Too often I am a ghost haunting old places. I can’t tell why Tampa still feels like home. I’ve been to spectacular cities. She is not one of them. She is made of old brick façades hiding worn down cigar factories, half-cocked new apartments encroaching on the steel grey of the port, and a handful of wistful minarets. She’s a bad lover. I adore her unreasoningly.
I come back to the banks of the Hillsborough River, and see the Florida that I know how to read as Florida, gators basking in the brush, Spanish moss screening oak hammock and cypress dome. That slow brown water, dark as tea.
So I come back to old places years after having moved on, pretending I’m awake and not sinking back through the years. I come back to old places and realize they never leave go of us, collecting like dust on our shoes. We carry them with us. We recognize them in other cities, where they set off our memories in a firework display. So I will take Tampa to Boston. I wear her through Tallahassee. I will shake her out in Seattle after the rain, let her dry off, and don her again when I’m ready to fly back south. I will see her in whatever I love and whatever I hate about these places, I will see her magnified and repeated where ever I fall in love, where ever I come into my own.
She will not be alone. Other cities will stick to the hem of my jeans. They will make an impossible skyline for me. It will be superimposed over every other skyline I see. No other skyline will measure up to the rust laden docks of my personal Port of Tampa, the libraries of my private Cambridge, the streets of my Queens in miniature.
It will not be enough. I will go back. I will always see something other than what’s there.