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Washington, DC – My head is pillowed across my best friend’s lap, and I am squinting into the sun through the filtered light of my glasses. I fight sleep as we tell each other stories of half-filled physics classrooms and the rebellious scratch of graphite on desks. I think of the law of inertia: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. I think of how still we are now, framed in glass and fallen leaves and the dark green of the latticed bench that digs into my back. I think that the law of inertia cannot apply to us; it cannot apply to the stained-glass immortality of this moment in time. There isn’t a force strong enough to knock him and me off the axis that forms when we interlace our hands.

The sun streaming in through the kitchen stripes my father in daylight as he chops the crusts off a sandwich, and when he looks up at me, his face lights up. I rub the sleep from my eyes and walk into his arms, mumbling something about how unfairly early it is. I ignore the breadcrumbs that have made themselves at home in my hair as I pull away, and I think of inertia again on my walk to the fridge. Appa, swaying to a melody I swear I recognize, and me, swinging a carton of milk in my hands as a dance partner. An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. We are mobile, weaving threads of kinetic energy in our tiny sacred space; god forbid the force that tries to tip us over.

My brother’s voice echoes in the dimly lit room, making both our eyes widen. We are huddled under the covers with each of us trying to discreetly shift the laptop to our own laps, watching reruns of animated TV shows at two in the morning, sharing a pair of too-old earphones that only really work about half the time, and smothering our laughter in the near-empty bowl of chips he has stashed under his desk. I shove at him, telling him to shut up lest he blows our cover. He shoves back, and we dissolve into five year old giggles, TV show forgotten. Movement. Motion. I think of the flight ticket for his return, stuck to the fridge in the kitchen, and it seems like a million miles away and much too close at the same time. I cling to him, tell him I love him, and he shrugs me off and tell me to watch the stupid show, ruffling my hair. I close my eyes against the passing of the moment. In my mind, in the space between my eyelid and my cornea, I can make it last forever.

I crawl onto my mother’s lap with no preamble or warning, tears threatening to spill over onto my cheeks. She wraps her arms around me as well as she can, letting me bury my head in the crook of her neck. She closes her laptop with one hand and taps a rhythm onto my back with the other, one, two, three, one, two, three. I swallow my dry sobs as she begins to sing. This is one of the innumerable melodies I fell asleep to, written in words I am fluent in but fail to understand. I breathe in the scent of baby powder and dish soap, curled up in her too-small lap like an overgrown pet. She soothes me to sleep like most people breathe; like it’s the most natural thing in the world to do. I turn static in her arms, tranquil in the comfort of her voice. She sings of moonlight and lotus-eyed princesses, and I have never felt more safe. Nothing can hurt me here.

Belonging is not knowing where I am. It is not knowing where I came from – by that definition, I cannot belong anywhere. It’s knowing that no matter where I am, I belong in these pockets of happiness, these moments where I wouldn’t change a thing. I belong with the bench pressing into my skin, my thumb skimming across his knuckles. I belong in our kitchen, feet tracing the lines of tile in rhythm. I belong swathed in blankets, hiding the hilarity in the crook of my elbow. I belong in my mother’s arms, wrapped in the notes that feel like home. I belong to these moments; I cannot separate them from myself.

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