and everyone else in the world you know.
It’s much less ceremonious upstairs, where the apartment is dark and nobody has stayed up waiting patiently until 3:30am to see you, which is reasonable but still deflating, where your bags already feel like wanton clutter in one of your sisters’ old rooms because your dad has decided to store his old vinyls and dozens of bulging manila file-folders in what used to be your room, on your bed, on your desk, on your defunct aquarium, as if it were all a totally reasonable thing to do while his son was away at college and while his two daughters are out of the house for good, financially independent, fucking strange older men in an ill-fated effort to preen away the same type of deliberate and ostentatious neglect that runs like a gossamer trip-line through the dust-caked crap in your room, something that you can’t quite remember seeing when everyone was young and living together, when you all went to Disney World and he waited with you while the rest of the family did a ride you were too short to go on. But the same callousness must have been there because how could he all-of-a-sudden become so distant and only seem to take interest in your life and aspirations when he wants to contort them into whatever balloon-animal gives him the most satisfaction, sometimes lawyer, sometimes computer programmer, all bland, red stick-figures to you.
Your mind somehow still retains those National Geographic specials from when you were a kid, in the face of your Classics major and aversion to objectivity. Maybe they’re the reason why you had to get the vegetarian meal on the plane, why you can only think of how much you feel like a starfish turning its stomach inside out. But it could just be some sort of preemptive martyrdom in your intestines because the bathroom is the only means to inviolable privacy in your apartment and in its hallowed linoleum sanctum you’ll be able to languish in your solitary thoughts and prayers, if you can still distinguish between the two, experience the spiritual rush of toilet-paper with more than one-ply and a room with a working lock that you don’t share with your roommate.
You flip on the track lights in the kitchen and you smile at your favorite Etch-A-Sketch magnet still stuck to the fridge, and then down the hall your grandma materializes in a distant and glary picture on the mantle wearing her saintly Sunday best, reminding you of what she sent three weeks ago, before she slipped on black ice and dislocated her knee, in her monthly gift-envelope filled with five singles and a meticulous collage of press clippings, which, when you crane your head back a little and ignore the precise and expert scrap-book flourishes, looks like a paranoid-schizophrenic’s dream journal. She’s always the one to remind you that toddlers are being abducted by strange hooded men in the suburbs, that a Mc- Donald’s in Queens served a fried human digit in their McNuggets, or that probiotic cultures can cure any digestive illness from diarrhea all the way to stomach cancer, which seems most relevant right now.
You open the fridge for your stomach and for your grandma, both of whom are probably lost causes, and it unleashes the same smell of teriyaki and camembert as four months ago. Of course the only kind of yogurt in sight is half-eaten and plain, so you ask yourself who the fuck enjoys half a fat-free plain yogurt and saves it, no less, but you know it’s your mom and then wonder whether the next time you try to talk to her about your classes or your future she’ll look up from her laptop to utter something more substantive than a referral to one of your sisters, who will probably take three weeks to respond to an email or a Facebook inbox. But they’re busy with real life, and they don’t have vacations where they can come home again and do nothing, so their apologies are the best you can get and maybe all you need, though you can’t help remembering when they were in high school and you tried to insist that fifth grade was just as hard and they’d laugh and kiss you on the head.
You feel like you should already notice home’s restorative powers taking effect, the onset of your convalescence, a word that sounds like Austen or Forrester, like horse breeding and croquet and other things you like to imagine your waspy friends do over vacation. You’re unsure if it’s the past or the plane food or the prospect of the impending weeks that’s responsible for what sounds like a cat drowning in your stomach right now. It might not be all that bad if you were stuck in a state of endless rehabilitation, though. You read somewhere that they’re beginning to research Molly as treatment for PTSD, which somehow you caught like a cold during finals or on the security line in the airport. But in the back of your mind you know you’re sulking about a few less-than-perfect grades like a goddamn asshole, and then you’re feeling guilty for checking your ambitions, which your dad insists is unheard of in this family, and then you feel guilty for feeling guilty and for putting so much stake in the rickety judgment of authority figures, etc. etc., until you have to shake your head to clear the Etch-A-Sketch that’s shelved in there, the one that doesn’t even compare to the one of the fridge you used to tweak for hours at a time, maybe because as of late your mental version hasn’t seemed to stop drawing dicks and self-deprecations until you take a drink or smoke a bowl or jerk off.
You feel that way even now that you’re home and should be at ease, should be able to relish the beautiful and faded outlines of the memories you can just barely discern, should be able to eat some goddamn fruit-at-the- bottom 2% yogurt, because the stuff in your mouth is either inherently gross or already spoiled and your mom left it there regardless and vengeful, whether those grainy shadows and streaks of gray powder sealed within that trademark red border ever really picture anything worthwhile, whether you should look closer to maybe make out a glimpse of the traces what of used to be there, or whether it’ll be better to just close your eyes and keep on shaking until the slate is totally and utterly blank.