The therapist’s mantra: “How do you feel about…”
Lord help me. I’m a guy. We talk about horsepower and RBIs; we don’t talk about feelings. How do I feel about leaving the expat lifestyle? How do I feel about moving back to Portland? How do I feel about having a home again?
Could I just have a list of feeling words and I’ll pick a few?
But no, the therapist wants me to find my own feeling words. I imagine Doctor Melfi, crossing those long legs and leveling that infinitely patient, frustratingly silent, expressionless stare into my eyes, waiting for my reply: How do I feel about …
Okay. Here it comes. Wait for it…
I. Feel. Homesick.
I was homesick once before. I was twelve or thirteen, scheduled for an overnight stay at an out-of-town friend’s house. It was the my-dog-just-got-run-over-by-a-car type of homesick. There were tears. I didn’t even last until dinnertime. Mom had to come get me.
This is not a car-hits-dog type of homesick. Mom doesn’t need to come get me. I’m not sad or lonely or desperate. Can I define it with words? The definition is as elusive as the definition of love. When we talk of love we depend on the listener’s empathy to complete the gestalt. You can’t define love with a recitation of its component parts.
The same goes for homesickness. I can talk about comfort, familiarity, and control. I can talk about a lasting community and a common language. I can talk about a permanent address and phone number. I can talk about my own pictures on the walls, my favorite foods in the fridge, my pillowy comforter on the bed. But I can’t assemble all those parts into a description of home, or, in its absence, this homesick feeling.
In this post I suggest that “home is where the head is.” Louise and I haven’t used the word “home” to describe the place we’re living for almost a year. In spite of the wonderful people in Spain, in spite of Greece’s luscious beaches, in spite of the serenity of Bellagio, we never thought of any of them as home. And here in Puerto Vallarta, in spite of having spent almost six months in Paradise, we don’t think of it as home either. If home is where the head is, we haven’t been home for almost a year. No wonder I’m homesick.
So now I’m about to return to Portland to look for the cure. Like an audience before the curtain rises, I’m impatient and anticipant. I’m feeling homesick, yes, but I’m also feeling hopeful; I’m feeling sanguine; I’m enthusiastic and eager and intoxicated by the potential of going home again.
We depart at 3:00 this afternoon. Let the curtain rise.
P.S. for Doctor Melfi: I used eight feeling words in the penultimate paragraph. Can I watch NASCAR now?
Anita Blanchard said:
This is a great blog entry. Really appreciate the honesty. I so admire that you and Louise did become ex-pats and did the great adventure. Many do think they will have a great adventure but never take the big “step” off the edge. You did. So to be admired. The greatest benefit of travel is not so much what one sees, but what one learns; about humanity, about differences, about commonalities, most of all about ourselves. The striving to learn is of the highest value. I am betting there will be even more learning in returning to the familiar, but with a paradigm shift in perceiving the familiar. Thank you for the time and effort both of you took to share thoughts and pictures. It has been most appreciated and anticipated.
You’re so right, Anita. We speak of adventure (and adventure it was), but the word is more passive than learning. Learning sticks with you. Adventure bounces off. Nothing about the past year has bounced off. This old dog has LEARNED!
Ella Bennett said:
Hi Tom and Louise. This is Ella. Ken and I met you two in Girona, Spain and had a dinner together at a Mexican restaurant. I am glad you are going home. It is hard indeed to be on the road all the time. Some day we will return too. In the meantime, we are still enjoying Spain and we’ve been here for more than two years already. We are moving to Barcelona in a few weeks, and we don’t have any plans to return. We will try however to visit the family in the states every year around the Thanksgiving or Christmas time, before they forget who we are. It was a pleasure to meet you!
Hi Ella! I had forgotten about that Mexican restaurant (and there have been so many since!). The owner was an Italian, from an Italian restaurateur family, but he decided there were already too many Italian restaurants in Girona so he went Mexican. I sure liked that place. Hoping Barcelona is a great home for you and Ken!
Katharine Doel said:
Very eloquent description of your feelings Tom…
Are y’all home?