In early January, I arrived in Geneva, Switzerland to begin what I thought would be 4 months studying abroad. The minute I stepped off the plane in Geneva, I was in love with the city. The mountainous backdrop, the swiss concern for cleanliness, and the European atmosphere pulled me. My love only grew by the day during my time there. I remember feeling a semblance of adulthood, worldliness and giddy anxiety. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, until I wasn’t.
On March 12th, the University I attend back in the United States decided my situation in Europe had become too precarious, with the growing uncertainty of a global pandemic. I was back in the U.S. 48 hours later.
It is now March 31st. I have been back in the United States for exactly two weeks. For several reasons, tomorrow is the first day I will be home, the place I grew up, since coming back from Switzerland. Despite having had two weeks of time to think about my feelings and the situation at hand, I had yet to cry, until today.
The past two weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions. A friend of mine compared her feelings to the stages of grief. I can see no better way to describe it. I have been angry, sad, depressed, in denial and emotionless all together. Despite this, I hadn’t cried. I wanted so badly to on more than one occasion in the past two weeks. I was jealous of friends who had been able to cry, sob, let it all out. I wanted to scream at the world, and cry until I had nothing left. But I couldn’t.
What happened tonight, which let loose the emotions that I’ve held back since I left Geneva? Deep in the thoughts of returning home, the 10 hour drive it would take to get there, and the current state of the world in general, I felt tears in my eyes, and the feeling of emotion in my chest. I knew the place I would be going home to wouldn’t be home at all. It would be my bed, my childhood room, my parents, my dogs and cats, but it wouldn’t be home. It could never be home if my Mom, a healthcare worker, has no contact with the rest of my family and walks around the house with a mask and gloves on at all times. It could never be home if my Dad told us to wash our hands 34 times a day, if we stockpiled toilet paper like it was water during a drought, if we all had a little bit of fears in our eyes and hearts, not knowing what tomorrow, next week or next month would look like.
It wouldn’t be the home where I learned to ride a bike, or the home where I told my parents I hated them for the first time. It wouldn’t be the home where I had laughed until I cried, fought with my siblings, and done my homework every night of elementary, middle and high school. They say a home is the people in it, but to me it felt like my home, the place I had always known, was nowhere to be found. I cried about it, for the first time, until my eyes stung.
I’m not sure where we go from here. I’ve stopped crying and I will get up and drive home tomorrow. The same roads, to the same house, to the same people. It is all the same, until it isn’t.
Last week, my Mom told me: “All I want is to hug your father. And you know, I don’t even like hugging. I hugged his feet yesterday because I needed to.” I guess that is where we go from here. We hug our loved ones by the feet, we live in our homes that aren’t our homes, and we wait for this to end. I can’t wait until this is over, and home is home again.
It has been nearly a month since I wrote what is above. Rereading it, I see a woman afraid of what is to come and angry at the world for the uncertainty it has bestowed upon her and those she loves. In that month, many of my feelings of anger have ceased. I am home now, and although I was afraid of everything being different, the people I love are the same as they always were. My brother makes the whole family laugh and shake their heads, and my sister is still her bubbly and charismatic self. My parents smile more every day, and we all play virtual trivia together on Wednesday evenings. In the month since I wrote this, I have come to know that although home is place, yes, it is more about the people. The people you love are the same day in day out, and those we surround ourselves with will carry us through any crisis we face, either in the world or in our own lives.
I can’t say that I feel completely fine or that every day is good one because that would not be true. In the past month I have faced a frustrating lack of ability to get any real work done, a short temper and my own pessimism. Some days I when I wake up, I just want to go back to sleep, and forget the bad dream this world is sometimes. But even on those days, the days I can’t seem to do anything productive, and the days I have to admit my own weaknesses, I remember that this won’t last forever, and I am still me every morning I open my eyes. I am capable of immense sadness, dread and anger, but I am also capable of feeling passion, liveliness and vigor for life. I am me, and you are you, and we are part of this world, no matter what it looks like after. Maybe learning a thing or two about ourselves, the ones we love and the world along the way won’t be such a bad thing. I know I have, and still am.