Is it possible to be homesick only 30 miles from home?
I know the answer to this question. In college, I would get homesick 2 miles from home. Sometimes I got in my car and drove back to my family’s house, for dinner with my parents and sister, to study where I knew it was quiet and the snacks were free, or even when the house was empty of people, just to sit on the floor with my small curly dog for a while.
I could do the same thing tonight, if I really wanted to. I’m only 30 miles away. Even accounting for the terminally unpredictable traffic on the Kennedy Expressway, I could be home in less than an hour. It’s just my dad and my dog there tonight. We could watch a few innings of baseball and drink a beer, talk, or not. I could just be home for a while.
But honestly, that wouldn’t help with the homesickness. I mean it would, for a little while. Yet even as I sat there in my white painted family room on the chocolate leather couch, the woozy feeling that attacks my heart and stomach simultaneously would sneak back in. (I was going to say creep, but that is not accurate. For me, homesickness attacks suddenly and viciously.) I’d know that all too shortly I’d get back in my car and drive east to my apartment. Even if I was to spend the night, sleeping in the bedroom that has been mine for 18 years, I’d go to bed with a slight ache in my gut, knowing the alarm would go off at an ungodly hour only adults rise at and I would be off, back to the city and back to work.
I get homesick for a place, for the home that holds almost all of my living memories. I get homesick for people, for my parents and sister. But that is something I can treat, with a dose of home as often as I need it.
That’s not the ache that’s eating away at me tonight, though. Nor is it the one that creeps in even as I’m with the people I love most in the place we learned to love each other.
Tonight, sitting on the back porch of the apartment I sometimes call home and watching the sunset over the schoolyard where the younger kids are playing tag and the older kids are listening to hip hop music while sitting along the brick wall of the school, I’m homesick for my old rhythms of life.
I miss going to the municipal concerts on Thursday nights, where the pieces they will play are as predictable as the mosquito bites you’ll discover a few hours later. Unlike the bug bites, though, it is deeply endearing to hear the same old patriotic songs echo through the park.
I miss going up to the pool and stealing the last hour or two of sunlight to swim with dad when he came home from work. Sometimes, we were the only people in the pool. We’d skip dinner to get the chance to swim, sometimes for the second time that day. Then we might even get ice cream afterwards and call it dinner.
I miss running through the sprinkler on hot afternoons when mom had things to do around the house, and we couldn’t go to the pool. Or maybe we could be we chose the sprinkler, an excuse to be in our bathing suits in the backyard. I liked the way the wet grass stuck to my feet and tickled my legs.
Such sweet summer memories of the best childhood a person could hope for.
I’d stay up late and read Nancy Drew books into the night. One time, I stayed up later than I ever had in my whole life, just so I could finish the book all in one night.
I miss reading for hours on end, in the sun, at the beach, on the front porch, in a hammock in the backyard, too much childish energy to fall asleep while the book was in my hands, unlike now.
I miss the long bike rides on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes I still do this; I’ll drive out to the suburbs after church and end up on a bike ride with my dad. Somethings can still stay the same.
But so, so much is different.
I’ve made a lovely life for myself. I have so much to be grateful for. A really good job that has given me the adventure of living in the big city. I get to walk or take the el or take the bus to wherever I need to go. I know this isn’t that romantic, but it’s still new enough and I still feel proud enough that I can navigate public transit that it gives me a bit of pleasure each time. I have my favorite grocery stores and favorite restaurants and favorite places to go for a drink. I have a list of new places I’m going to try soon. I’m building new rhythms. Sometimes my family comes here and we do new and interesting things. I get to spend a lot of time with my amazing boyfriend of 2.5 years, going on adventures here and there. I have old friends from college and new friends from church and coworkers and roommates and neighbors. My own little life.
I still ache. Not all the time, just in an occasional moment of stillness.
Time only goes one direction, and that’s a good thing. Life would be even more messy than it already is if we could go back and do things over again. But that’s because there is a temptation to wish to go back and do them better, or even just differently. Sometimes I wish it was possible to just do it again, the same, a mundane week in the Holmen household, circa 2001 or 2009.
I’m homesick, but it’s from farther away than 30 miles.