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Dear Exile: The Story of a Friendship Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean (Vintage Departures)by Hilary Liftin
Kwale, May 31
This business of having to write letters to keep up friendships definitely separates the wheat from the chaff. You are the wheat. (That would be the good part?)
Our new neighbor, Mwanamisi, came over last night to show me how to make coconut rice, wali wa nazi. Kate, you say, but you already know how to make coconut rice! Yes, I say, but I don't know how to make friends. So David and I were rushing around trying to make reality match what we had probably said in Kiswahili. (I think we said we'd 'already' cleaned the rice and we 'were doing' laundry.) Mwanamisi arrived midway through the coconut-milk-making process and was chatting with us about how to cook it really well, soft and sweet. As far as I could tell, she was complimenting me on what I had done so far, except there was one little part that I didn't catch, and her tone was less spunky, so I figured I probably didn't put enough salt in or something. But, all in all, I was pretty excited at not being totally incompetent at cooking.
Later, I checked on that verb to figure out what I'd done wrong. Here's what my dictionary said about it. (I mean, I just "haribu"-ed it--how bad could it be, right?) "kuharibu: v. injure, destroy, spoil, damage, ruin, demoralize, spoil work, break up an expedition, devastate a country, cause miscarriage, pervert, corrupt." That's what I did to the rice. Good thing we like potatoes, eh?
New York City, December 19th
I have obeyed my rules and leapt empty-handed into the void. Much as I try to explain to myself that I am in transition and that everything will turn out fine, I'm hardly the happy camper we remember. I'm living at my dad's now. My eyelid has had a twitch ever since I moved in here. It's a delicate fluttering twitch that others don't seem to see, but to me it feels like there's a bird in my head beating itself against the window of my eye. So right now I hardly recognize myself. I wake up in a strange apartment. I hide away my bed and all signs of me.
I commute out of the city--away from all my friends and the places I know--to work at a sterile office at an ill-defined new job in a big, generic office building on a highway in Westchester. I'm just waiting: waiting to accumulate a foundation of knowledge that will get me the right job; waiting to get my own apartment so I can make noise and be a person; waiting to hail a cab and smile at the person getting out and see that stranger again and again.
Most of all right now, I can't wait to live alone. The finances of buying an apartment are impossible, but I'm willing to make adjustments. No long distance service, for example, no food on weekdays, drugstore makeup, factory-second panty hose, found art. I can't wait to acquire "homeowner's insurance." I want to have my stereo going when I fall asleep. I want all the messages to be for me. I want to bring home strangers and store their body parts in my freezer. I want to polyurethane floors and leave the toilet seat up (Oh wait, I'm a girl.) and throw away all the plastic grocery bags, which wouldn't even accumulate anyway since I don't shop. I want the shower to be a hundred percent available. I want to have parties and not clean up.
Oh, and how much do I miss you? Let me count the ways: I miss you like the plague; I miss you because you understand everything I say and because for all I know when I say I see blue everyone else might see green but I'm pretty sure you see blue; I miss you because when you get back you're going to be really different and dirty; I miss you because you are not coming to my Christmas party; I miss you because you are speaking Kiswahili
and I can't and I'm afraid you'll never come home; I miss you as often as I check my voice mail (which is like every minute); I miss you because I don't trust anyone else's sanity (except maybe my brother's); I miss you more than I miss all my stored belongings and with a force that is just a tiny bit less than my desire to find a lifetime companion; I miss you because the park is covered in snow and I haven't been there yet; I miss you because I think you love me unconditionally and I definitely do you. This turned into a love letter, is that so wrong?
Goodbye my dirty friend, goodbye,
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