How does one begin, exactly, to compress ten months into a few paragraphs? Words like bones, heartlines of memories strapped to them that cannot, possibly, give color to the black and white of the page?
I will miss this, the little and not-so-little things: The way people apologize––for themselves, for you––when they don’t even come close to bumping into you in the supermarket. The way I kept forgetting, in the beginning, to bring a jacket wherever I went because of the air conditioning; the way I didn’t have to anymore at the end. The way I had to order my coffee in the States, “No half-and-half but a bit of milk on the side, please.” The way everyone asks, “How are you?” and rarely means it but still brings a smile to my face with it. The way my friends ask me, “New Braunfels, what does that actually mean?” The way that teaching my first language to others taught me so much about it, about myself, in return.
They call you the “Sooner State”, as if you were terra nullius—which you were not, which you never were. Oklahoma, home to 39 tribal nations, from the Caddo Nation and the Wichita & Affiliated Tribes to the Choctaw Nation and the Comanche Nation; from the Osage Nation to the United Keetowah Band of the Cherokees.
Okla humma: “red” and “people”, the name that Choctaw Chief Allen Wright called you in the 19th century, and that we call you still.
These pages aren’t exactly black and white, are they? Red—red like life, red like Fulbright. Like the Red River. Like the red earth of Oklahoma: okla humma.
These pages contain multitudes.
Vanessa Erat studied at the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, where she received her MA in English & American studies. She was a foreign language teaching assistant at the University of Oklahoma during the 2018–19 program year. Profile photo taken by Anastasia Popova. All other photos courtesy of Vanessa Erat.