“Wow, it’s been a while since you were home! How are you finding it?
It must be so great to be back right?”
These are familiar statements to anyone living away from the place they grew up, or have travelled for an extended period of time and recently got back home. Having flown home i.e. to my parents’, for Christmas, I was on the receiving end of these questions, or variations of such, constantly. I was struck by how that made me feel, despite responding to such questions with the predetermined answer the questions usually came with. While it was indeed ‘so great to be back’ and spend time with my family, it’s been four years since I moved out and to a place across the seas. Would I consider this home now? Probably, sure. Is it ‘great’ to be back? This is where it becomes tricky.
So much changes in the time I’m away. I don’t have a bedroom at my parents’ house anymore. I sleep on a mattress in their bedroom because my parents want us to be close for the handful of days we’re with them. My family is close knit so it makes complete sense to me and I have no problem with that. It’s comfortable, my dog gets to snuggle into bed with my sister and I when my parents fall asleep, and it’s cosy. But it is strange to come to a structure that’s been my home for almost ten years (we lived elsewhere before that), know that this is where my parents will most likely spend the rest of their days, and realise that in all practicality there is no longer a place for me. My old study is now my mother’s new work space, my old bedroom is used by my grandfather since he’s here a lot more than he used to be when I was growing up, and then my grandmother if my grandfather isn’t around. I walk through the kitchen and I realise I’ve forgotten where everything is; I need to constantly ask. The guest bedroom is just that, the guest bedroom. Staying there while I’m home isn’t a concept my mind can wrap itself around. Yet, I am a guest, and that realisation is unsettling because it is accompanied by the knowledge that I am a guest in my own home.
Those are just the physical aspects, however. Everything is different, everything seems changed even if most things are where they were the last time I was home two years ago, and two years before that when I left home for the first time. And that’s because I’m different. I was nineteen when I first left home for university. I didn’t know up from down, I spent far too much money on things I never had but didn’t need, and I realised I now possessed a freedom that was unimaginable to me before then. I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, so certain I could handle what the world had coming to me. And I could handle it, I did, but I was naïve and unaware about what I would have to deal with, good or bad.
Unsurprisingly, it changes you; makes you more self-assured, more independent, more aware, more open but guarded, more wary but still able to trust, more. It opens facets of yourself you didn’t know you possessed, didn’t even know of a need to before you suddenly found yourself embracing these different sides of you. Because of this, coming back home to a place you first left so innocent and return hardened and slightly jaded by some realities is a strange experience. It’s humbling, cathartic, and almost spiritual. I came back home, walked in through the same front door, to the same rooms and yet they were different. I went to the same grocery store I used to go to with my mother, met the same people, ate the same food, but I was different. And everything was suddenly smaller. I noticed cracks in the walls, paint chipping in the corner, road suddenly cluttered in cars, noise and people. That isn’t to say these things weren’t there before. They were, of course they were. But I noticed them now. I greeted old classmates, and my parents’ friends and I noticed how much older they were, but how unchanged they seemed. They still lived the same lives they lived when I was younger. I watch my parents chat with them, laugh about something that happened last week, and I’m so far removed from conversation I don’t even pay attention. Yet I feel like I’m the only one outside the bubble. A spectator of a life I should recognise as mine.
It’s bittersweet to acknowledge all that has changed within myself. I don’t know if I’m better or worse a person than I was when I first left home. I do know that the next time I return I’ll have changed some more, everything will be different once again, and I wonder if in all these changes there is any part of my old self left.