Mary Webb is so convinced that she was a man, a black man in fact, and not just a black man, but an Australian black man (not American), and to be precise—an aboriginal in a previous life that she can feel his carnal pleasures and speak his language. Mary assumes that Jasmine will understand this channeling of a past life because she is Indian, when in truth; Jasmine understands this because she has already been reincarnated several times in her short life. We talked a lot about how often Jyoti/Jasmine/Jane’s identity changed in just the first half of the novel, but in the second half she says something shocking. She says that, “Even memories are a sign of disloyalty” (231). Mary doesn’t feel that way at all. Mary is desperately trying to access her past life while Jane is determined to flee hers. What Jasmine learns is that it is not just what you carry with you from life to life that defines you; it’s what you leave behind as well. No matter what you try to forget, there will still be the tastes and the languages and the loves from the past that permeate your skin and drift into your very soul.
Jasmine’s lesson is not far from the greatest lesson that this course has taught me about home. I love to tell people about my grandparents’ house. Not only is it a beautiful place in sunny California, but I am not shy about the fact that it feels more like home to me than any of the 13 houses where I have lived in the past 22 years. When talking to my mom about why her old house feels more like home to me than our current house, I remind her that it’s constant and safe and no matter how many times my grandma insists on painting the walls or changing the furniture—it is still the same old house. But how is it possible that I am only in that house about once a year and yet I never feel as though I am far from home? This class has made me question whether that house is my home or if I am a home unto myself.
Maybe my homeland is plain old change. I have learned to tumble from state to state and self to self. I used to adamantly hate change because it happened so often, but it turned out to be the easiest way to shed the aspects of my personality that I didn’t like. I could become a new person in every new home. I used to think that what I left behind was irrelevant, but now, I’m not so sure. What made me change my mind was not just Jasmine, but my old furby. In moving from Idaho to New York in second grade, I already felt myself becoming a new person. I had decided to leave behind a lot of my old toys, jealousy, and immaturity, but I wasn’t aware that my brother had packed my old furby despite the fact that I thought it had been donated. As most people know, furbies never die. I had taken out the batteries almost as soon as I got the damn thing for Christmas and it still kept talking. Well, in my new home in my new state with my new self in my new bed, I would close my eyes and hear that stupid furby beckoning me from the dark recesses of one of the mysterious and unmarked (and woefully unpacked) boxes. I had no idea my brother had actually hid it in my closet, so I eventually resigned myself to the fact that the furby was a construct of my imagination and I was going crazy. Newsflash: change makes you crazy. We are crazy to voluntarily shed our skins and rebirth ourselves, but there is something exciting in improvement. Mary Webb had the right idea: change isn’t as scary in hindsight. Memories are not betrayal—they are walls. They structure the lives we move into so that we never actually build ourselves new homes, we simply add on additions. New rooms are connected by old doors that can stay open or they can stay closed, but they never go away. Jasmine/Jyoti/Jane never left behind any of her identities; she simply added new ones to make herself more than she ever dreamed she could be.