Alienation

It’s 4:00 am. I’ve been awake since 2:00, thinking, and writing didn’t quite get everything off my chest.

It’s partly about the concept of “home.” I don’t have one, you see. Well, yes, I have the type that you live in, and a very nice one it is; I’m very happy in it. But I don’t have a home town, or even a home country.

This is baffling to Italians.

“Where are you from?” they ask.

“I’m American,” I answer, hoping against hope that this will be enough to close the topic.

It never is. For an Italian, you can’t simply be “from” a whole country, you have to have a paese, a hometown. “But which part of America?” they persist.

“Oh, I lived all over the world when I was young,” I say uncomfortably, “I’m not really from any particular place in America.”

“But where are you from?” they insist (“Ma tuo paese qual’é?”)

“Well, I was born in New Orleans.” That works; everyone’s heard of New Orleans, and the ones who haven’t been there already would like to go. Me, too. I left when I was two, visited once or twice after that, but the last time was about 25 years ago. So I don’t feel the right to claim any attachment to it.

No paese, and not much nationality, either. It’s that whole TCK thing – disguised as American, but really not one, so I have a hard time feeling comfortable in my supposed home country.

I was already thoroughly discombobulated by the time I got to Woodstock School, at age 14, so it’s no wonder that I fell in love with the place and sunk roots there, as far as I was able. This happens with many Woodstockers. Some of us were fleeing from messed-up homes, some came from places where their parents worked but couldn’t raise or educate children. Some went into boarding so young that they never really had a family life, except for a few months of vacation every year. Woodstock became their home, as it did mine; staff became surrogate parents (a role which many carried out with amazing grace and generosity), and our schoolmates were (and remain) our siblings and best friends. Many of us continue to feel that Woodstock is in some fundamental sense our home, or at least where we “come from,” for the rest of our lives. But we don’t usually try to explain that to new acquaintances; it’s just too complex a story to tell in a few sentences.

I wrote about how “during my senior year, I got interested in the community around us, Mussoorie and Landour.” This was part of a deliberate, though perhaps unconscious, campaign to make Mussoorie, as well as Woodstock, mine – just before I left it. This was unusual behavior for a Woodstocker. The majority of students in my day had no ties in the town beyond commercial ones; when I dreamed up the Mussoorie history project, my homeroom teacher Mrs. Kapadia was enthusiastic – so few students showed any interest in the town. Their explorations, if any, went in the other direction, out to the Garhwal Himalayas. I was an anti-hiker, so that avenue was closed to me, but I walked and walked – all over Mussoorie, and beyond. I had friends in town, and avidly pursued its history, as well as its current life at all levels.

I’m not saying I got very far into Mussoorie society, but at least I tried. So, by the time I graduated, I felt I had some rights to claim “ownership” of Mussoorie, as well as Woodstock, in a way I never could any other community in the world. I don’t claim that India is my home, nor even Mussoorie, but Woodstock is the one place in the world where I’m never a stranger. Perhaps my involvement in this history book is partly about ensuring that my visceral connection to Woodstock and Mussoorie continues, and that I continue to be remembered there.

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