“Why do you always get sick when you come home?” An old friend whom I had arranged to meet a few days ago asked.
I hadn’t realized the pattern until he said it. My times at home are now parentheses scything off moments between stressful semesters or vacations. Home and family have their own obligations too and sometimes the weaving of all these realms suffocates me to the point that I just have to watch six episodes of Flip That House! in a row. My body catches up with my schedule here, and home becomes a junkyard for both my material possessions and physical malfunctions. I had already canceled on Justin twice before to recuperate; TiVo and green tea seemed to be the natural remedy for a speedy recovery.
Wichita always makes for a bizarre platform on which to depart, especially for the other side of the world. Growing up here was directed towards escape. I told myself engaging possibilities were elsewhere. Success meant leaving the 316. When my family first moved here, our neighborhood included one subdivision, a 7-11 gas station, a gymnastic center, and miles of countryside. Now, with urban sprawl, one can subsist entirely within a five-mile radius of my house.
Every time I return, even just to visit, I still have a small fear that I won’t ever leave again. The months away seem to erase entirely in lifestyle and memory. I miss my friends and my autonomy, but I regress too easily into my slippered shuffling through the house and eating food in as many pounds as hours I nap. So, I am not entirely surprised that whatever energy that kept me operating at bizarre levels of productively and sleep for the past four months has deflated into complete lassitude over the course of a few hours. I feel fossilized in the amber cast of my house with little motivation to go anywhere. I find forward projection difficult. After a few cloistered days, I wonder, is my default human setting really compulsively eating pudding cups while watching re-runs of America’s Next Top Model? Compared to the 8 am bus rides and ten-minute lunches during the school year, I can’t decide which mode is the bigger façade.
This time, however, planning for departure truncates relaxation. My preparations find an appropriate analog in the Game of Perfection in every sense of the reference. I am scrambling in these last days to find all the finest pieces for my trip: strongest antacids and padlocks, most effective rain cover for my huge backpack, highest-resolution webcam, etc. I do this all the while knowing that none of it exactly matters. As soon as my Keen-clad feet hit the cracked pavements of Delhi, I imagine all of my best-laid plans will come popping up with culture shock and potential scams and beggars and the torrential rains and everything else I know of but cannot begin to internalize.
I am committing mistakes already, the first occurring when I bit into my malaria pills. They looked a lot like a Tylenol tablet, and I failed to swallow them upon first try, so I thought maybe they were chew-friendly and the white color could indicate a “vanilla” flavor. I may as well have poured an entire jar of margarita salt down my throat. Only fifteen more to go.
My search for appropriate clothing repulsed just as well. I need lighter, less restricting t-shirts and blouses than I currently own to combat the inevitable waves of heat and Eve-teasing. Right now, about 0.0005 % of my wardrobe fits this criteria, with my pajamas comprising 0.00025%. The hunt did not lead me far. Near my neighborhood, a Super Walmart sits shoulder to shoulder with a SuperTarget, which is across the street from a Dillons Superstore, which salutes a soon-to-be Jumbo Best Buy. By fitting such huge spaces into such limited geography, the city planners complicate my decision. For multifaceted errands I usually settle for Target, because it abuts an open field that somehow hasn’t been developed into a neighborhood with a throwback name to the pastoral scene its sewer system now roots through. Also, the Starbucks next to the “Fresh Produce” is a big win.
After meandering around the hygiene section for some time, I found my way to women’s clothing. Basic tees: $7. Bullseye.
I grabbed one in every color, and then I came across a flowery, more detailed and embroidered blue top. Thinking it perfect for my needs, I pulled out the tag to find the right size. Small, okay. But I didn’t even get to the price. In slightly larger print: Made in India.
My hand recoiled, and I wasn’t sure why. I owned plenty of products made in India. Shirts. Shoes. Probably some bits of the computer on which I am typing this. But the current convenience in buying a shirt in a chain store with the intention to diminish the future inconveniences of the home country of someone who, probably in derisory conditions, made the shirt was a gross juxtaposition. I was sick, indeed.
The moment electrified me into recognition. My encounters in superstores and street market stalls will supplant what I buy in them. I know my life is about to change with dramatic moments and sweeping actions, but also in the tiniest of observations. How can I even begin to prepare?
Well, I am still taking Pepto-Bismol, just in case.