I’ve been away from home now for only about 2 months. That’s nothing. The blink of an eye. A grain of sand. A single star burning in the universe. Other sentimental bullcrap. But to be honest, it’s been a packed 2 months.
I wouldn’t say that Chile is home now, no more than I would say that any place in the world could truly become home: the comfort of a lazy Sunday morning pancake enjoyed in front of the Today Show as sleepy Autumn sunlight shines through our back door; an afternoon at the movies with my parents, emerging to find that night has fallen or a gentle rain has passed; a good book on the couch with my dog curled in a ball next to me, my toes tucked under her for warmth; a shared platter of pad thai with my best friend, chattering on about boys and classes that will all be past tense in a week or so; a car ride with my sister, windows down and a new song playing through the speakers that I will listen to on repeat for the next month just to remember the moment; a hike with family through familiar woods feeling the end of summer creep up on us and remembering how little time we actually spend in the same place. I love Chile, dearly, but there are somethings that cannot be replicated, replaced.
Some of you may know that my house is being renovated while I’m gone. My childhood home that holds many a memory in its creaking wooden floors that groan underfoot; the white built-in shelf where I used to play with the nativity every Christmas; the kitchen where I learned all the tips and tricks of the trade from my mother, watching her prepare countless dishes over the years; the table my grandfather made that collects papers and crafts and family dinners; the windows that let in light even on the rainiest of days; the cushion on the couch dedicated to the dog where at any given moment she could be found sleeping, twitching or watching over us. I never had the experience of losing something so special before, and to handle it from overseas, to see photos of my favorite place in the entire world torn down from thousands of miles away, has been very difficult.
Now, Mom, I am not writing this to guilt-trip you. I promise, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep reading.
I recently traveled to the desert in the north of Chile. I spent lazy hours soaking up sun, doing absolutely nothing but reading or writing or whiling away the day having stimulating conversation. There was a dog, sleeping in the sun, watching for dropped morsels of food, craving attention. There were big windows that let in the rising sunlight and reflected our faces back at us in the dark. There was a large yard where we gathered to share meals and conversations for hours past our bedtimes. It looked nothing like my house back in Cheverly which boasts no adobe walls made from reclaimed wine bottles, no mandalas spinning in the wind, the sound of chimes does not echo throughout my front yard, clouds of dust do not billow out of my favorite rocking chair. Yet there was something about this weekend that made it okay, that the one place I had counted on, depended on, was turning over a new leaf.
Maybe it’s the distance. Maybe it’s the distraction of conversing in another language, of travelling to new places or coming up with small talk with strangers. Maybe its something else. But I feel as though I could be different as well, if only I tried.
So I will try.
I will try to be more positive, to see the light side of every situation, to relax when things don’t go according to plan. I will try to be happier, to smile when there is nothing to be sad about, to smile when there is nothing to be happy about. I will try to live more naturally, to let things fall where they may, to take each experience as it comes, to live in my memory as much as the present. I will try to remember who I am originally and put that person first, to disregard expectations of appearance or personality, to put faith in myself and take a deep breath when the idea of that scares me.
I’ve long since struggled with a terrible case of melancholia, an inexplicable grief that sometimes washes over you in waves for hours maybe days at a time. It’s not depression, it’s longing. It’s the inability to cope with the changes in my life and how they mean I will never be small enough to fit beside my mother in our blue rocking chair to watch “Arthur” or read “The Nutcracker” again. When the reality of change sinks in, one flounders for stability. Moving away to Chile doesn’t help that.
Everything around me is new here. Even the pictures of my friends and family on the wall were printed moments before my departure. There is no antiquity to my life in this country, no history that I can carry with me from childhood, from infancy. The longing for something steeped in the story of my life is often overpowering.
Yet, as I return from the north, as I look at pictures of my old home, as I think of my Cheverly family spending a crisp fall weekend together, as I picture the sound of my mother’s laughter, the feeling of my father’s hug, the smell of his pancakes wafting through the house, the clink of my dog’s tags or her toenails on the wooden floor, the groan of the house sinking into its foundation for the long haul, I’m surprisingly okay.
I know that I will fly home in two months regretting that I don’t have more time here. I know that the goodbyes said to the friends that have become so intimate and special in such a short time will be tear-filled and heart-breaking. I know that the twin bed and purple walls of this room in Chile will also feel like home, until the next student to move into my beautiful host-family will call this place theirs. I know that I will have learned more about myself and others because of my time here and that even the hard parts were worth it. I know that my house and my parents and the numerous non-blood-related siblings and aunts and uncles of Cheverly will be there when I get home, ready to hear my stories or just give me a hug.
I know that through all of the homesickness and the longing, this time will vale la pena, it will be worth it in the end.
And if I don’t know that today, and today I chose to feel the melancholia, then there is always tomorrow.