They say you can never go home again.
Which is kind of messed up, if you think about it. So much of our lives, so much of who we are is connected to the GPS of our hearts. Final destination: home. After a long day of work, after a fun adventure, you want for familiarity, for the abandonment of all performance and pretense. You realize, upon unlocking the door, that even if your journey has been entertaining, you’re exhausted from the show. Home is where the curtain closes on public life, the place where you darken all the lights without fear.
So what happens when you leave home? I’m not talking a trip to the grocery store or a two week vacation to some exotic locale. I’m talking world upending, friendship straining, mother’s heartbreaking, visa needing leaving home. Of course, the easy answer is that you build a new one wherever you go because home is the equivalent of an IKEA shelving unit. But the truth of life abroad is actually more complex. Not everything can be replaced, and not everything can be reassembled. It’s a true lesson I have learned hard.
When I arrived “home” from Kuwait, I did so to very little fanfare. My mother arrived over an hour late to pick me up from the airport. I didn’t so much mind the waiting, but it left me with way too much time to think after a whirlwind two weeks of packing and saying goodbye. I was sulking in the car, already frustrated by the invisible forces of reverse culture shock. I looked out of the window (cue sad music) and my eyes fell on the suburban homes of Druid Hills. By all accounts, it is a nice part of town, anchored by large brick homes and peppered with modern townhouses in the rowhouse style. Bmws and Acuras line the driveways. Trees line the streets, and the pinks of flowers can be seen peeking through the hedges. When my eyes settled on Druid Hills, my heart sank. When abroad (and single), there were some limits on how much of a home I could build. But also, I was not surrounded by all the trappings of American family life. Druid Hills, true to its name, brought to the fore some ancient desire to be settled and secured in a distinctly American way. I felt uncomfortably aware. Aware of what each mortgage represented to me. Aware of all the possibilities that are not my own. Each lawn punctuated the list of how little I’ve done to move in the direction of my own security, my own desire. I suddenly longed for a place I could return to. And I suppose, if I’m being honest, that I’ve always been in possession of this profound longing. Kuwait just dulled that sense down to a gentle throb, something more tolerable than the sociocultural pangs I endured in the year before my move. But there I was, less than thirty minutes into my homecoming nursing a feeling akin to dread. You see, to never go home again means the curtain never closes. It means you’re under constant review: you are mere art before your critics, and smiles through exhaustion at after parties, and butterflies and hope that all is going well, and the anxiety fueled certainty that nothing is.
It’s completely unsustainable, but I will sustain it. And, lest you think too well of me, I’ll be a little ungrateful about it:The house lights can never grow dark in this place, so why did my heart bring me here anyway?
It was hard to travel thousands of miles only to feel my heart had, in some way, steered me wrong. But hearts do that from time to time. That’s why it’s best to enjoy the journey, the getting there.
So here I am, on my mother’s couch, in my mother’s home, reviewing the directions to my next big adventure. My GPS is set. Are you coming with me for the ride?