toronto letters #1: unpacking

things seem duller when they are far away. i don’t like to speak in clichés, but things in the rearview mirror always appear both closer and further away than they really are. this is how i feel these days, trapped between vivid memories — the texture of crispy herbs and crumbly cheese in fresh lavash — and the distance. i watch yerevan pulse from afar now: i want my heart to beat to the same rhythm like it did before but i don’t live there anymore and when i try to talk about it to pull it closer to myself people’s eyes glaze over. maybe i’ll never feel that again. 

it feels a little bit like a phantom limb now. i folded it up into a little piece of parchment and ate it and now it is somewhere lodged between my organs. the ink is fading. if it ever comes out i won’t be able to read it anymore. sometimes i still try to thank shop-owners in armenian. sometimes i wake up sluggishly in the middle of the night and wonder which, between my life here and my life there, was the fever dream: they can’t both be real. the difference is too stark, i am too small, and it is 2am. 

there was a revolution this time last year. i don’t say i was a part of it, even though i was there: it doesn’t belong to me. still, i’m proud, and i count my “where were you when” moments. i was in my kitchen during the curfew on april 22nd last year, and our outside cats were meowing, and i was alphabetizing my spice rack and drinking vodka from a teacup. i was in the streets on april 23rd last year. it was the type of heat out that day that you only notice when you get home and your skin feels tired. the stores ran out of the kinds of bottles that pop when you open them that day — they were all being opened and sprayed onto the sidewalks, into cups, into mouths. the skies were bright and blue and everything shone golden that day, as though the sun itself were celebrating our victory. in october when the previous government tried to keep the parliament i abandoned my kitchen, half-cooked pasta and all, to join the crowds. 

i lied before: i do say that i was a part of it, even though it does not belong to me, but that is only because it feels like if i do not have that then i have nothing. i ran into a co-worker at a bar on the night we won and she told me: “we are so happy you are here.” one time i walked into a store in georgia and they greeted me in armenian (barev dzez!), and for way of explanation they said: “we see that you have an armenian soul.” i’m not sure what that means and they likely just liked to greet people that way, but it made me feel bright, light on my feet, so i am keeping it for myself. i’m keeping a lot of things for myself: i packed them to share whenever i went “back” to wherever i went next, but they don’t fit me right and i struggle to offer them up without tripping over my own feet.

leaving has never felt so much like cowardice. i am asked a lot of questions that i should expect, but they always catch me off guard. someone at a party asked me what i missed while i was away and the best i could do was blink and raise an eyebrow. or when people ask if i’m back “for good.” i’d like to say: i have neighbourhood cats there. but that’s not a very good answer. maybe the strangest is when someone asks generally about my time abroad. i want to say: i wasn’t abroad then, i’m abroad now. but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone except me. i’d like to say something poetic and full and hearty like a pomegranate. instead i say “beautiful,” and it falls flat, and i wish i had said both more and less about the matter. 

then there are questions i ask myself, too, like: couldn’t you have stayed? or: shouldn’t you be over it by now? shouldn’t you let it be over? aren’t you happy? aren’t you home? the morning i boarded my flight from toronto, i wrote that i was leaving to watch myself come back. didn’t i get exactly what i asked for?

i think it’s mulberry season there. i thought of that the other day while i was looking out the window to a foggy, damp day. i never ate breakfast during tut season because i would pick it off the trees on my way to work. the sweet ones are the ones that practically fall off the stem when you touch them; it took me some time to identify them but i learned. tut means it will soon be the season for the rest of the things: for the herbs, for the tomatoes, for the cucumbers, for all the summer things. the summer storms are coming up too: i used to see them from my balcony, majestically rolling in over the hrazdan gorge. i was going to sit on my balcony for long enough to understand the birds and how they plunged up and down the steep hills leading to the river, but i am not there anymore, so this storm season they will plunge anyways but i will not be there to watch. one day when i got caught in a storm a man came up to me speaking armenian, asking if i wanted coffee and refuge; i didn’t speak armenian; he found his boss to come ask me if i wanted coffee and refuge. i sat in their workshop for two hours, drinking coffee and warming myself by a makeshift stove. 

the seasons are bleaker here, or so it seems to me. the change doesn’t captivate me as much. i don’t smell the smells so much anymore. i knew fall had arrived when my hair always smelled like fire from the piles of leaves people burnt but here it only smells like shampoo. drab days here are drab without the silver light that brings out the pink stone yerevan is carved out of. it’s a year now since my first tut season. it’ll be a year soon since my first ghapama season, and then after that it’ll be a year since i didn’t go back for christmas. i don’t know what to do with that knowledge besides sit on it, but it resurfaces regularly, and it elicits pangs of a mixture of homesickness and guilt. this feels much more final than it needs to be: my close friends tell me i can always go back and they’re right, and i don’t know how to explain to them or to myself that i don’t want to go back now, i want to have never left. it has been four months and i am still holding this feeling between my hands as though it would get tarnished if i put it down.

i have no sweet note to leave on today. only an empty space where the tut used to be.