I remember each of our trips home. They all are the same – driving by the same buildings on the same 3-hour ride from the airport; stopping at a gas station to get some water and hearing the familiar sound of my native tongue on the radio; falling asleep after my ears finally pop descending the mountain on the snaking road; getting to the large round-a-bout just outside of Brasov and waking up; recognizing the roads and knowing exactly which turn to make and where; arriving at my grandma's communist-era apartment building that I grew up in every summer; and seeing my grandma look out of the kitchen window with the light on and run downstairs to greet us as we park in our designated spot, #8. The trip home is always the same, and the consistency gives me peace, but my heart swells at the sights of my hometown as if I'm seeing them for the first time. Is spending 2 months there each year even enough to call it home? For me, it was.
I remember the first Christmas I spent in Romania. The snow was different from the frozen drizzle we'd get in Georgia, and I remember standing in awe as I watched the tree outside the kitchen window droop under the weight of the heavy white. 10 years old and I'd never experienced the snowfall from the books I'd purposely read as relief in the sweltering heat of Georgia summers. The roads that I recognized like the back of my hand were suddenly covered in a welcoming blanket of snow, and I ran outside joyously in my meager Georgia winter coat to make snow angels and play. I got a cold a couple of days later, but it was worth it. My mind mapped the new lay of the land and I felt at peace again. The snow melted a few days later.
I remember all the early mornings when I'd wake up to the sound of the TV playing in the small, old kitchen. My grandma would be drinking her coffee in the blue morning light and sitting at the small, rectangular table pushed to the wall on a rickety wooden stool – an early bird like me. The door would always creak open when I entered, and I'd always fear that I'd wake my parents, but for a couple of hours, it was just my grandma, the TV, and I, and the cool morning air that would come in when I opened the window. My grandma would tell me not to have it open for too long because I'd get a cold, but I'd pull the second stool from the table over to the window and relish in the fresh breeze and the quiet of the streets below me. My cousin would come every day for lunch, and my grandma and I would watch from the window as his car pulled in. When he'd come up, he'd sit on the stool at the window, talk to my mom and dad, and drink his Coca-Cola as my grandma prepared food, and I'd never want to leave the tiny, tiny kitchen that somehow always had enough room for all of us.
But most of all, I remember each of our trips back. I wish I could say that they are all the same, that they are all easy, but each one is harder than the last. Time is our story's villain, and I never know if I will be able to drive on the same roads again, scared that my annual sketch of their presence in my brain will fade away, scared that I won't get another chance to park in spot #8 in front of my grandma's building and look up to see the kitchen window open and the light on inside, scared that I won't be able to wake up to the sound of tree branches splitting in the cold or under the weight of snow, afraid that I won't be able to sit at the kitchen window and feel the soothing calm again, terrified that one day the radio will sound foreign to my ears and I'll forget what the TV playing in the kitchen sounded like in the mornings when my grandma and I would be the only ones awake. I don't remember a single trip back that we didn't make in the middle of the night, but I always felt that it was adequate. I'd take the window seat on the flight back to the U.S. and look outside, wondering if my grandma or my cousin were doing the same. In my head, I'd go over the roads I'd need to take to get home again, telling myself that I needed to know for next time. Instead of watching a movie, I'd replay each of our trips home and tell myself that the next time will be the same too.