A few nights ago, I heard the crickets for the first time this year. And this first time, just like every first time, stopped me in my tracks.
Let me take you back to August of 2009.
Georgia was hot, and it was sticky. My legs were covered with oozing sores from these things called ‘fire ants’, which I hoped were a myth; something my friend had made up to mess with me. But nope: fire ants were real, and they had absolutely ruined my legs. I already knew they were going to scar, and there were hundreds of bites. This was in addition to the something that must have been living in the rental car and making a meal of me, leaving bites on each inner knee so swollen that my legs rubbed together when I walked. The bite of the back of my left thigh was delightful. Swollen to the size of a golf ball, and just as hard, it radiated heat. Brown recluse, someone said. Probably not, someone else said, because you’d be dead if it was.
Great, so everything in this damn state is set out to kill me.
But the various insects that were trying to eat me alive were the least of my worries. I had to register for classes, what the actual fuck was that? Wasn’t it the school’s job to tell me where to be and when? What are pre-requisites? Why can’t I take this class? Just let me do my degree and get on with it. Then there was the cost of textbooks. Why the hell was I paying close to $200 for one book? I bet my friends in England weren’t paying that. Wait, the TEACHERS write the exams? Tests aren’t standardised? What the hell sort of education system is this? I hate this place. Everyone drives, everywhere; I almost got hit by a minivan on the way to Walmart. Walmart’s grocery section is laughable. Americans call minivans SUVs. They pronounce the ‘h’ in vehicle. They keep asking me where I’m from. They keep telling me, “just talk, just say something”, like I’m a fucking circus animal. Thank God I’m only taking one class where I have to speak in English. Not that it’s even the same English. No one warned me there would be a language barrier; that if I asked a friend to give me a lift to a garage to get some milk, they would stare at me blankly. They would tell me that garages don’t sell milk. I would say “yes they do, I bought some in Texaco the other day”, and they would laugh, and say that a guh-raaahj is where you go to get your car repaired, and I am talking about a gas station. Then they would tell me how adorable I am. I would be filled with rage, because for God’s sake, it’s not a damn ‘gas station’.
I carried that rage everywhere I went. It was there when I ate breakfast in the morning, and hated how sweet American bread can be. It was there someone made a comment about me drinking tea. It was there in class, when I heard Americanised French accents, and felt a twitching in my eye (sorry). It was there when I innocently asked someone for a ‘fag’ and became a laughing stock at the smoke shack. Ha ha ha. Do y’all Brits really call cigarettes ‘fags’? It was there every single time someone asked if Winchester is anywhere near London. And at night, I would lay down to sleep, and I would be aware that I was sleeping under sheets and a comforter, not a thick, puffy duvet.
And every night, there were the crickets.
They kept me awake. The first few nights I listened, fascinated, remembering all the holidays to Greece and Turkey. If I closed my eyes, it was like I was back in Halkidiki or Fethiye. I knew that I would get used to the chirping in a few days, just like I did every time I went on vacation. So I listened; and I waited.
But days and weeks went by, and I didn’t get used to the crickets. I couldn’t shut out the noise. Instead of making me think of vacations, they only served to remind me that this was one trip I would not be returning from in a week or two. I was stuck here for another eight months.
We all know what happened next. Gradually, I fell in love with someone I found in this state, and no one was more surprised than I was when I fell in love with the state itself, too. Georgia became the place where I faced my demons, picked myself up from my lowest, and found myself. Slowly, I didn’t even notice the crickets anymore.
Until they were gone. Laying in my bed the first night back in England, the silence was stifling. No roommate; no AC; no crickets. I missed the little bastards.
As time passed, and returning seemed more and more hopeless, I started to play cricket sounds on my laptop at night, thinking it would take me back. But it never did. I lay in my bed under a heavy duvet, longing for the weightlessness of a comforter and sheets.
April 1, 2011. That was the day of the visa interview. I was on US soil 10 days later. By then, the crickets were forgotten. The excitement of really coming home pushed them out of my mind.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I was taking out the trash, and stopped dead in my tracks. Chirrup. Chirrup. I broke down and I sobbed, because I had done it. I was really back here. That was no recording that I was hearing, that was a real cricket, somewhere in the bushes, and no one could take that sound away from me. Ten feet away from me was a cricket, an actual, real, American cricket. No matter how rough the journey had been, it had ended, and I was home. And there was a little cricket, one lonely little bug, singing me a victory song.
Every year, the first time I hear a cricket, everything comes flooding back all at once. How much I despised Georgia, with every fibre of my being, and longed to go back home. How, slowly, my idea of ‘home’ changed. But most of all, I remember the nights I spent crying, wishing that I was in Dahlonega; wishing that I could take back every horrible word I had said or thought about the place; wishing that I could walk across campus just one more time. Some nights, I swear to God I heard taps being played, and I became convinced that I was losing my mind. That I would tip over into clinical insanity if I had to spend one more night in this damn place.
Which… Funny, doesn’t that sound familiar?
It has been nearly three years now since I came back home. It seemed too good to be true right up until the very last minute. In the car on the way to Heathrow, I was convinced that there would be a problem with my visa and I would have to turn around and give up. Sitting in the airport in Boston, I did not allow myself to rejoice for making it onto U.S. soil, because I still had to get to Atlanta. Even after landing in Atlanta, on the drive up to Dahlonega, I was certain something would happen to stop me getting there. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning, in a strange new bed, in a strange new home, in a familiar place, that I finally breathed a sigh of relief.
Not a day goes by that I forget to be thankful. I don’t just drive to work in the mornings: I drive my car on American roads to my American job with my American bosses and co-workers. I take my American-citizen daughter to her American daycare. The most mundane of tasks are special to me, because I am reminded, every time I do them, of how fortunate I am to be doing them here. I am reminded that this is my life now. I live here. I made it. Because that sense of awe has not gone away, because the magic has not lost its sparkle even after three years, I think that I could not be any more grateful than I already am.
Then I hear the crickets for the first time.