A Requiem for Home

Something about the spring brings on wave after wave of almost staggering homesickness. I find myself near tears on public transportation, making mixes of the songs I played over and over again in high school as I stared at the ceiling, breathing in the scent of the soft brown carpet in my bedroom.

The funny thing is that my parents always assumed I’d be the child to run away and never come back. And I guess I embraced that some, flying out to the farthest opposite edge, from the country to the city, from grass and mountains to cobblestone and glass.

And I like it here, I do. I’ve fallen for Southie accents and watched the still-as-glass waters of the Charles reflecting the Boston skyline. I love the childlike glee that pours from apartment windows when the Sox or the Celtics pull through in the playoffs, love to feel the summer air on my cheeks as I bike down Columbus after dark.

But this is not my home.

There must be a certain amount of romance to my memories–I know this now. I know the place I was born is not perfect. I know it once felt stifling and small when I was younger and just flexing muscles new and unfamiliar. I know I discovered whole vocabularies absent in that place, spoken to me only once I fled.

But still.

But still.

I sometimes wonder if I have a connection to place stronger than most. I’ve always been a creature of habit, after all, wanting to feel the same furniture, the same geography, cradling my body. Before it was a bench, a wall, a seat always in the same place.

In my mind–in my heart–the tiniest details, the very feeling of wood and earth and grass touching my body, these realities have stayed with me where other remembrances disappeared long ago. Before I fall asleep in the summer I long for the rhythm of irrigation sprinklers in my ears. When I ride the bus in the city I try to close my eyes and feel the bed of a pickup truck on unpaved roads.

I tell myself now that I have made the right decision. I still follow the hometown news some–an entire library system closed, schools even in the strong districts laying off, slashing budgets, funds from timber all but dried up and voters still clutching tightly to their wallets.

And so many things I wouldn’t have back there, wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed. The woman I love. The people who feel like family out here. The lifeline of my brother in college, just an hour away.

But still.

But still.

“Love is the only thing that can be endlessly divided and never diminish.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I wrote those words in a notebook at fifteen, committed them into my prize possession, and believed them true. Believed them even through the heartache of my first breakup, even through the numbness of that first depression. But come spring my heart stutter steps, suddenly assessing the damage after a break-in.

There are pieces of me missing. There are holes in me unspoken.

And what goes there, in that small empty spot? Is it the heft of a bale of hay? Is it the smell of a first summer rain meeting dirt roads? Is it the night sky full of stars, full of more light than the city knows to muster, full of a heavy moon on the horizon? Is it first sunburns, fresh dew, lazy floating on the Rogue River, drive-through coffee kiosks, highway 99, I-5, Jacksonville Hill?

I’ve done better for myself out here. I’m not riding on my father’s name, waving from the same red pickup. I’ve broken the cocoon and found a voice I didn’t have out there. I spread my wings, broadened my horizons, made myself new.

But still.

But still.


15 Responses to A Requiem for Home

  1. Dorothy had it right, “There’s no place like home.”

    Beautifully written piece. Thanks for tweeting it.

  2. annajcook says:

    I sometimes wonder if I have a connection to place stronger than most. I’ve always been a creature of habit, after all, wanting to feel the same furniture, the same geography, cradling my body.

    Thanks for writing this . . . it almost made me cry!

    I’ve lived here in Boston for two years now, and on many levels I *know* I made a healthy, smart, thoughful decision coming here. But I carry the grief of being away from the familiar spaces of my home and from West Michigan — not to mention my family (and the bulk of my personal library!) every single minute of every single day.

    Literally. In my bones.

    I think it’s a type of disenfranchised grief, really, because as young adults we’re supposed to be so determined to leave home and be unequivocally happy to do so. Being homesick is for immature losers. But I think it’s important — so important — to recognize that even if we chose to make these changes, and we are glad to have grown in new ways we couldn’t have back in the old space — that entails loss. And it’s a loss we’ll probably carry with us, on some level, the rest of our lives.

  3. pandanose says:

    And yet not all of us feel this way. I suppose it could be that we’re just not talking about it–but this kind of deep longing for place isn’t something I hear from my friends (most of them also Boston transplants). Which means I don’t talk about it much, either, because I grow increasingly sure no one will understand.

