Homesick

One of the things that really sucks about having a career-driven life is having to live in DC. There are a lot of genuinely awesome people here, and there are also genuinely awesome people who like it here (DC isn’t inhabited entirely by Congressional reps who’ve taken leave of their senses, I promise!) – but sweet fancy Moses, I’m not one of them.

Long before this summer and its health crises (and the attendant fear, sadness, and general misery), I was seriously homesick. I miss the mountains, the sunsets, and the 300 days of sunshine per year. I even miss the smell of Colorado. But most of all, I miss the people. I miss my parents, our extended family, the family friends who’ve known me since I was 3 feet tall, and old friends from when I was growing up. Colorado is where my soul feels centered, safe, and happy.

After things got rough, though, I became acutely, painfully homesick. A few weeks ago when I was on the Metro, I saw a woman carrying a bag from the exact yoga studio in Denver where I used to sweat out my grad school stress with one of my closest friends. I nearly burst into tears, so I distracted myself for a bit (there was another passenger with truly fabulous shoes, so I focused on those for a few minutes). I started to feel better, only to look up again and see a bag, no more than a few inches from my face, with a big COLORADO written on it. At that point, it took everything in me not to weep openly on public transportation.

 

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That’s right friends: I nearly had an ugly cry of Kim Kardashian proportions.

 

A similar moment happened the next day, when I was reading my hometown newspaper online and saw an ad for the library system there. Now, I looooooove the library and spent the better part of my youth at the branch near our house.  That place holds more fond memories than I can even count. In a fit of nostalgia, I went to their website and poked around a bit. Lo and behold, I found the activity calendar for the branch where I grew up – and as it turns out, they have tons of awesome free classes: Reiki 101, how to grow a vegetable garden in your back yard…the list goes on.

At that point I nearly cried again, so I decided to see what sorts of classes/talks are available at the Arlington public library. I was hopeful! I was optimistic! Maybe there’d be similarly cool offerings here!

Well. Let’s just say I live in a place where people have a different set of interests than those of people back home. Here in DC, the library offers Mandarin conversation groups, nanny groups, and stock trading talks. To put it mildly, I’d much rather learn about Reiki and gardening than Mandarin grammar and stock trading.

That’s when it really sunk in: there are so, so many ways in which I don’t fit in here. I’d known this on an intellectual level for quite some time – after all, I spent years going along with the whole “shut down your emotions, be super ambitious, learn to be a bureaucrat, and only wear gray or black pant suits” motif, only to realize that I’m creative, emotive, and independent, and that I absolutely hate pant suits – but suddenly, the fact that I don’t fit DC’s demographic hit me on a whole new level.

It’s funny: when I was younger, I wanted nothing more than stability and permanence in one location. We moved across the country when I was 16, and then my parents moved to the Midwest just after I’d started college – so I started my adult years with a profound sense of dislocation. (They wound up moving back to Colorado when I was 24, which was also when I returned to Colorado for grad school.)

When I was in my 20’s, I figured that the solution to that sense of dislocation was to find a job, settle down, and stay in one place. I figured I could bloom wherever I was planted, provided that I stayed long enough to put down roots.

As it turns out, though, spending a long time in one place isn’t enough for me. I’ve been in DC for almost five years – this is the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I was 16 – and yet the more time passes, it the less it feels like home. And, when things got incredibly stressful and scary over the summer and early fall, I found that I need that sense of being at home more and more.

I miss the mountains.... the feeling of something bigger than me.  My silent guardians.  >Sigh<  #homesick.

It’s kind of an odd lesson to learn amidst everything else that’s going on: that what I really need in order to feel at home is, in fact, completely different from what I always thought. I can’t just make a place my home – being there for a long time just doesn’t work, nor does my trying with all my might.

We’ll hopefully be able to visit Colorado sometime in early 2014, and there’s a good chance that I’ll be tempted to 1) kiss the ground when we arrive, even if it’s the icky airport floor, and 2) chain myself to a tree in my parents’ backyard to keep from having to leave. (Moi? Exaggerate? Mais non!) I’m sure everyone will totally appreciate both of those things.

For now, though, I have a small piece of home sitting on my dresser: some rocks that my parents picked up and my mom brought out for me when she visited earlier this month. By way of explanation, since I was a baby, I’ve been fascinated by rocks. Growing up in Colorado, where there were rocks all over the place, I amassed an impressive collection.

Like most childhood things, though, my rock collection has long since disappeared. However! My parents, knowing how homesick I’ve been, decided that I needed a piece of home to keep with me. While they were out hiking along one of our favorite trails, they picked up pieces of quartz and pink granite – the main things you see in Colorado Springs – and sent them along to their displaced daughter.

 

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So, while I can’t go home anytime soon, I at least have a small piece of Colorado that I can look at each morning. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s better than nothing.

And, with that, let it be known: someone needs to invent a teleportation device ASAP. If any of y’all happen to have jobs in science and technology, please get on that project. :)

If you don’t live in or near the place you call home, do you ever get homesick?

If so, how do you deal with it when homesickness strikes? (I’m open to suggestions!)

