On learning that there’s no place like home, a little too late.
It’s a cold, wet, dreary day in England, in a series of cold, wet, dreary days. My waterproof coat is no longer waterproof, and I’ve just learned that we’re out of milk, so my tea will have to be black. I’m reading the news about Brexit and it’s making me want to tear my hair out. I’m not looking forward to making small talk with my colleagues about the weather, and the tea, and Brexit.
I’m thinking about calling my mom, debating whether it will make me feel better or worse, when I remember she’s five hours behind anyway and is probably asleep. I’m wondering what I want for breakfast, passing over the toast and Marmite and thinking longingly of Waffle House.
The traffic on my commute into work is abysmal, because the U.K. is a country built for approximately three horse-drawn carriages, but stuffed nevertheless with sixty million people and thirty-five million cars. The passive aggression at the stoplights is palpable.
I arrive at work, looking up at an inspirational poster that says Keep Calm and Carry On. I’m filled with a weird emotion I’m not used to, and I sit down at my desk in an uncharacteristic huff, putting my headphones on and diving into work.
It takes me a long time to realize that what I’m feeling is homesick.
This is the part of the story where, if I was in a movie, there’d be a record scratch and my voice-over saying, “You’re probably wondering how I got here.”
Well, it’s a short story. I thought I was better than my small town back home, so I applied to college overseas, got accepted, and flew out without so much as a look back over my shoulder.
I was so excited to be in a whole new country, to be able to easily travel in Europe, to meet cute foreign boys (so much cuter than the domestic boys, I was sure) and learn about politics and history I was unfamiliar with.
I assimilated quickly, dating a British boy, taking my tea with milk, eating crumpets for breakfast. I even picked up a bit of an accent. I loved the cultural obsession with the monarchy, and I adored how much everyone hated the States, like me. In every sense of the word, I was an anglophile, firmly entrenched and happy.
I had a rainbow of rainboots in my closet, a cornucopia of clotted cream in my fridge, more British friends than I could count, and no plane ticket home.
Georgia, to me, back in 2012, was a backward state, populated by backward people who vote for Trump and who believed that being gay is a sin. Georgia was the girl who made fun of me for liking to read; Georgia was the businesses that outwardly tut-tutted undocumented immigrants but hired them under the table because they could pay them less money with no benefits. Georgia was the boy at school who grabbed me in the hallway, saying to me in tones of incredulity, “I just heard you’re an atheist! It can’t be true; you’re so nice !”
Georgia was a state of mind. To me, the enlightened liberal, it was a prison that represented all the dead-end jobs and lives I needed to get away from. I knew, in all the wisdom of my eighteen years, that the only way was out.
It took me five years to realize that I’d made the awful mistake of associating my crappy time in high school with an entire country. I’d let some bigots and some losers who made me feel small color my memories of my entire upbringing. And to get away from that, I literally flew four thousand miles.
But now I’m gazing westwards, filled with not a little longing for the heat and humidity that bakes me into the sidewalk cracks. I’m desperate for a conversation that doesn’t revolve around the lousy weather. I want sweet iced tea, and I want some Lucky Charms.
I want to be in the vibrant battleground, where there are bigots and racists and sexists, sure, like every other place, but where there’s also a chance to progress the cause and fight for what I care about in the place I grew up.
I voted in the Georgia midterms last year, doing the research on Stacey Abrams who came so close to being the first female black Governor. I donated to her campaign when she wanted a recount, and I watched her deliver the State of the Union address in February, impassioned and factual and inspiring.
I miss my family. I took them for granted when I jet set off, thinking I’d make do with video calls and the occasional text. I was so confident that they’d miss me more than I missed them. It wasn’t true.
I miss driving around aimlessly. I miss thinking in Fahrenheit. I miss having the majority of water taps be a single, melded tap from which water can come out hot and cold, instead of two separate taps for you to choose between freshly boiling your flesh or plunging it into water piped straight from the Arctic, good grief, Britain, it’s not that hard.
Eighteen-year-oldme was full of enthusiasm, excitement, wanderlust and an awful lot of resentment.
She didn’t make the wrong choice, to leave it all behind. I found my lifelong friends here, met the love of my life here, earned two degrees here.
But eighteen-year-old me made the choice for the wrong reasons.
Nobody tells you that when you travel, it won’t be all glamor and sparkles and dancing in clubs. Nobody tells you that you’ll struggle. You’ll mess stuff up, and put your foot in it, just like you would if you’d stayed at home. This is frustrating when you’re stuck in the mindset that if you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere.
Going to a different country where everyone spoke the same language, I expected things to be the same, just slightly better and cooler. I’d be cooler too, by association, my nerdy inner self hoped.
I didn’t think I’d ever get homesick. But the people were different. The sense of humor was different. Even English itself was more different than I was used to. I had to make an effort to fit in, like nearly everyone, and I then went through the same discovery of learning that I shouldn’t have to fit in as most others do.
I wish I’d had a little more perspective back then. I wish I’d been a little better at detangling what I liked and what I didn’t like, and what the root cause was. I wish I’d been less caught up in the idea of myself as a worldly traveler, and a little more honest about what I aimed for in life. I wish I’d believed I could have stayed and made a difference about the things I cared about, instead of fleeing east.
Back then, I believed I was simply born in the wrong country for an intrepid soul like myself. But five years later, four thousand miles later, I’ve learned there’s no place like home. More than the sweet iced tea, more than Trader Joe’s, I’m finally understanding that it’s less to do with the place, and more to do with the experiences.
High school, college, love, and learning happen to nearly everyone, everywhere. I thought I hated Georgia, but actually despised high school. I thought the U.K. was superior, but it was because I loved my time in college.
What I missed about Georgia was the food, the weather, the people, the humor. But it was also the ability to make a change instead of running away. Now, as I grow a little older and hopefully a little wiser, I think the state of Georgia would have been no less good to me than the country of England. It took me far too long to realize that.