When you’re looking for the memories, they’ll turn up everywhere. They’re little reminders of your other life: your family, your home, the good times you had, and the bad ones. Familiar faces, familiar mountains, familiar voices, familiar songs. They come when you least expect them; you’re walking down the street on the side with the most sun, taking care not to stumble off the disappearing sidewalk, when all of a sudden you hear bells, bells, just like the ones you heard all your life, growing up. But these aren’t bells from the stone church across from the post office; these bells come from an unknown place, and so although you want to stop and strain to listen, you must tell yourself to keep going, those aren’t the bells you wish they were, they’re just an echo.
And even if you aren’t looking for the memories, they’ll find you. They always do. The radios play Christmas songs here, sometimes the same exact versions you learned growing up, but you cannot let yourself daydream about that upcoming holiday, and who you’ll eat with and what you’ll wear and which gifts you’ve bought, because those things don’t really matter for you now. You can’t stop and let yourself remember Christmases in the Albany house, when everyone came to be under the same roof, and your grandmother put you in your father’s childhood bed. On those nights no one got any sleep, really, and when you went downstairs in the morning a sheet would be pinned over the doorway, and your brother would peep beneath it to get the first glimpse of the Christmas tree. No, you can’t indulge in memories like that, memories triggered by some carol playing on the kitchen radio, because without anyone to share them with, those memories will suck you dry. They’ll leave you feeling empty even when you know you should feel full, heavy with exhilaration, breathless for what Christmas in this country might hold. And so you’ve got to shake the memories off and walk away.
But, try as you might, the memories will always be everywhere, even if you forget for a while to look. I promise you this will be true. Like I said, they seek you out. Look at that man’s hands as he counts your change at the grocery store. Those are your brother’s hands. And when, in the middle of the night, you wake and step outside and see that the full moon is pouring its light over everything, blotting out the stars, you will wish your father could see how bright it gets here, because he was the one who always made you come look at the beautiful things in the sky when you were just a little girl. And while you’re walking back from the market, you will notice a man, that one, there, who is leaning against the wall looking in at the Sunday wedding on Avenida 13. Do you see his eyes? He has your grandfather’s eyes. And do you smell that, as we walk past the bread-shop? That’s the smell of your grandmother’s kitchen in winter. You see faces you think you know, but they are really the faces of strangers. You taste food that you’re certain your friend has prepared, except she is thousands of miles away. And there’s your mother’s voice, which you hear everywhere.
The memories will come to you most often when you are asleep. During the day, walking around, eating lunch or sitting with your teacher, you might forget that the memories live everywhere: in the little nooks in the walls, in the spaces between buildings, in the trees and in the stained glass windows you pass each day. But at night you must surrender, or you’ll never get any sleep. You’ll dream of being home, because that is impossible. You’ll dream of cups of coffee at your mother’s table, snow in the woods behind your home, the curve of your lover’s back. You’ll wake to the sound of the neighbor’s cat—gato feo, everyone calls her—and you will think, from the sound of her yeowling, that she is your own, and that this is your apartment, and that in a few minutes you will open your eyes and have the soft weight of her on your bed with you. But, soon enough, you will realize where you actually are, and you will find that for several long and lonely moments you just can't push down that ache that has formed in your heart. It comes from a sadness, a distance that’s measured in more than just miles, because all you’ve got are these walls of memories, everywhere.