24 responses

  1. Well I don’t know how helpful I can be unfortunately because I moved somewhere else twice and was completely stressed out of my mind and miserable the entire time. I just didn’t fit and couldn’t ever relax so in the end I actually moved back to my hometown. It took me a while to realise for some reason but this really is where I belong. I’m just hoping this doesn’t interfere with my plans to win the lottery and move to Paris to open up a bookshop! It’s just a question of what’s most important to you at this point in your life and figuring out whether the pros outway the cons. Also, living in DC doesn’t have to be forever and your home in Colorado will be there whenever you manage to get back there.

  2. I think you know I can relate to this. I think it is also that pressure when you talk to anyone they are like’ wow you live in DC, I heard that place is amazing, such a young scene, you must love it’. but really? I find it just a transitional place for me. I know having this mentality could also be shooting myself in the foot but it is true. everyone seems to spend a short amount of time here with in the end moving out. it helps to at least be doing things I love making this place a bit more welcoming. Hey, and I am always here – my non-intellectual self and all :)

    • Right? The whole “Oh, you’re working DC, which means you must have a glamorous job and spend your time around powerful people” thing drives me nuts. My job is anything but glamorous, I occasionally see important people across a crowded room but have no desire to interact with them, and I don’t love it. And OMG yes, DC is such a transient city — I feel like most people wind up either leaving or getting sucked into careers that they hate but feel they can’t leave. It’s a vicious cycle!

      Also, us non-intellectuals need to get together sometime soon! :)

  3. I felt so incredibly homesick at times when I was living in NYC. It’s kind of amazing how lonely you can feel in one of the most population dense cities in the world! It almost makes it worse.Skype is an amazing thing as are movie theaters. Whenever I felt sad I would go see a movie….alone. It’s one of the few places in the world where I can disconnect. And I love movie theater popcorn ;)

    • Oy, I can only imagine how lonely NYC must’ve felt. I often feel the most lonely when I’m surrounded by a crush of people — people who don’t know each other, don’t care what happens to anyone around them, and have no intention of interacting or creating a sense of community.

      I totally agree about movies, too. Brandon and I spend a LOT of time watching movies, since they’re the perfect form of escapism. :)

  4. Aw, I’m sorry to hear that. :( If it helps, that’s how I feel about Houston. Lived here most of my life but it’s never felt like home to me and I can’t wait to leave as soon as I possible can. Hope you can find a home that feels comfortable to you if DC isn’t it.

  5. First, I had a rock collection when I was younger too! I didn’t live in a place that made it easy to collect rocks.. it’s not easy to find anything other than brown/gray rocks in NJ backyards, but we’d dig anyway.

    Second, I remember when I was in high school and college and just could not understand why people stuck around the town we all grew up in. But then I left for college in Virginia and ended up back in NJ (my comfort zone) for junior year. After college, I did everything I could to get out of my hometown.. first moving to Philly and then to South Carolina. While I still have absolutely zero desire to live in my hometown, I am back in New Jersey because it’s where I feel home.

    While reading this post, I tried to think of what I did when I felt homesick while living in SC. Honestly? I think my main way of coping was to get out and remind myself of why SC was so awesome. I mean, I would call/text my friends when I was homesick.. to have a piece of home. But for me, walking the bridge (my fav place in Charleston) or heading to the beach was the best remedy for MY homesickness.

    • That makes perfect sense, honestly — when you grow up in one place, leaving for other/new places is incredibly appealing. I think in many cases, people have to leave and experience those other areas before they can realize what they love about their hometown/state. And in your case, living in NJ but not in your hometown makes perfect sense: you’re within driving distance of your family and in a place that feels comfortable without being stifled by living in the town where you grew up. It sounds like the perfect solution to me! :)

  6. Aw hun, I’m so sorry.I felt very similarly where my family lives now about an hour north of Pittsburgh. They had a lifestyle there that just didn’t work with me at all…completely opposite to how I had been raised, very small minded, and incredibly stifling. I never felt like I fit in, which made those some rough years. I’ve been a lot happier since I moved to Pittsburgh; it’s not a city (despite what some would have you believe haha), but it is a giant town that has a lot to do without overwhelming you with a big city vibe. I’m close enough to my family that I can see them often, which is a huge perk, but I’ve definitely carved a life love here in the burgh. Pittsburgh isn’t anything like DC, though, and I think I would struggle in a place like that or NYC or even Philly after a while. I like places that have stuff to do but aren’t too big, people are usually nice, and there’s a genuine community feel…and if we ever have to move, I have a feeling I will have a very rough transition. I think it’s really sweet that your parents sent you some pieces of home :) I hope you guys get to visit early in 2014. Hang in there, love….it’ll be here before we know it!

