I have vivid memories of other people’s homesickness. Remember laying doubled up with my cousin in the bottom bunk while another cousin laid in the top bunk practically weeping. Nothing we could say or do made her start to laugh or stop crying. She was so lonely for her mama and the comfort of her own bed that it tied her belly up in a tangle of knots that refused to loosen until her mother’s car appeared at the end of the long gravel driveway.
Another time I eavesdropped as a neighborhood mom fretted to mine about the daily letters her daughter had sent from camp, each begging for someone to pick her up long before the summer session was over with increasing urgency. They did eventually make the two hour drive to bring her home a week before the bus would have dropped her off in the Denny’s parking lot.
When we moved to California, I missed my grandparents palpably, to the point of anger but overall, I was not a kid who was prone to homesickness. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to be home or disliked being there, it was just I was too busy falling for a new city or a new food or a new way of life that I failed to acknowledge the string between myself and home tightening as the distance between us grew. Even when I moved to college I reveled in the novelty of my independence, working two jobs and skipping class whenever I saw fit, which was almost never.
Since our departure from the west coast, I’ve been shocked by my inability to adapt, embarrassed but how quick I am to bristle anytime anyone mentions how we’ve settled in to life in the Midwest. I’ve found myself incredibly ill-prepared to handle the fallout of a cross country move. To feel this immense void the community we left had filled for over a decade. And to still feel unmoored 18 months later, constantly skirting a line between making it work and failing miserably without any tangible life preserver to reach from when the water gets a choppy. Sometimes I forget it though, get too busy to dwell and then in an instant it returns, swift and intense and back to the start.
Like yesterday, I was standing in the dollar store holiday decoration section, scrounging through the last remnants for Halloween decor for a few things we could add to this year’s Halloween tree. Even though it’s only October, the store was already overrun with jingle bells, plastic dreidels, and Santa Clause window clings.
In an instant, I realized that for the very first time in 32 years I won’t be home for Christmas. Won’t get to wait for my dad to finish the second round of phedans because everyone knows the first batch always comes out burnt. Won’t spend last 20 minutes of It’s a Wonderful Life asleep on the couch. Won’t scramble to get ready for the Christmas Eve service. Won’t get to see Harp and Indy and Hank wonder at the magical transformation that occurs in my parent’s living room in the 90 minutes Santa has to visit between when we’ve all left for church and when we return. An entire year since my Dad has seen my babies, a year since I’ve seen the ocean and most of my dearest friends. Lots of won’ts. Too many hasn’ts. The unforgiving stretch of space and time. The pull, the gnawing sadness, my own jumble of knots that I can’t seem to unsnarl.