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Reading The Map


When I woke up in the North Carolina humidity, the only thing more confused than my brain was, of course, my body. The cool shadows of the afternoon did nothing to stop the fact that I was sticking to the sheets, or that I was suffering from severe jet lag as I had just flown back to the States for a week to visit friends. It was two in the morning for me and my friend had just shaken me awake and murmured something about dinner. I placed my unsteady feet on the floor and made my way into the next room in hopes of getting my bearings a bit better. There, on the wall, was a map of the world and my eye flicked straight to where I had just come from: London, UK.

In that second I knew something in my life had changed.

Ever since I could remember, whenever I saw a map my mind would automatically look for Chicago, Illinois. This was where I spent the first twenty some odd years of my life calling ‘home.’ This could very well be attributed to the fact that Chicago has Lake Michigan acting as a large blue finger pointing to it for the rest of the world to notice. When I had completed college, spending all four years in the state of North Carolina, my eye would still jump to Chicago every time I looked at a map. I simply assumed, like so many other habits acquired in childhood, seeing Chicago first would be something I always did.

I stared at my friend’s map for quite some time attempting to almost drag my focus back to where it normally settles. Focusing my gaze there just felt uncomfortable and like a magnet I kept being drug across the ocean back to London. I went to help my friends cook dinner.

“Hey, when you guys look at a map, where is the first place you look?”

“Russia,” one friend said without thinking.

“Chechnya” blurted out another.

“Medellin, Colombia,” spilled from a third.

All of these places, random as they seem on paper, were not just places they had been to. Over the past seven years I had known them to go everywhere for months at a time as all three of them were desirous to pursue human aide as their professions. Rather, the specific places they mentioned were the areas they determined as where they wanted to serve for the rest of their lives. Here was where they had written me letters saying that they had fallen in love with the people who occupied the area. Here were the places that, when mentioned on the news, caused their hearts to skip a beat and then cry out in anguish. The places they named without stopping for a moment to think, were where they hoped to raise their families, live their lives, and invest in their professions…because they already knew that place would be home.

It was then it dawned on me for the first time, that England had somehow become my home.

I went back to the cool dark room which held the map after supper to rummage through my bags and find some toiletries. My eyes kept floating back up and finding the outline of England. I tried to think of possible explanations for this phenomenon but could find none. I hadn’t spent the last years looking at maps trying to figure out where I was as I did growing up. Outside of coming to America, I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a world map. I had spent the same amount of time away at university as I had in the UK and my eyes never searched for North Carolina. There was no habit I could think of to justify the new reflex.

By weeks end I was still searching out England before anything else. My best friend took me to the airport and although I was sorry to leave her, I couldn’t help but talk about the plans I had for the upcoming weekend in London. I didn’t want to stay with her, I wanted my friend to come with me. The flight attendant came to help me board the plane as I gave my friend a last hug. Although I looked back after being taken from her, I smiled, thinking about all the people and wonderful things that were waiting for me when I got off the plane. These details were what made the little island mine.

“Are you heading home now,” the flight attendant asked me while supporting my arm and helping me walk to my seat.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I am.”

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