This post started out as an Instagram caption for a photo I took almost three years ago… but I realized when I was on my third paragraph that it probably should just go be a blog entry already.
I took this photo on one of my first days living in the city almost three years ago. It was early, and I was sleep-deprived and cold. And I was falling in love.
It’s going to sound cliché, but I remember how leaving London felt sort of like leaving part of myself behind; I spent my last night in my Queen Mary University flat alone, scribbling promises into my journal at 2 o’clock in the morning. This isn’t the end. I’ll be back one day.
Today, I was hit by an inexplicable wave of homesickness for this place I lived in for five months. I dropped everything to go through my old Facebook albums and, after about twenty minutes, felt like watching depressing French dramas and cramming my face full of mini-chocolate bars.
I’m not in the habit of letting myself feel homesick.
Probably because “home” has always felt like a bit of an abstract concept to me.
Maybe it’s this time of year that triggered it. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything that this season represents—the time when lights glow a little brighter, and families tie themselves a little tighter, and old friends reconnect and remember how to love each other.
But I’m never going to be the girl who goes back to a house haunted with childhood memories over the holidays. I don’t have that.
I spent the first part of my childhood 2,000 miles away in a state I don’t really remember aside from fleeting images. The second part of my childhood was scattered through five different houses, in a state that a teenage me decided to hate for no real reason besides the snowstorms and the suffocation I felt in a town where you always knew somebody at the grocery store, or the park down the street, or the Target they built in an empty lot off the freeway.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I learned fast how to be transient. It wasn’t all that hard; in many ways I already was. I’d grown used to keeping my distance, not forming attachments, anticipating the leaving. My houses were more or less temporary spaces and after a while, I stopped unpacking boxes and shoved them into a corner instead, just to save time.
But I came to Los Angeles looking for something. Despite the ever-changing nature of the city, I knew it would be my home for at least four years, and I was stubborn enough to believe that I could build a new life here in that time.
London was different.
I chose to go to London, knowing it would be temporary, knowing I would have to leave come summertime. I chose to fall in love with a new city, people, and culture – this place where eye contact on public transportation is forbidden and boys with sharp accents try to sell you cinnamon-dusted pecans off a cart near the Thames.
When I came back to LA, I tried really hard not to be that girl who inserted, “That reminds me of when I was abroad…” into every conversation. In fact, I tried so hard that I almost shut down.
While all of my USC study abroad friends gushed about missing their cities, I smiled and nodded and buried my head in school, going back to the grind, pretending like nothing had happened, like I wasn’t different because of those five months. I even stopped writing about it, too afraid that if I did, I would accidentally open the floodgates.
I guess we all have our own ways of dealing with the leaving.
For a while, I thought I would leave LA after graduation. The flight instinct I’d developed over the course of twenty-something years was taking over, and I started to hunt for a way out of the home I’d begun to build.
I still didn’t quite know how to stay when people got too close. I was also finding myself falling for an insane city I’d originally thought would chew me up and spit me out. Meanwhile, “home” was becoming something dangerously real to me, and it wasn’t a house. It wasn’t a collection of memories, or even a group of people.
It was this idea that I could, maybe, for once… not uproot, if only for a little while. Maybe… I could stay.
I’ve watched from LA as my best friend moved back to London over a year ago and built a life for herself in that same city that had once tied us closer. It has been incredible. It’s also been hard, and not just because we’ve been so far apart, but also because while I’m usually the one that goes and travels and moves and leaves, I’ve had to learn what it means to exist in the time for planting. To be the one that stayed behind.
But more than anything, the past few years have rooted me in a way that I’d forgotten how to be. That I don’t know if I ever knew how to be in the first place.
In the past few months, I’ve written so much about letting go, because between the two topics, staying was the subject I was more afraid to touch. But this is a season about homecoming. And so I am. I have. I’m here.
And you’re here, too.
So just in case nobody has told you today, I just wanted to let you know that I want you to stay. I want to take you out for coffee, and memorize the way the daylight makes your eyes shine, and keep you wrapped in my hug for probably longer than you’re comfortable with, because we live in a city that tells you not to hold on. We both know that everything breaks. But not today.
This is my love letter to the transient hearts.
We are a unique breed, you and I. We are the ones who know what it’s like to fall in love again and again and again, to drink it all in and read between the lines because we don’t know when we’ll be back. We are the ones who run fast and leave a trail of ghosts in our wake. We are the ones who move on when we don’t know if we even want to go.
As we enter this season of homecoming and Advent, this is my gift to both of us: maybe homesickness is okay. Maybe homesickness is a way of remembering that something important once happened there.
I have been blessed with so many homes that I haven’t allowed myself to miss. The snowy backyard in Maryland where my mom and I would sled down The Big Hill. The crawlspace in Colorado where my brother used to hide, waiting to fire Nerf darts at my head. The flat in London where I played Call of Duty with British, Italian, and Chinese brothers who had adopted me for the term. The apartment in Los Angeles where my dad would stay up late reading with our cat passed out on his lap.
Maybe this is home – a patchwork of memories and life lived and people met.
Maybe I have always been home.
Maybe you have, too.