10 Moments You Have Living Far Away from Home Longterm

by - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

1. The first 24 hours of a visit, where everyone has forgotten how annoying you are and seem genuinely happy to see you- When we get back, our niece and nephew are so excited, because they know we will play with them. They forget all the times we have to leave or we just want to sit and talk to their grandma. A lot of our personality sins (lateness, crazy schedules, know-it-alls, eventually getting tired at Simon Says) are temporarily forgotten in the warm light of memory. This visit has the potential to be the best yet (vacations work the same way- the first 24 hours are almost always the best), and this is one of the nicest parts of living far away. 

2.The last 24 hours of a visit, where everyone is sick of your bullshit and wants to get back to their normal life-We leave our shit everywhere, we are always on the run (though in our defense, if you want our undivided attention, you know where to find us the other 47 weeks of the year), and we are never around when we are supposed to be.  We are a weird kind of visitor, because we used to be familiar, but we are still visitors, disrupting the usual routine. By the end of trips, we can usually tell people just want their cars/ space/ time back. For the last 3 Christmases, we have said we shouldn't stay so long on the day we leave, because everyone is so solidly sick of us by then. It's a tough balance to find, and when I figure it out, I will let you know.

3. That moment where you call the place you live currently home, but you know it isn't home home- If you can go to the grocery store without anyone asking about a family member or seeing someone you really don't want to see, you aren't home (on the other hand, you could buy any weird thing you want, and your grandma won't find out about it later in the week). 

4. That moment where you meet someone from the same region and are filled with radiant joy- Everytime I see Steelers clothing, I get excited, and who cares about sports. I got even more excited last week to see a Pirates poster in a neighbor's window, because you really have to be from the area to like the Pirates. They don't attract many fair weather fans. In my graduate program, one of my colleagues was from Altoona, and we spent hours waxing poetic and Sheetz hot dogs and Smiley cookies. I am psyched when someone can tell I am from Western PA because of my diction. What you realize when you live away from home is that you still belong to that place, so you connect with people who have similar experiences. I notice this with my Sicilian Father-in-law as well, who has deep and important connections with people who also immigrated from Italy.

This joy is like tenfold when people come to visit. It is the awesomest.Your visits are basically my favorite thing in the world.

5. That moment where you are shocked that some people don't think Red Lobster is the height of fanciness- And on the flipside, when you are telling a family member about that cool restaurant you just went to, and you can see in their eyes they think you are a doushe. And you know they are a little bit right, because you probably would be happier to go back to Red Lobster. Mmm cheddar biscuits.

6. That moment when you realize that you are missing the hard work of being present, and that the person you are looking at has no idea how hard being absent is- I still know that being there all the time has its own work, even if it seems like I have forgotten. It forces you to be consistent, to show up for ALL of the moments that aren't that fun, and to be expected to make food on holidays (eeek). You also can have opinions on the total lack of jobs there, but you don't have to feel personally responsible for growing the city's opportunities (though I wonder how much millenial guilt there is about leaving hometowns). You feel selfish, because we grew up in a space where you take care of the people and places that took care of you, and you aren't participating in that anymore. You want that sometimes boring work, because it makes everything else mean something and what makes communities great, but the entries to this get slimmer as the time grows longer. It is hard to not eventually grow sad and bitter about these things (at least for me, who reads it all as these series of rejections, even if the root of the problem is my own doing), but I am trying to be intentional about that, because I don't want to live with that bitterness forever.

Coming back to your small town feels a little like coming back from the dead every couple of months. This is the sad realization that you weren't really missed.  People have moved on without you. Time has marched on without you. People still miss you, but its like one tiny puzzle piece of their life is gone, and they can mostly live without it. You, on the other hand, spend most of your days feeling like a lone puzzle piece wrongly shuffled into another box.

7. That moment where you realize you may be selfish, but at least you have the courage to make a fool out of yourself basically daily- You find yourself standing at an art opening where a few people are naked but fisherman's hats. Or you spend a Saturday afternoon watching laser light shows set to Motown music in a planetarium. Or you meet someone for Thai food for lunch. Or for the millionth time, you introduce yourself to someone completely new and try to strike up a conversation. When your comfort zone is so far away that all bets are off, and that makes living far away kind of fun and cool.

8. That moment where you can no longer think of a major airport you haven't slept on the floor of- Why have I gotten to Pennsylvania by way of Atlanta? Or Boston? Eventually, you have even seen all the scenic routes, and you have very specific opinions on your favorite airports, primarily based on whether they have a really efficient Jamba Juice, a cool light show, or a Pizza Hut/ Hagen Daaz combo. You also have ones you hate, based on their benches, their weird pretzel smells, or their total lack of moving walkways (I am looking at you Phoenix, what the hell). You know you have lived away from home too long if you know exactly which airports I am referring to.

9. That moment when you walk back into your own space and can really appreciate that you are making a teeny tiny home for yourself- Even if you live many zipcodes away, the home you make feels way better than all that empty spaces in between this transience and home's permanence (sorry Nebraska). Everyone is there, if just in pictures and spirit, and that can be great too. It can be encouraging and exciting to feel like we have our own little thing going on. Plus, this is also the moment you get off the supershuttle, so life is really good.

10.  That moment when you realize, in horror, that unless you do something, your kids may not know their cousins well, they may not ever get to spend Christmas in their own beds, and they may not understand how great it is to grow up in a small town- I grapple with these questions, of what we may be robbing our kids of, all the time. I don't know the answer, except that I am learning day by day that the fact that our family looks different than the ones we grew up in isn't necessarily a bad thing. Growing up in a small town builds a love for tradition, a deep commitment to family and friends, and establishing a strong sense of who you are, but if you have to leave, it can make you feel all the more vulnerable out in the world. It's a tricky question for sure, and if you know the answer, let us know.

I know this comes off as negative, but it really is just being honest about a state of living I know a lot of people have been stuck in. I am really grateful to have these adventures, but I also miss home so much. Looking forward to being back in PA tomorrow night!

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