I wrote this in stages, around the time I returned to the UK last September for the first time since I left to move to Sydney in March 2017. It’s kind of a long one but was pretty therapeutic for me to write so, it stays.
One week before returning, I’m not really giving much thought to it. I’m busy booking travel, figuring out dates, rearranging things. I’m going back for my granny’s funeral which means things are a little short notice, and I’m scrambling to get everything done and packed to leave on time. I’m mostly looking forward to seeing people, and sad about my granny. Although, I don’t think that part of it has really hit yet. How cheerful is appropriate for a “dress in cheerful colours” funeral? Did I remember to book the right transfers? Where should I pick up my hire car from? What should I pack for 3 days in 43 degree heat that I won’t need again for the rest of my trip?!
On the way back, I stop for 5 days in the US. I didn’t really want it to be quite so long but that’s when the cheap flights were. I have some pretty intense flashbacks during those 5 days – maybe it’s all the time alone, I don’t know. I’m mostly back to my teenage years. Dude Looks Like A Lady has me actually roaring with laughter when it comes on the hire car radio. Yes, I was all alone. No, that didn’t matter. Cooking sessions with my (other) Grannie come to mind as I try and rustle up meals using the tiny kitchen in the serviced apartment. University traditions I haven’t thought about in years. I dream vividly about my friends.
I haven’t really been myself during this little trip. I haven’t felt like exploring or trying new things, opting for safe and familiar activities only. I’ve been anxious for no reason. This doesn’t feel like homesickness, but maybe it is.
I’m at the airport and I feel very weird. I aimed off due to LA traffic and ended up with 4 hours to kill at the airport. I don’t know what to do with all this time with nothing to do (I don’t react well to that) and end up freaking out a bit. I couldn’t tell you why. Just returning to the UK feels too big and too much. I miss my husband and I wish we’d done this together – as it was, he had his first return a few weeks ago (also for a family funeral, unfortunately). He was fine. Why am I not fine?
I have a suitcase full of grown up lady workwear (purchased at the outlets ready for my scary new job) and I feel like a little girl.
The choice I made to fly back to the UK via LA means the LAX-LHR leg is on Virgin Atlantic, and I’d forgotten just how uncomfortable their thin, hard seats are. Despite regular plane yoga and route marches around the cabin, by the end of the ten hour trip I’m in a reasonable amount of pain. When we arrive I creak and hobble down the aisle of the plane, grimacing.
I set foot on British soil for the first time in 18 months.
When I arrive back at my childhood home, the sun is shining. It’s positively bucolic. I feel elated to have returned. I’m giddy; I’m 17, I’m 27, I’m proud of how far I’ve come, I feel loss, there’s that time I had a fever, I’m 8, my sisters and Trivial Pursuit, my favourite book, my friends and the recovery visits, I’m 14, the parties in the back garden, there’s my childhood dog’s favourite spot, I’m content, I feel distant. Daddy, Daddy. There he is. I blink. The rollercoaster starts again.
I run around touching things, going in all the rooms and greeting them as the old friends they are. I rediscover caches of belongings left behind in my last minute tornado that I’d totally forgotten about. I put as many of them on as I can, as if to apologise for my absence.
We go for an anti-jetlag walk. I’m still wearing all my left-behind-belongings in an ensemble that could kindly be described as eccentric. I don’t care! I’m loving every moment.
I emerge from Oxford Circus like I have eleventy bajillion times before and take my usual exit. Can I still call it that? London is swathed in sunshine and it’s glorious, like I’m seeing it with new eyes. So this is why tourists love it so much.
I sit in a cafe with an old friend for so long that the rain has returned by the time I leave. Of course, I have none of my London Gear with me so I try and duck between shops and overhangs to avoid the worst of it. I refuse to buy another emergency brolly from Tiger. Reality has well and truly returned.
My footprints fall on the same ground they did years ago, and decades ago. The buildings are the same, the weather is the same. Time is just one big loop; falling leaves return to their roots. I remember how I felt then, and the things that filled my head. But now, my shoes are from Kmart and my world is so much bigger. I’m about to start a(nother) whole new phase of life with my scary new job, and closing the door on the old one feels like another connection back to my life in the UK gently falls away. Like a ball of yarn that just stops.
There’s no reverse culture shock for me – how can I be shocked by home? Nonetheless, it’s like looking at the world through an antique mirror; slight distortions cause me to blink and shake my head every so often.
But really, it’s just like everyone says. Familiar patterns return with ease. Things feel the same, yet different. I am the same, yet different. I fit, but I don’t; I’m one step removed now.
The world turns regardless.
Have you ever been back ‘home’ after a long absence? How did you feel?
Linking up with Kristen