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I was born in Cluj-Napoca and have grown up and gone to school and college there. I got beaten up and I fell in love for the first time in this town. I got my heart broken many times over and broke other hearts in turn. Most of my lifetime friends lived at one time or another in those drab apartment neighborhoods. When I kissed a girl for the first time, we were both so embarrassed to be seen kissing, that we hid in an elevator and took rides up and down for a few minutes. I used to smoke cheap cigarettes in the high-school's second-floor boys' bathroom, afraid that I would get caught by the vigilante professors. I had the first girlfriend-pregnancy scare sometime when I lived here. I certainly got drunk for the first time at a party in my hometown – although I can’t remember when. I broke my front teeth on a concrete sidewalk while playing football in my neighborhood. I took long walks through the park with girls to whom I did not dare confess that I liked them. I listened to loud heavy-metal music annoying my parents and the neighbors. As a kid, I beat up an old man who was trying to beat me up for playing in front of the apartment building during the afternoon "mandatory" quiet time. I walked the streets, I rode a bike, I sat on a bench and looked at the pigeons in the main square, day-dreaming.
I have many memories, fond memories that tie me to Cluj. Yet now, each time when I visit my old town, once every few years, it looks smaller and more alien to me than before. There’s not much left to keep me here. Sure, I have a mother who still lives in the same big, old apartment, the smells of the streets are still familiar, and I still smile when I see the tiny hill in the neighboring church yard where we used to sled each winter when the snows came. But these are only places, and most of them have changed by now. The sad concrete boxes erected in communist times to house the workers who were supposed to build the golden future of the socialist republic are now covered with capitalist ad banners and all the ground-floor apartments have turned into little shops. Huge department stores have opened everywhere. Fancy bars and clubs have mushroomed all over downtown. The money is different. The people have changed. Or maybe I have changed...
When I think of what I miss about my country it’s always places, smells and colors; an image of a grassy hillside dotted with hay stacks under a late summer azure sky, a memory of hiking on a muddy footpath through the woods on a rainy day. It’s never the people. Most of my friends from those times are somewhere else in the world; the few ones who still live in town make it easier for me to survive my stay. The eleven years I spent in other countries have taken their toll. Even the language distinction has begun to fade away. I no longer feel more comfortable speaking Romanian than when I use English. I no longer consider Romanian a privileged language among those I speak. I hardly even read in my mother tongue anymore and I never write, nothing besides short emails. I can't even talk about fixing cars and riding horses - the two hobbies I love most - in Romanian, for lack of appropriate vocabulary. It's just another language now, albeit one that I won't forget even if I lack the practice.
I have never approved of the nostalgia of those immigrants who can’t wait to return “home” every vacation, at Christmas, Easter and in summer as well, and who make sure to tell to everybody who listens that if it weren't for the better money, they wouldn't live “there,” among the cold foreigners, for one single day. From where I stand now I couldn't imagine returning to this place for good, although living conditions have improved a lot, the money is good in Romania now, and I still have the name of the country written on my passport. My link to the spiritual depths of this land and people has been severely weakened. My home is elsewhere now. Without my intention I have become more American than apple pie (if you don't count the accent), and I can’t picture living anywhere else... except on the road.