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Homecoming, December 2014

On the train from Maastricht to Liege--day 42 since my flight from Philadelphia to Seattle--I learned something about the world that I would never forget. With my life in boxes and backpacks, split between my house in Pennsylvania and the straps around my shoulders, I realized that the world could give me a home of wherever I planted my feet. 

Be it naive to believe, but our teachers in class always told us how many people would be so ready to open their homes to us. That the world was ours for the taking. It's a young and bright-eyed thought to think, but I learned that all these outrageous dreams are based in a glimmer of truth. Two months onto the road, I found it in me, the skill the nomadic soul must have to hold on. The ability to remember and to forge on all at once, home both behind us and before us.

Flemish farmlands, lustre green painted against jet streams welcomed me into Bruges when it all fell upon me. Somewhere between reminding myself to replace Merci! with Dankjewel! and trying to find chocolate to satiate an unmanageable hunger, I let go of traveling and I welcomed myself to the idea that "home" was wherever I stood, a skill I would use every day in Europe. I lived in this place, this continent; I couldn't call it a vacation or some grand excursion. From country to country, I learned to call it simply living

 

Europe, however, has been locked away in my leather-bound book, a story those pages will only ever hear. I exhausted every millimeter of glass on every train window, from Prague to Amsterdam to Bavaria. I cried over Prague, over Vienna, over the Atlantic, over the Northern Lights on our first flight to Amsterdam. My hiking boots and the clothes I wore, the bag full of Nutella packs I stole from a Dutch hostel, the 19 cent bread I lived off of, my sub-100 bank account balance, and the people who kept me hostage with their love and hospitality: these things made up my reality.

Among all the silence of cross-continental train rides and the memory of summer fading away, I felt the fulfillment of a step into the unknown. Certainly there were bad days, but the tears always came from the bursts of life that took siege of me, from the good memories, from the winds and the high sun. At 19, I cried tears of wonderment in castles and palaces and in empty horse fields and on bike-rides through the small farmtown that I called home for those three months.

For all that time and amidst all those blissful challenges, the cliche proved true: it was so hard to get lonely. How easy it is to feel loved when you are alone and in the arms of the world.

When I got home, with four months past, the ideas didn't match up. Nineteen years calling one place home and then four months of calling the road my home just didn't coalesce. As I learned to gratify one with the other, it made perfect sense that home would feel disorienting.

Homecoming hurt, with forty-two hours sleepless from Amsterdam to Boston, reverse culture shock and jet-lag casting a fog over the hugs and screams and reunions. A semester of quiet ceded to a rapturous welcome home, an explosion of thought, a dissociation of self. 

But then comes family, the one thing that the road will never have for me, even when I am with those I love: for the road is fast, but love is slow. For slowness becomes our greatest gift when we want to sprint. 

I can't pretend that everything with family seems fresh, new, and exciting; because that just wouldn't be true. But novelty does not always come from seeing something magical for the first time; it too exists in the comfort of love that comes from stillness, quietness, slowness. 

Home has had me lying on floors and feeling like everything's a dream, sleeping on deflated air mattresses and foam pads and carpets. Home has had me sewing all my pants back together, needles pricking my fingertips. I cannot the stop wear from shedding Europe off of my body as I patch the pants that struggled through four months of hikes and excursions without Google Maps.

Home means TV nights, Manhattan Bagel, and cheesesteak grease. Home means all of us squishing on the floor together, ugly Christmas sweaters, Sesame Street and Will Ferrell. Polaroids and presents, film rolls and prayers for snow, and the silence of the blood of home slowly moving through our veins. 

Home has had me standing over cliffs in the pouring rain, dancing at four in the morning, waking up in a bed that feels familiar, and it has had me laughing again. And most important of all, it  has had me remembering what it feels like to let my guard down and not being constantly afraid of missing the last train home. 

1. we took instax polaroids
grain green and highlights hidden
in-between smiling incisors
that covered our grim
our shadows blue
our silhouettes silent and then

our handheld glories
would sing in their fadeable infinities
from the corner of my wallet pressed against
the darkness of my pocket to the darkness
of your lonely
to the darkness of our made-up everythings
that we shared 
among waffle cupcakes and cheap wine

blue ridge mountains to appalachia
to the wind tunnels
of new england
we scratch and rub
away the crystals of memory
collecting picture pixels in our pockets
coastlines stained with liquor

all we wanted 
was just one more look

 through what we carry is what we love
we make fade away when the grains have all but become
dust and scratches 
the instant of the instances
will be swept and collected
trampled on by dogs or hectic
lost hands looking for
direction
some piled in trash compactors
left to be broken down by chemicals
for memory’s lost traction

they will tell us that we will forget 
those days but
when, from this picture we carry,
the neurons synapses of our memories
have broken connection 
to our distant voices

i will remember when we were 
 young,
that my body never forgets the day 
that your laughter made home 
 in my ribs
that i can never let you out 
 of my lungs