On my parents' last day in San Francisco almost two weeks ago, LP and I met them for lunch at a French restaurant downtown. After three weeks in close proximity, I was ready for some parent-free days but a bit bereft that the coming absence would be closer to a year. We had a fun lunch, undercut by the knowledge that we had to part at the end. Eventually, Dad paid the bill, and Mum put her dark sunglasses on, and we hugged and went our ways. I went home and grumpily watched the Celtics lose and LP got back from yoga and I made her promise to be nice to me all evening as I was sad.
I love living here. But I can't deny that lapses of homesickness are a reality.
When I was 12, I went to boarding school in Christchurch for three years. I can remember vividly the dread that hung over the final afternoon before my parents dropped me off for the start of the school year.
Fifteen years later, I can recall oddly specific details about that day: the sandwiches at my grandparents' house, Love Fool by the Cardigans playing in my sister's Fiat Uno, the minutest of features in my parents' hotel room across from the University of Canterbury, a chocolate-hungry pre-teen James walking to a nearby petrol station to gobble a Bumper Bar.
Being left that evening was traumatic and returning to school was never easy. But each trip back to school bought with it a diminishing return of upset, and each time I settled in faster.
As an adult, I hold this day as the baseline of homesickness. I was in a sense literally sick with upset for the loss of the comforts of home.
I've left home a lot now. I went to university in Wellington. I left the country to travel at 19 and 22, and I left to study at 25. Now I'm out for good I bounce in and out on shorter trips.
Goodbyes are comparatively easier at 27 than at 12. I don't have to be held back by my cousin and housemaster from trying to chase my parents' car. But goodbyes can still bring me to tears. I just get better with age at rationalising and absorbing the distance. I think, well I'll go over there and do something else now and I'll cope and it will be worthwhile, and all of these people that I'll miss will be here when I get back.
If I had been shipped to San Francisco at 12, I couldn't have processed it. Now, I get it. Consequently, I bounce back quickly after saying even the saddest of goodbyes. I'm amazed at how quickly tears can turn into sitting on a plane immersed carelessly in a book. It's not callous, just more of a, "well that sucked. Now on with life."
Weeks removed, this time the butterflies in my stomach elicited from the long round of post-wedding goodbyes to my family and close friends have been difficult to shake off.
I am currently in Stinson Beach, where my family had three days to start their trip, during which time my groomsmen also visited. Upon arrival in the weekend, for the first few hours I found myself going into every room and mapping out who stayed where and who sat where during what conversation and making maudlin callbacks to things that had happened.
I really do miss having everyone in America.
It is a feeling that is harder to define now, but I would still call it homesickness; a ball in my stomach that makes me feel a bit like I did on my first day at boarding school. Over the years, the ball has warped and it feels a lot more grown-up.
For me, homesickness can linger in the days following a trip home or a visit from a friend, or it can creep into my everyday life when things seem a bit foreign and I find myself looking around and thinking, "hold on, where am I?"
The mystery to me is I can't overcome homesickness when it arrives and I don't always know what prompts it. I approach it rationally and think, what am I sad about? I very much miss specific things about New Zealand, but I don't pine for the way of life. I haven't lived in New Zealand for two years. There's no routine fresh in my mind to miss. I miss the people, always, but there are so many ways to get in touch with everyone now.
My only cure for homesickness to date is distracting myself, and feeling that I have my own routine and constants. Which is harder right now, as I've just moved coasts, and also won't have much more than 10 days in the same place until the middle of August.
Maybe as travellers, expats, future emigrants, and people with our eyes the general horizon, the mounting goodbyes, and ensuing homesickness is the price of leaving? My departures are voluntary now. Do we bring this on ourselves?
I don't quite understand it all yet, but I do know that homesickness is a feeling bigger than the sum of its parts, that brings me always closer to 12-year-old James guzzling a Bumper Bar and wanting to make time go slower.
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