homesickness

From the ages 17-19, I was a camp counselor during the summer. It was a fantastic job, though thankfully I wasn't relying on it to pay bills. And while there are times being isolated in an incredibly small lake town with too much time on your hands leads one to make poor judgments, overall I look back on the time fondly. I remember campers coming into the "nurse's station" complaining of stomachaches or the more vague "not feeling well," and in both cases most campers were actually just homesick. Many kids were away from home for the first time and being in cabins without air conditioning in Alabama heat is not anyone's idea of a good time. Sometimes parents were called and children went home. I thought it was silly to spend money to send your kid to camp and then come pick them up. I didn't understand homesickness, not really.

Moving around every few years changes one's idea of home and of roots. The concepts are not foreign; they're just not exactly typical. I spent a lot of time as a kid not at my house. I went to slumber parties, on vacations with friends and their families; I spent weeks of time at my grandparents' house. I loved the adventure of it. I never cried for home or begged my parents to come get me. I was usually sad when I had to leave...wherever it was

I knew homesickness existed because I watched friends' parents come get them from sleepovers; I saw campers miss their dogs, cats, basketball hoops, etc, but I never understood it because I never experienced it.

Until I worked at Disneyworld for a semester. Then, I suddenly realized what the campers must have felt like. I think my homesickness then was due to the depth of defamiliarization I experienced. I mean, Disneyworld... it was like not being in a real place. We've been talking in one of my classes about disorientation, how it's difficult in new places to know how to act or to even know who you are. We feel like Alice from Through the Looking Glass, getting bigger, smaller, feeling confused, not knowing what to do or say. We feel lost. And in Orlando, I identified strongly with Alice, for more reasons we won't get into right now. Eventually, my routine became familiar; I made friends and settled in but I never felt quite right there. I never completely fit, not like some of my friends who stayed after our commitment was up. I was glad to return to Mobile, but even there I faced the unfamiliar. My grandfather was dying; my great-gran moved in with my grandparents where I'd been living until I left for Orlando. I returned but I did not have a bedroom or a space that was mine. I spent most of my time at Candace's or friends' houses. It took a long time to feel at home again. In fact, it wasn't until after I returned from Europe that I felt like I was coming home.

Mobile, Al was the closest place to home that it got for me. Leaving was difficult and necessary. I miss it so often and wonder what it is I miss. Lately, I have actually missed the place, the familiar haunts, the drive across the bridge, midtown, downtown. I miss the way I felt: dreamy, pulsing with ideas and possibilities. But I know some of that had to do with the time in my life. And it isn't as though I want to move back... oh, no. I know better. However, for the past few weeks I've felt something deep and pulling. I feel homesick. I miss Alabama. I miss the South. I miss people getting it the first time. I miss something intangible. I miss my grandmother and the big family gatherings where I have no clue how I'm related to half the people and it doesn't matter. I miss it, deeply and painfully.

It has been miserably gray here the past few days and when Spring arrives, I hope I will feel less homesick. I think there's a part of me that wants to see my home through a camera lens, to have a record of what I love about it. I've been wanting to do this video essay about place but don't think I'll really be able to do it the way I want unless Mobile is part of it.

I love my life here in Illinois. I am a better person having moved here. These are things I feel deeply, too.

I'm left not knowing exactly where my home is, though my heart a bit torn at times, is definitely here in Illinois, in the life I am building. I get it, now, the homesickness, the stomachaches and the calls to parents. I get it, more than I ever wanted to.