The heat is different. You don’t feel that piercing hotness that flames your skin when you stand still for too long. It’s a slow, creeping heat. You inhale it when you step out the steel, typhoon-proof front door. You drown after a few minutes; it smothers you from every side. That’s why every base has a pool. (Even ours, the annexed outpost of a larger, developed base, had a grimy 25-meter. If there was nothing to do indoors during the summer, I could always count on a solid few hours of amateurish flips off the diving board, interspersed with twenty or thirty minute intervals of tanning on the rubber-slated pool chairs.)
If I were to visit now, it would be easy to find my way home. The house is the last one on the street, as far back as the base housing goes. (The house numbers mean nothing, since the layout of military housing is always jumbled, units and cul-de-sacs pieced together in whatever way the Okinawan topography will allow.) I’d drive straight into the driveway, checking for banana spiders scuttling around the sidewalk cracks. It’s a climate where most natural things could kill you (habu snakes, banana spiders, heat exhaustion), but everything felt safe. I took barefoot walks down the middle of the street at night without a second thought.
I still believe Okinawa has the best sunsets; even the clouds glowed brighter with a million colors, and the back of our house would turn gold in the evening. The back lawn stretched down to the last reaches of the fence, where the thick Japanese vegetation pushed up against the edges of American order and development, revealing a sloping view of the southwestern coast. The nasal, whining roar of cicadas would wake me bright and early, if the national anthems (American, then Japanese) over the loudspeakers didn’t.
I sometimes wonder what family lives there now, but doesn’t matter. It will always be our house, really. A military lifestyle is funny that way. Like the heat, every place gets inside you whether you let it or not. Inescapably saturated, you forget what it feels like to be anywhere else.