I haven’t been to Knoxville in four years, and I don’t think last weekend’s drive through on I-40 counts as a visit.
Last time I was there was not just four years ago, but the weekend before I left for China. August, 2008. Just four months prior, I knew where I was headed: to France, for the assistant d’anglais program. From there? To a good graduate program, a tenured professorship coupled with a solid writing career. I was twenty-two years old, in my last year of college, taking the best class I’ve ever had with the best teacher I’ve ever had, with the best friends I’ve ever had, and all that good shit.
I’ve written two articles, one a column for the Daily Beacon, the other an article for Lost Laowai. The Lost Laowai article is a “sequel” to the Daily Beacon article, and it deals with how you change when you go abroad. When I wrote the Daily Beacon column, I had told people I was going for nine months. They asked. They asked, How long are you going to be over there?, and I had to answer them. My contract was for nine months, so that’s the answer I gave. Nine months.
Well, friends and neighbors, we all know the rest of the story, don’t we? As I was driving through Knoxville, old memories and feelings returned to me. I felt a sense of longing, for those old times, a life that has vanished.
You aren’t him anymore, that guy. Two and a half years in China, and it’s come true. What you said would happen in that initial column.
In some ways I’m still him. We like the same things, and we still like studying foreign languages. But on a larger level, it works; I’m not him anymore — I’m a better writer than him, more focused on what really matters. And though the times come when I miss the days I had to hunt change just to buy a coffee, those days when I had nothing in the fridge but some carrots and a few scraps of meat, you have to put aside the nostalgia. Look where you are now.
I do. I look where I am now, and you know what?
I like what I see.