A year ago, we moved into a new apartment in Astoria. It was winter and a fresh blanket of snow covered the sidewalks; I had just returned from London and was also new to the neighborhood. I remembered the feelings of moving to a new place: I have traveled and lived in different places for much of my life. The smell is something you learn to get used to, like a new car when it has that particular smell the first month. But the scent of uncertainty--for me as a traveling immigrant, it is something completely different. It is a kind of thing that is both frightening and exciting. You know that once again you are in an unfamiliar land, facing the familiar fears of uncertainty, of never belonging anywhere, of loneliness not only as a stranger, but as a migrant, as a writer.
When I was 10, my mother and I lived in Brussels for three cold months. There was that smell then too, but one less striking, less harsh. I was a kid then, and the sadness I carry with me now was not as present. I liked the new place. It was my first time out of Tehran, and the European lifestyle intrigued me. The way people casually carried themselves, the way couples kissed in public and everyone just seemed easier at ease. It was the first time I went to the circus, and the first time I tasted MacDonalds. The first time I saw a church and heard a language different than Farsi. It was then that I realized the world was bigger than I knew. It was then that I knew I would be traveling more. It was then that I realized I too could be a stranger, and out of my comfort zone as a 10 year-old. Then, I was okay with impermanence. I had no fears of leaving Iran, and the trip to Europe to this day is my favorite memory of being a traveling child.
There is with leaving, an emptiness. First, it is the physical like a room that becomes bare after you take out the furniture, the décor, the things that made it yours. Then, it is the emptiness you feel inside as you say goodbye to people, to objects you’ve become attached you, to a bird that kept you company. There is too, the notion that this won’t be the last time you feel and smell emptiness, there is that bitter realization that leaving is a permanent part of life, and that it gets harder as you become more attached, and as your feelings mature with age. There is the fear of not knowing how to cope with this now really strong emptiness. When you are eight, it is not so bad, for you are still less affected by reality. It is only hard that your father has left, and you are not sure how to cope with his leaving. But as a 23 year-old who has now experienced many goodbyes, and many leavings, the pain somehow has accumulated to be something like a monster, a heavy, atrocious apprehension.
The smell of leaving, that faint aftermath of your friend’s soft cologne that you forever remember as her smell, the smell of the hallway you spent a year walking its stairs, the smell of air right when you walk out the door and the wind hits your face, the smell of that first winter, and the last with which you leave, these smells are what become you, what become memories.