    • Every time I’ve been to Pittsburgh, I’ve noticed that it has exactly the vibe you describe: it has a lot to do and has a vibrant culture without being overwhelming. I love that you’ve carved out a life you’re happy with there — especially after all those years of not fitting in (and being in a stifling, small-minded place can really suck the life out of you), it’s wonderful that you found a place that works for you and makes you happy. :)

  7. I spent the first 23 years of my life feeling like I completely did not belong where I was (in the Midwest). I didn’t really understand what the feeling was until I moved to Seattle and felt immediately a sense of belonging to the place and the people that I never felt in my home town. It was literally immediate. I hadn’t even set foot in Seattle, I was in my car moving there having never visited before and I felt a deep connection that’s difficult to describe. It was like a deep bell chimed in my heart in perfect harmony with my surroundings. It’s a very similar feeling to my love for my husband. We just belong together. Whenever I am away from Seattle I am homesick for it. I can’t imagine being away for 5 years! I guess my post isn’t very helpful to your current situation. I just thought I’d chime in & let you know I understand your feelings. I would recommend making an exit strategy that leads you in the direction of your true happiness. Much love <3

    • Thanks, hon — I really appreciate it. What you said makes perfect sense: that feeling of belonging and being in perfect harmony with your surroundings. I love that this happened for you, both with Seattle and with your husband — it’s exactly how things should be, so it makes me happy to know that you have that ease and harmony. <3

  8. I’m so sorry that you’re feeling homesick! Love the Kim Kardashian ugly cry pictures :) This is such an interesting post to read, because I’m in the opposite situation – I’m living where I grew up but I’m wanting to move someplace else. However, I know I’d miss my family and I keep going back and forth about what I want to do! I guess I just have this wanderlust for some place new. I’m staying in PA at least until I finish grad school, so I’ve got some time to get it all figured out!

    • That makes perfect sense — when you’ve been in one place for a long time, I can totally see how you’d want to go someplace new and different. When I was growing up in CO, I desperately wanted to live in other places and I had a wild case of wanderlust. Lo and behold, living in lots of other places has made me realize how much I love and miss Colorado. Oh, how the times have changed! :)

  9. I no longer get homesick with the moves I’ve had over the years, though I did become a smidge homesick when I traveled to Croatia – as much as I loved the country, it wasn’t home. For me, home is where I hang my hat.

    Now, I want to know why you never became a geologist?

    • Hah! I do think I would’ve enjoyed geology — but really, there were so many things I’ve been interested over the years (biology, geology, medicine, international relations…the list goes on) that it’s kind of a minor miracle that I ever narrowed it down to one specific career. :)

  10. Aw, Lillian! I can totally relate. I grew up outside Chicago and I currently live in the city itself, after a four-year stint in Boston (which I did grow to love, but only after an intense year-long period of homesickness). However, moving back to Chicago at 22 was a definite homecoming. There’s something so incredibly *easy* about Chicago to me. I don’t feel the need to explain myself, where I’m from, why I talk the way I do, etc. I feel calm and supported here. That being said, I think it’s so important to strike out and try a different region, because it helps you figure out where you’re truly supposed to be!

    I hope a move to Colorado is in your near future! It sounds like it’s just where you belong. How does your hubby feel about it?

    • Jorie, that’s a perfect description of one of the things I miss the most: the ease of being home, being around people who understand me, and feeling calm and supported by the people around you. I’ve needed that these last few months, so I think that’s what has made the homesickness especially acute.

      I really hope that a move out West is in our future — we’ve talked about making an escape from DC, but it obviously depends on where Brandon’s job prospects take us. He’s from Texas (San Antonio, which I really like) and he loves it the way I love Colorado, so when time comes to make a move, hopefully both CO and TX will be on the short list of places we might land.

  11. I think homesickness is such a difficult emotion because you can so clearly articulate what you know you need – you can see it, you can smell it, and yet it’s still so far away. The only way I’ve ever been able to deal is by asking myself what I am supposed to learn by the experience. How am I supposed to grow through the struggle? It sounds like you’re already doing a bit of that, turning inward and reflecting on what these years in DC are going to give you.

    On a different note, I do know some people who are involved in community gardening in DC. I realize that doesn’t solve your problem, not by a long shot, but it might be helpful to know that your type of people are out there, closer than you might think.

    • Katie, you hit the nail on the head — knowing exactly what you need but being unable to get it is the perfect description of homesickness. Well done!

      As for community gardening, I’ve tossed around that idea for a few years now. We used to live near-ish one before we moved to our new place, so it always piqued my interest. It’d be logistically hard for us at this point, but like you said, it’s at least helpful to know that there are like-minded people somewhere around DC. Thank you for pointing that out! :)

  12. I can so relate to this post. In 2008 I moved to Baltimore for about a year and was miserable. I also thought that if I stayed put long enough, it would be ‘home’ one day soon. But that feeling never came and I ended up leaving back to my home area. No matter how you cut it, when you don’t feel ‘home’, it’s a terrible feeling. I’m hoping that you can find ways to incorporate Colorado into your every day for the time being. Would you ever consider moving back permanently?

    • I’d love to move back permanently, but Brandon feels about Texas (where he’s from) the way I feel about Colorado — so when time comes to move, hopefully we can look at both places. Hopefully once all this health nonsense is behind us, we can start making plans to head back West.

  13. Found you on Twitter and decided to check your blog. Great post. I can relate (living in Santiago, Chile for 4 years now!) and was well expressed. Am following your blog and look forward to being in touch here & twitter. Take care and stay strong! A skype call with a glass of wine can help home sickness :P

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