So, the title of this post translates to “The uncanny return home”, but the wordplay only works in German, where both expressions are constructed around the word heim [home]. Anyway, let me explain what made this so uncanny.
After a reasonably uneventful flight back to Chicago, I got off the plane and waited for what felt like an hour before finally going through immigration and customs. In a fit of honesty, I declared that I was carrying wine, confit de canard (duck cooked and preserved in its own fat), and dry sausage. This meant that my luggage got opened up and taken apart by the Department of Agriculture people, who TOOK MY SAUSAGE!!!11! The wine and the duck were OK, apparently, but I wasn’t allowed to bring in the sausage. Well, I learned my lesson: next time, don’t declare anything. I have to go back to France for a few days in late September, so maybe I’ll bring back some raw-milk cheese, too, just to be a badass.
So two friends were waiting for me at the airport (bless their adorable souls), and after making a valiant attempt to say hi to another friend that was leaving for Britain the same day (and running into another set of people), we finally made it to the parking lot and headed out. We drove back to my old apartment—which is still my current apartment. Rather than give up my lease and put all of my furniture and such in storage like I did the last time I went to France—which was super stressful and rather expensive—I decided to put my apartment up for sublease and offer to sublet it furnished for no extra charge. I still put my clothes and books and valuables into a small storage space, but the furniture, kitchen stuff, linens, and hardware stayed. At the last minute before leaving for Europe about 14 months ago, I finally found a lovely Scottish lad that was willing to take my apartment for the full year. He was just moving into town and had nothing to his name but a backpack full of clothes, so the arrangement worked out perfectly.
Now, a bit more than a year later, I was heading back to my apartment, hoping to find my apartment in the same state that I had left it. What I found was far more than I had expected: everything was almost exactly where I had left it 14 months ago. The same bottles of soy sauce and oil that I had left in the pantry were still there, in the same places, the bottoms of the bottles beginning to fuse with the shelves. The bottle of minced ginger in the refrigerator was still there, along with the few jars of Peruvian hot pepper pastes I had left behind. The bags of rice were exactly the same ones I had been using, still half-empty. There was one lonely head of garlic, now completely dessicated.
There were only a few traces of the previous tenant to be found in the house. The bathroom mat—the same one I had left a year ago—had gone from white to mottled grey. The kitchen utensils that stood in a container next to the stove were all sticky with the residue of vaporized oil from a year’s worth of cooking…although I have no idea what he was cooking, considering the same dry goods were in the same places in my pantry. There was a half-empty leather wallet, forgotten on an empty bookshelf, filled with various membership cards and photos of him and his girlfriend, whose long black hairs were still lurking around the apartment. The kitchen’s leaky faucet had clearly sprung a leak one day, as the cabinet under the kitchen sink had taken some water damage and collapsed downward.
For the rest of the day, as we made trips to the storage unit to retrieve boxes and unpack them, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the apartment had remained empty and abandoned for the last 14 months. The most disturbing place for me was the kitchen, where traces of emptiness and activity were layered on top of each other. I obsessively re-washed all of the dishes in my cupboards and tried to scrub the oily residue off of all of my utensils, while trying not to look too long into my time-capsule pantry.