When I told you that I’ve been living in Spain for a total of 4.5 years and just over the last 3 years consecutively, you (like most everyone else I share this information with) asked me “Don’t you miss Chicago/the United States?” and (like most every time I’ve answered this question) I replied “No, not really…I miss my family and friends, sure, but not so much Chicago or the U.S. specifically.” This has been my answer for so long now that I sometimes don’t even think before giving it and—while it is technically still true—I believe this blase, rehearsed response leaves out a lot of the feelings that I’ve had to rifle through each time I’ve TRULY considered the question in the past. Thus, I wanted to dive a bit deeper and be a bit more honest with you today.
Perhaps this confession will come as a surprise to you or perhaps it will be met with a resounding ‘duh!’ but something I often don’t even allow myself to admit TO MYSELF is that I really miss home! Like really, really miss it like crazy. I miss having my parents in the same house (or at least the same state!) and knowing that I could turn to them at a moment’s notice whenever needed. I miss having friends who I’ve known for decades within a 10 minute drive from my house, that I can just show up 10 minutes after a “hey are you home?” text, and that their parents won’t mind or even think twice when I walk through the front door without ringing and just head straight up to their room as if it were mine. I miss the holidays meaning that I will have the same boring plan (sit in a basement or meet at a bar?) every night, but LOVING it because it means I’ve got a week or more on end of seeing my favorite people every single day.
For someone who isn’t living 4,000+ miles from their hometown, that all might seem mundane and non-essential but when you live as far away as I do and have watched Christmas after Christmas, Fourth of July after Fourth of July, and even best friend’s wedding after best friend’s wedding come and go without having that, you start to appreciate how much the little things matter. And it’s not that I haven’t created a home for myself here in Spain nor that I’m lacking in amazing friends because I know people here would be just as happy to meet me at the bar or keep me company on the couch…But there’s something different about the comfortable familiarity of friends and family that have known you for your whole life (or what seems like your whole life).
Sometimes, I think the hardest part of missing home is that I don’t feel I have the right to admit that I miss it because it’s been MY decision to move so far away. The distance has been hard on my family and taken a toll on many of my friendships and no one had a say in that other than me. So who am I now to say “Boo hoo, I miss home”? Because it’s not that I wish I were there instead; I don’t regret my choice to move because I love Granada more than I’ve loved any other place in the world. This is where I want my life to exist…I just wish all the people I love from back home could magically be here as well…and how selfish is that?
So, for the most part, I ignore the obvious and write off the pain of feeling estranged from loved ones because I think of it as my cross to bear for the decision I chose to make. I’m certainly someone who’s harder on myself than I would ever be on any of my friends and so I recognize that it’s cruel and unusual punishment to talk to myself so negatively…but I generally get caught up in it anyways.
And, besides, the real issue that makes missing home so hard and futile is that ‘home’ and all the memories, people, and positive emotions I associate with it no longer exists. My parents don’t own a house in the suburbs of Chicago anymore, six out of my nine closest friends currently live out of state (if not abroad!), and two of my grandparents have since passed away, meaning that holidays as I knew them no longer exist either. Even though I invest so much energy into missing it all…perhaps that energy is completely wasted because even if I had some magical, economical way of jetting home tomorrow so much of what my heart is aching for isn’t there anymore.
Perhaps that is a common frustration of growing up. Perhaps it happens to every person who moves out of state after college just as it happens to every person who chooses to stay in their hometown, but watches so much of their ‘home’ move away and deteriorate as well. Perhaps this isn’t unique to the experience of living abroad for a significant amount of time at all…But there’s a part of me that, for better or for worse, thinks that it would be easier if I hadn’t moved SO far, if I didn’t have to go SO long between visiting home. Yet that just brings me back to the argument of “well, you DID choose this…” and you know how the vicious circle goes from there.
But anyways, I don’t want to drone on any longer about how it’s difficult to be so far from home because I genuinely believe ‘home’ in my mind is the feeling I have when surrounded by the familiar people who make me feel loved and I DO have that—both here in Spain and back home. I’m able to bask in the beautiful ‘homeiness’ of a long Skype call with my best friend, a deep chat in Spanish over delicious tea, and the random Whatsapp messages that say “Thinking about you and missing you so much!” My sense of ‘home’ now exists in the most unexpected moments and beautiful little things. And besides, in the wise words of Winnie the Pooh, missing home only reminds me to think “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”