In the early hours of this morning, I sat on the floor listening to the sound of Waylon Jennings on a record player. My friends were asking me about Texas, and what it was like, and the windows of the living room framed the milky grey night that was not quite dark, the kind of night you start to get in this part of the world this time of year.
All of my friends at the gathering were born and raised in Sweden, but the records stacked next to the player were the soundtrack of my childhood, as curated by my parents, aunts, and uncles: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bruce Springsteen, more classic country than I could count. As I sat listening to music that reminded me of home, my first home, the place I was born and raised, I realized that this time here in Stockholm, from January until I leave in June to visit Texas, will be the longest I have spent in one country since I left America in 2012. That five and a half months out of four years would be the longest I had been in one place was a realization that dropped into my lap with a palpable weight.
In the punch drunk early morning wanderings of conversations and music and bookshelf exploration I felt a jumbled, heady mix of all my other homes, Japan and Colorado and Albania and Laos and Sweden. There was a refracting multiplication, a shattering of walls and distance, and all crashed together to clamor for a place in the nostalgia that fell around me. All these other lives I know how and where to live, what they are like, the food I would be eating, the languages I would be speaking, the rhythms the days would have. If it wasn’t a record player in the living room in Stockholm it would be the garden of the hostel in Bangkok, or a sweat drenched backporch at a house party in Laos, or dancing on bars in Japan, or roaming the streets of Tirana with the gang. It would be long sunset rides on the bike path and sleeping under a clean spread of stars in a tent. The infinite number of possibilities of choice for where and how to live was dizzying.
I have been here in Sweden close enough to call it five months, which is damned near close to my consistent calculus of Country Comfort, which has always shown me that somewhere right under six months is the moment when things change in a new place. Suddenly, without my having quite realized when it happened, Stockholm became another city, in another country, where I know how to live. And live well. I can thrive here. But this means that Stockholm is also destined to be another city I leave. It will be another place where a parallel, potential me could have continued, but didn’t. It will be a ghost town of what ifs and unmade choices. It will forever be a place I will look back on, once I have left it, with nostalgia and longing and imagined futures that never came to be.
I never really thought about this when I started moving around. I knew, in an abstract way, that every choice cuts off every other choice. I know, philosophically, that we are all making thousands of choices every day that irrevocably change the course of our lives, from what we are doing to who we are meeting to where we are living. But it hasn’t been until I have immersed myself in these radically different places, and then left them, and left with the knowledge of exactly what I was giving up, that the enormity of that really sunk in. I can do anything, anything at all, anywhere I want. But I can’t do everything. This is the constraint. The whole world is before us, all of it, in excruciating detail, begging to be explored, and yet we have to select a small sliver, the tiniest corner, a fraction of a fraction, and immerse ourselves in that, to the exclusion of all the rest. Even if we live a nomadic life, we are only ever living that one life, that preciously pathetic little thread that weaves through the world, so fragile, and so short, but all we have to gather all of everything we are ever going to know, and love, and see, and have.
I am at peace, most of the time, with all of these other lives I have left running without me. But sometimes everything blurs and gets tangled, like in early morning milk grey nights, and the surreal convergence of something like Waylon Jennings and Stockholm is like seeing into a parallel universe. So I sat on the floor of and told stories about Texas to my Swedish friends, wondering about the people and places in the story, and wondering about what kind of stories I will be telling when I talk about Sweden in the future, once it has become part of my past. And then everything slid back into place, one frame, one clear line. I felt my cold feet on the wooden floor, and my hands clasped around my knees, and the crackling of the record player at my back. For now, right here, this is home.