“I’m kinda afraid.”
“Why?” My dad’s voice was full of concern.
“I’m afraid that everything will have changed. That nothing back home will be as I remember it.”
“Things don’t change too fast in Mount Prospect, Scott. Everything’s pretty much the same as when you left.”
This was along the lines of the phone conversation I had with my Dad before Noel and I flew back to Chicago for the first time. Noel had never been to the USA, and we’d been living together for 3 and a half years by that point in time.
I was nervous and scared and excited and apprehensive and longing to go back home to visit. Before I’d left, I’d only come out to a few people, and here I was, returning home, pretty much out of the closet; something about being halfway around the world made it easier to come out. (Something I would never suggest someone do, by the way; your friends and family deserve better. My friends and family deserved better.)
My Dad was right; everything was the same. And, I think, that’s more frightening. It was very strange for me. You see, I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. A twister of my longing to explore the world snatched me away from Chicago and whisked me off to New Zealand, and the world as I knew it went from black and white and drab to green and blue and yellow, a rainbow of colours, and full of possibilities and adventures.
I was living in New Zealand, fighting for equal immigration rights for LGBT couples, working, meeting new people. We were starting to become successful at work, with a growing roll and more recognition for our hard work from our peers and international governing bodies. We had a home, a real home, with loving pets, and a wonderful back yard and living room we could crash in after a long day’s work, pop the cork on a bottle of wine, and shoot the shit. I’d been to Australia and Bali (Indonesia) and explored parts of those rather foreign places, seeing some amazing sights in the process. There was so much to tell, so much to share, about my journeys and my life.
And then I was home again.
The lawns and trees seemed a little greener, the flowers smelled stronger, the people friendlier; it was home as I’d never seen it before. I imagine it was home through Noel’s eyes, much like I’d seen his lifelong home of Christchurch through fresh, eager eyes when I’d arrived.
But none of my friends and family seemed to have radically changed; it was almost as if time had frozen them, and I’d been away, and I’d grown so much, and they’d stayed… the same.
Back to the Dorothy analogy: I’d had the most wonderful adventure that’d taught me so much about myself, seeing colours and sights I’d never thought I’d see, hearing songs and happiness I’d never thought I’d hear, yet here I was, back again in that black and white, drab place I called home, struggling for words to express what I’d seen and done. Yes, it was black and white and drab, but maybe not as black and white and drab as I remembered it.
Being away makes you appreciate where you come from more. It defines you. It gives you a place in the world. It is the familiar in a crazy world of unfamiliar. You long it, you crave it, you want to return there as soon as you can, but, after a while, you ache to return to your life of adventure, to the new place you call home, using it as a springboard to destinations your friends and family only ever dream of going. And then you’re a bitch and send them post cards from places they’ve only dreamed of going — motherfreakin’ post cards! — just to rub a little salt into the wound.
But there’s a price for being away. You don’t get to see your brothers grow up, or their first love blossom, or their kids grow up day-by-day. You can’t watch your parents grow old, or hold their hands when they are suffering, or offer a shoulder to cry on when your grandparents are slowly slipping away, memory by memory, and the roles between your parents and your grandparents reversed.
I have thought about this a lot over the 17 years I have lived in New Zealand. I’ve gone through bouts of homesickness and guilt for not being there when my family needs me most. But I also understand I have my life to live (which my family and friends always remind me), and I can’t define the happiness in my life completely by making everyone else happy except me.
To be honest, I don’t think I would’ve appreciated home, my family, and my friends as much as I do now if I hadn’t left. And that works both ways; when I’m in the US, I appreciate my friends and family in Christchurch, and I miss them, too.
Live in the moment, and enjoy it for what it’s worth, no matter where you are.