It’s a lot cleaner than I remembered. The books, all neatly lined up on the desk, just waiting for someone to have a look and maybe pick one out. The cardboard box packed with all the loose bits and pieces I left under the bed and in unseen corners. Perched on top is the large prize bear that my sister evicted from her room, quizzical as to the tanned intruder that has disturbed his slumber and claimed this room as his own. Yet even with all these subtle changes, it’s as if this room has been frozen in time, waiting for my return.
The day I left will always be amongst the most bittersweet moments of my life. I still get choked up just thinking about that moment that my family and I arrived at the airport’s security gates. Standing there and coming to the realisation that, both literally and figuratively, I must go on alone now.
Waiting to board, shedding an embarrassed tear as you look through the barrage of good luck texts and well wishes, it suddenly becomes clear to you that you’re leaving everyone you know and love. You have no doubt that you’’ll come back and visit, yet those moments you had together when time seemed limitless will never be recreated. The evenings that unfolded in unpretentious simplicity — the long car rides, the impromptu parties in a friend’s back yard, the conversations that lasted to the early hours of the morning— these will all soon be vague memories of a different era.
You promise, above all, not to forget. You are never going to grow so big or so different that you cannot come back and fit the puzzle piece you left when you first went away. There will always be a part of you that is the same, that remembers its roots, that will get the same inside jokes and laugh just as hard as you did the first time. The sense of belonging that comes from growing up with a group of people, all together, in a town you share so intimately is one that may never be felt again. This is your extended family, your tribe, the people with whom you went from an uncertain child to someone who is ready to spread their wings and make a new home elsewhere.
Returning home will always have an unsatisfying quality of nostalgia to it. Stepping outside of my comfort zone in such a literal way and beginning anew has led me to discover so many wonderful things that I didn’t know about myself. Yet not so long ago, there was a me that was confined in and was almost entirely defined by this place I called home. Going back to visit that life is like trying to grab a handful of air in a burst of wind — you are surrounded by who you once were, but you’ll never quite be able to recreate it.
“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deer would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way—I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye