Ed. note: I’m reposting this after a wave of recent homesickness, but it was originally posted on June 28, 2011.
There are these weeds in Rome – I’m sure they’re in other places too, but I’ve only ever seen them in Rome – that have long stems that look furry, but they’re prickly. If you grab them without thick gloves it feels like your hand was dipped in acid for about two minutes, which is a long time when your hand feels like it’s been dipped in acid. During those two minutes you’re running to wash your hands and then you’re washing your hands and you can’t think of anything else except the blinding pain. And then the pain subsides and it’s hard to remember how badly it hurt.
This is what homesickness feels like, except the blinding pain is inside you so there’s no washing it out; you’ve got to ride it out until it subsides. And when you’re fully ensconced in a life that’s thousands of miles from the aforementioned home, you pray it does subside because the alternative – a tailspin into abject unhappiness followed by the crash of an enormous life change – is unthinkable. In the meantime, your existence is pulled apart as you go through your life here while your heart and soul are there.
A few things should be noted about homesickness:
- It’s not the same as missing a person or a place, although missing can turn into homesickness if not kept in check. If you’re missing someone, get in contact with them ASAP. If it’s a place you’re missing, do whatever you can to have the place you’re in overwhelm you.
- It’s not the same as home pride. I cry like a baby whenever I hear the National Anthem over here, but it doesn’t make me want to take the next plane to America.
- It’s not the same as negative culture shock, at least as far as expats go. While culture shock is a very real thing, it makes you more pissed off and disconcerted than anything else. Homesickness makes you ache.
- It’s dangerous to mistake nostalgia for homesickness. You can’t bring back the past, even if you go back to the physical place.
- It’s always a big freaking surprise. There’s no predicting it, which means there’s no avoiding it.
- Its trigger is inconsistent. You can look at a photo or listen to a song or watch a movie or hear from someone back home a million times with no homesickness; then it triggers a crushing weight of homesickness; then the next time you’re fine.
- It’s out of your control. Although I’m not sure why you’d want to, theoretically you could work yourself into a lather missing someone through conscious effort. Homesickness is more like actual sickness, like a cold – you’re feeling fine and all of sudden, “Dammit, now where did this stuffy nose come from?”
This past Sunday, Fabulous Cousin sent me a gorgeous photo from his phone of my hometown beach, and wrote that he was having dinner with my parents later on. I wanted to be there so badly! I miss my beach, and my family, and those long late summer afternoons around the table or out on the porch. I miss people dropping in all the time for coffee. I miss the heavy, salty air at night and listening to the sound of the waves from my bed. But I’m not homesick.
I miss Rome as well, although not as strongly because I’m there so often. But there are times, especially in the summer, when I wish I was walking with Marco along the aqueduct to Luca and Alfio’s house for a rooftop dinner, or exploring some hidden corner of the city with Leo and Vincenzo.
New York, though. New York is my Achilles’ Heel of homesickness. Right now, in fact, I’m having a nasty bout of homesickness for New York and it sucks. And this time, I’m blaming the gays!
Of all the things in this world that don’t affect me directly, there are two I consider personal “hot button” issues – education and gay rights. I actually can’t even defend them at length, because after about 30 seconds I get so worked up I start crying. A couple weeks ago was Montpellier’s Pride parade, and I cried through the whole thing. And don’t get me started on scenes about education in The West Wing; I’ve watched that show so many times, I start with the waterworks in anticipation of the dialogue I know is coming. Frankly, it’s embarrassing; but I won’t apologize.
All this is to say that I woke up on Saturday to the news that New York passed a gay marriage law. Yay! I watched the speeches from the floor of the State Senate, and yes, I cried when a woman yelled THANK YOU in the silence that followed the cheers that followed the vote count. I was so proud of New York. And as I clicked through the many photo galleries of celebrations, I wished with all my heart that I could have been there to join in the party.
But I didn’t feel homesick until I saw a photo of the Empire State Building lit up in rainbow colors. BOOM. A part of my soul detached, traveled over the Atlantic, and settled itself somewhere between Bar & Books and Corner Bistro. A picture of movie night at Bryant Park, which usually brings back happy memories, instead made my heart hurt. I often imagine “Empire State of Mind,” a great anthem performed by Alica Keys, being played before a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden; this time it was as if New York itself was reminding me of my roots, and calling me back. Even the sound of an American police car siren on a show I was watching hit me like a punch. And the show wasn’t even set in New York! Ridiculous. Stupid homesickness.
And then, this morning, it was gone. I’ve returned to sanity, and a strong desire to have fun right here – at this home, my home. Here and now.
Just let me listen to this song one… more… time: