It Will Follow You Home
You describe Abigail’s death to a Middle Eastern mental health counselor. This is your fourth visit to the university’s Center for Psychological Services. She is your third therapist. You had never seen her wandering through the corridors before.
Then again, why should you have seen her?
You are an individual who drops in for a bi-annual check-in after a depressive episode, tells your story to a different counselor, and never returns the center’s calls for the next appointment. The only difference between then and now is that before, you were an M.F.A. candidate struggling with a poetry thesis, and now, you are a lecturer of Composition and Rhetoric, struggling with a poetry collection.
“They’re too white. The therapists in this town are too white for me,” you tell everyone. Your officemate. Your thesis director. Omar. Jeffery.
You also told this to Abigail. You were both sitting on her porch. She was helping you with your teaching portfolio. She had brought a cigarette to her lips and reflected. You allowed the smoke from her cigarette to consume you and your view of the Lutheran church from her porch. She emitted a low chuckle.
You were both haunted.
Two months later, in November, you are to attend her memorial in the same oddly shaped, red-brick church.
You do not like the sofa in the Middle Eastern counselor’s office. It makes a lot of noise when you move. And you move a lot. You try to sit still so she does not track your level of discomfort and anxiety by how many times you shift in the couch.
Behind her, evening expands rapidly in the purple feathered sky. Fall in Morgantown, West Virginia, is a passionate time. You see the bright reds and burnt oranges from the window. The daylight escapes sooner. It gets dark earlier. And you hate that.
It terrifies you.
You look at the therapist’s cluttered desk. A small crystal swan figurine on the corner of the table catches your eye. One of its wings is missing.
The therapist’s brown fingers move swiftly on the notepad as you continue talking, and she continues to listen. You talk about your mother. About your brother in Cleveland. About your incomplete poetry collection. About your breakup with a good man weeks ago. About your habit of lingering in bad relationships.
You look down at your brown hands. They are dry. You look over at the therapist’s desk and shelves for moisturizer. Morgantown has made your skin dry. You always carry a small bottle of moisturizer, a travel-size Aveeno. You wake up in the middle of the night to apply and re-apply moisturizer on your feet and hands. It is a ritual reserved only for America.
You keep looking down at your brown hands. They look old when they are dry.
When you were twelve, your grandmother made a paste of gram flour, lemon juice, and turmeric in a bowl. She applied it all over your face, neck, and hands. The remedy was said to make you fair and rosy, like your mother and sister. It never worked.
The therapist says she will call you back. You leave her office.
There is reassurance in her voice.
In the car you tell your friend Jeffery that you feel the same gravitational pull with the Middle Eastern therapist that your Arab and Indian students feel towards you as a teacher. You call this pull, “the connection of the brown skin.”
“The brown students seek me out.”
Jeffery does not think you should speak of skin color so much. You tell him you never did before coming here.
His new therapist is a white man who teaches him activities to help him to love himself. Your therapist gave you no such activity.
Jeffery tells you that, like other things in life, therapy is also a journey.
It is a wild flight.
Lahore, Pakistan, is a delicious city. A mottled mess of vanishing history and new regimes. Lahore becomes ominous when you are in Morgantown. Lahore becomes a quiet mirage, an odd spectacle hung in time that only moves how you want it to move. It only moves when you want it to move. It does not speak to you or wail for you, yet you write only about Lahore. You preserve it in your poetry. You suppress it in a verse. You capture it in the refrain of a poem: its beating heart, its howls and cries, its chuckle. Yes, Lahore chuckles. The colonial drawing room in your mother’s house. The pale light that slithered through the bedroom curtains. The moth your father captured in his palm when you were a child. And then he kissed the brown wings to show you that the moth was a friend. The goodness of the gardener who gave you jasmine flowers every evening. The ceramic bowl with tulips on it where you placed the flowers. The horrid monsoon rains that killed the houseboy. How long can a stanza sustain the scuffling of a city?
“It’s called being in love,” your brother replies when you send him a text. “You do not like everything about the lover, yet you never really leave them. You keep returning one way or the other.”
Your brother wants you to stay in America. Find work in New York. Boston. D.C. Virginia. Big places. Get out of Morgantown. Stay away from Lahore.
You are unable to do either.
“Nothing ever happens in these places,” he texts. “You will never meet anyone.”
He knows you linger in bad relationships.
“America does not need foreign teachers who teach English Composition,” you text him. “Teachers who come with a burden of visa and visa fee.”
He does not reply. Doctors sleep early.
Whenever your mother calls you from Lahore, she speaks of your returning. She tells you that you have left a clamoring city for a frozen town. You left a house with servants for a small apartment with dead succulents. Days go by. No one visits you. You pass Thanksgiving Break and the summer holidays by yourself.
You tell your mother the story of Joyce Carol Vincent. A woman who died in her London apartment while watching television and packing gifts during the Christmas season. The housing officials discovered her body after two years. She was a skeleton. The television was still flickering on. No one noticed her vanishing.
Your mother does not like such stories. Omar had said the same thing when you told him Joyce’s story. He took the spare apartment key from you. He said he would find your body the next day.
You won’t be a skeleton.
And it won’t be after two years.
You tell your mother that you are not mad at Lahore. If Lahore disappoints, Morgantown disappoints you too. If Lahore makes your hair f