  4. annajcook says:

    Right. I have friends who don’t feel that kind of connection with home-place that I do, either. I don’t mean to imply *everyone* does . . . and certainly some folks have negative memories, even traumatic memories, that would complicate homesickness. So no, I don’t think everyone is just in denial!

    But I do think that our culture reinforces the idea that being homesick or connected to the place you grew up is somehow immature. We’re expected to “move beyond” it. I know I self-censor my own grief a lot, because I (like you) have mostly gotten blank looks when I talk about it.

  5. pandanose says:

    Yeah, that’s a good point–we’re all supposed to be having too much fun at summer camp to miss home.

    And, I mean, I’m generally a fan of Adult Camp, but I would really, really like to go home.

  6. I know what you mean. I live in a place far away from home, too. I wanted so badly to move away and then when I did, I started to miss it really badly. A lot of people I know here are FROM here, so I don’t think they really understand. But the more friends I’ve made, and the more places I’ve explored and come to know and love, and the more I’ve gotten used to the differences from what I knew as a kid, the more I’ve felt at home here. It reminds me of the process of losing a loved one (because even though you CAN go back, it won’t actually be the same after all this time); it’s a pain that never goes away, it’s just something that you get used to.

  7. pandanose says:

    Surprisingly, home for me Is much the same whenever I get the chance to go back. The major hitch is that I can’t go back to the house I grew up in–my parents sold it and moved out of state when I was in college–but now I stay with friends and it’s like being reunited with a piece of my heart.

  8. Just lovely.

    Columbus, Ohio is probably one of the most ordinary towns in the USA. But ohhh, that dumb statue of Christopher Columbus outside city hall (no, we have no idea what CC actually looked like, and they built it anyway)…will just make me cry whenever I see a photo of it anyway. Also, this. Now, is that just plain dumb or what?

    Love ya, and thanks so much for sharing this!

  9. pandanose says:

    I think the equivalent for me would be this. (You can also find him with a nice Google image search–variations on “blackbird Medford OR” will bring him up in his Santa regalia in particular.)

    I’m not sure the Blackbird has ever actually made me cry, but gosh I’m happy to see him when I go home.

  10. molly g. says:

    This post did move me to tears.

    “And what goes there, in that small empty spot?”

    In my 3rd year of living in Chicago with a recent visit home for Easter, I am reminded of my homesick denial. My homesickness really rears its “immature” head after a visit home. My family is huge and close and I split my time between divorced parents, only making it more difficult to see everyone I want to see for as much time as I would like to see. Each time I’ve been home in the last year there has been a new child for me meet (My first cousins are like baby factories).

    It seems the new and different things I once craved away from home are now happening at home and I’m missing out…I know I have learned so much by leaving and grown as I never could have at home. However, I wondered lately if that growth has run it’s course for good here in Chicago. I see I could soon be changing for the worse…

    The plan was to be here at least 5 years. However, the plan strayed course when I did not get the type of job I had sought. Now, yet another transition time has approached and commitments to a place to live are upon me…Do I stick it out for the sake of my plan? I know Spring seems like it is not here in Chicago yet, so do I still have growing to do? Am I just delayed like this city that has consumed me?

  11. pandanose says:

    Ah, the “plan.” I’ll be honest–my plan changes, at least in tone if nothing else, depending on who’s asking. I almost always say something vague about staying in Boston for “a while”–my new state certification is something I often bring up–but my answer takes on a pained, desperate quality when someone from home asks.

  12. Connor says:

    mmm, home. i miss it. but when i’m there, i miss what i have here. i think there is always a longing for the familiar, both new and old. but a stop at dutch bros. on the way to the river before a night at Britt sounds mighty fine right about now.

  13. pandanose says:

    Oh man. I may have to do a write-up of my favorite places in Southern Oregon. What IS it about Dutch Bros. that is just so right?

  14. Connor says:

    yes, do a write up. let’s compare notes.

  15. pandanose says:

    I may have to sub-divide into categories or this could become an Epic Post. Eateries alone could get ridiculously long.

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