I dislike how homecoming is always associated with a happy word. Coming home after months or years is difficult because the people you come home to- only know the ‘you’ that left a few months/years ago and perhaps expect you to be the same.
This is true for the aunt who still teases me for the sloppiness I couldn’t hide when I was sixteen and stayed with her for a few months. She vividly recalls my fast food only diet, couldn’t-care-less-about-school attitude despite the fact that I worked fairly hard to get my act together while living on my own.
This is true of the brother who thinks I always had it easy, thanks to my parents, despite the fact that I spent the last 3 months living from a small suitcase in an alien city with pocket money less than the government’s minimum wages in India.
This is true of the best friend who cannot begin to understand why my future plans would include studying Theology in Dublin or learning Arabic in Ankara when at eighteen; my plans did not fly far from planning Sunday brunches and shopping sessions with her.
This is true of anyone who no longer see you as you see yourself when you come back home. There is no one to blame but the eternal game changers that are- time and expectation. You give them time and you expect them to change along with you.
It is not your fault that you changed. It isn’t their fault either that they preserved an image of yours as you left. Your return was uncertain and that memory will now be summoned whenever you do return, albeit temporarily. As we said goodbye, a picture of our insecure hunch backed gait, carefree attitude and our constant refusal to wake up before ten’ o clock, is what they replaced us with.
Home coming is not easy because it is not easy to realize that the ones you love do not necessarily think the way you do, believe in the things you do, act the way you would and have the same experiences as you did.
Home coming is difficult because in an inexplicable way you knew that going away was is for good. That’s why you appreciate the change better than them. Otherwise, what was the point of volunteering for a social cause in a desert, studying in a new city or looking for a new job in another?
Home coming is difficult because you knew this would happen all along. You knew you would change. You knew that the world you left behind would change too. But what you didn’t know was that you would change at a pace that would be different from theirs.
Home coming is difficult in more ways than one, because some people you have left behind will want to understand the change. They will beg for stories and listen intently as you go back and forth recreating that moment and trying to desperately include them in your world. ‘I’ll tell you everything,’ will always be a lie and you know that. How do you explain the scar on your forehead to them, the scar that will always tell you how much alcohol is too much alcohol for you? They weren’t the ones who showed you your favorite place in the city now- an ancient, abandoned step well in the middle the business district. They weren’t the ones who lent you the few thousands you were short on to pay for the best holiday of your life.
They weren’t there when you lost a friend to alcohol addiction, or when you tiptoed back into your room in the early hours of Monday; they weren’t by your side when you realized one fine evening that you were actually on the right path.
Yet, you have shared all of this with them through the innumerable skype sessions, emails that can match the length of War and Peace and on WhatsApp conversations that have sometimes spanned days. Whether words can convey to them how these experiences have actually changed you, you aren’t very sure.
Coming home to someone who has disappeared from the ever widening horizons of your new life is even more difficult. It is neither their fault nor yours. Time and distance sometimes create a sense of romanticism around nonexistent relationships. When you come back, you have to break the news to them that they no longer matter, at least not as much as they once did.
This is not to say that time and distance fail relationships. My best friendships have withstood the test. But those built on nothing but common experiences will wither away. The converse is true for those who stay. You’ll catch up with them like you left just yesterday irrespective of all the things you don’t have in common anymore (like classes, workplace, people to talk about, even cities you live in). This is your team, your gang and will always remain so. These are the people that will toast on my wedding day, get drunk with me on my fiftieth birthday and mourn any of my losses like their own.
Home coming is hard because your family isn’t perfect. Coming back also means dealing with all the mess that you left behind years ago, the things that have somehow remained unchanged. It is difficult because it means hundreds of hours of planning, packing and panicking. It is not easy because you’ll prepare to explain the things that changed you in a few hours. It is hard because you might not fit into your old bed anymore and all the scribbling on your walls might have been whitewashed and your home town might have changed beyond recognition.
Homecoming is the hardest because while you count the days left to hug the ones you love and think of ways to make up for all the birthdays and anniversaries you have missed, you also know that it is almost inevitable that you have to leave consequently. Coming home is tricky because you realize you have changed only when you don’t quite fit into your old role.
That perhaps, is what makes coming home worth it. That, your mom’s best cooking, the park you played as a kid and that old mahogany bookshelf you can’t wait to inherit.