Happy birthday, America!
Four years ago, I held my breath and did the unthinkable:
I left you.
But I still feel you, sometimes, when you scratch my tongue on the modern-ancient words I now manage to hum.
You fall out of my my pocket when I call the sea an ocean, or discover bougainvillea petals discarded on a cracked sidewalk in Tel Aviv.
You peer out from my steel-cut oatmeal and fancy gadgets.
And I feel you resting your palms on the books I will always read no matter how long I am away.
I still wear you because you feel comfortable on my skin, because I stayed with you so long I can’t be me without you.
But you no longer own my taste buds
Or my children
Or my heart
Or my destiny.
And I have to confess: I am worried about you.
I wanted you to stay the same: The you you were when I was 8, and the fireworks celebrated with the ink sky over the Marina. The you of my pre-teen summers at Boston barbecues, of the laughs we shared with the sea lions — not seals! — at the Cove, or from the RV ride up the coast — so dizzy and dazed — as we drove past the castle that smells of orange blossoms and the sandy shores that made us rich with perfect sand dollars.
I hoped you’d stay the you who sold ticky-tacky salt water taffies in quaint little lighthouse towns, unaware, the you who shook hands and played fair, the you I saw when I looked up from the tips of Liberty’s skirts or up the nostrils of the men on Mt. Rushmore.
I could miss the you I saw sitting on the bench when I made my first motion, the you whose curls I admired along the cold, vast ocean.
The you I thought you were on September 10, and even the you you had to become on September 12.
The you who made us we.
But since I left — and yes, even before — you have changed, and sometimes I don’t recognize you. At times, it seems that you are eating yourself alive — and it makes me choke.
I can’t always trust you. But I will always love you.
I thank you for hugging my grandparents and lifting them on your shoulders when they came, trembling and broken.
Thanks for Ms. Pacman and for Frogger and for the arcade tokens.
Thank you for letting me grow up under preening jacarandas and peering through windows with proud menorahs, for letting me swim in a dolphin pool, and for introducing me to justice and fairness, to my homeland and roots, and to different-hued people at school.
Thank you for letting me live so long without bag checks, for being my incubator, for letting me be able to slumber and to become and to dream.
You made me me.
I hope and pray — maybe I’ll put a note in the Wall here for you — that you find yourself again.
I hope that we can always be friends.
And even from afar,
I can still help you lick the icing on your cake.