Two Houses, One Home
They say “home is where the heart is,” but I feel as if my heart is missing from my chest; was left behind in a house that borders a park, in a small city of western France, and is sparkling in the glorious spring sun while I wake up in a bed that I haven’t slept in for nine months. I took a chance in spending my senior year of high school abroad; I stayed with a host family who spoke little to no English, I launched myself wholeheartedly into another language that I was not at all confident in, and I made a vow not to shy away from living outside of my comfort zone for an extended period of time. But what happens when what you thought was outside your comfort zone, becomes your comfort zone itself? What happens when you have adapted and attached yourself to a way of life that was at one time strange and novel, but is now your routine?
That hole in my chest is yearning for some semblance of reality, that my life in France isn’t actually over and this has all just been an unsettling dream. Most people told me that I would start dreaming and thinking in French, that I would make wonderful friends and memories that would last a lifetime, and that coming home would be just that much more precious because I’d already been away a year before most of my peers. And those people were right; yet as I take my first steps back into the house I’ve lived nearly my entire life, my body is flooded with sensations that should remind of home but make me feel as if I am a ghost walking in the shadows of someone else’s footsteps. Even when my fellow classmates and I were sat in our small common room, tired and ragged from a long journey from Boston to Paris to Rennes, France, and were called one by one to meet and move in with a host family that we’d only seen a few pictures of, I had never been so disconcerted by my own feelings.
Walking through the airport and being considerably taken aback by the abundance of surrounding American accents, certain thoughts crossed my mind; Were Americans always this loud? Or friendly? I had forgotten that we ask each other how we are doing when we are greeted in a shop, as if the cashier has true concerns for my feelings and it would be acceptable for me to tell him that, frankly, my day was going horrendously.
However, what I am truly concerned about is the sense of displacement when I enter my own home. Everything is wrong. The doorknobs are too perfectly round and shiny, the water pressure in the shower is entirely too strong; my feet feel as if sink at least six inches when they step onto the plush carpet that I took my first steps on. I can’t remember simple words in English. When I type, even if I am thinking in my native language, my fingers type the words en français. Why didn’t anybody explain that it would all feel so foreign? This was not my expectation of what the return home would feel like.
It is so utterly strange and gut-wrenching to stand and stare in what is supposed to be your home, and feel like a stranger within it. What is wrong with me? I am happy and grateful to see my family after such a long time, but can my year in France really be over? Can I truly be back on Long Island, driving everywhere instead of walking like I once could, already?
I settle into my new old life like a pair of old, worn out shoes that are just a bit too tight. It takes me time to adjust; to grieve the loss of my time in a wonderful country, city, and language that I have come to adore, and it all feels a bit constricting. Like I could burst at any moment and express all that I’m feeling in an avalanche of pent up emotions and thoughts. However, I am reminded with each forward step I take, each day that I wake up with a “Good morning” rather than a “Bonjour” that this is where I grew up, that I know this place and without it, I would not have been shaped into the person that left to pursue a lifelong dream in the first place.
Although my heart yearns for a rekindling of my everyday life in France every once in a while, I have made peace day by day that I will not get that experience back in full, but that I should simply be grateful that I had it and look forward for what is to come. I have the privilege to jet off again for four years of study at Scotland’s oldest university, yet I realize more and more how thankful I am to have had grown up in such a wonderful place as is eastern Long Island. Where instead of going shopping, my friends and I invite each other to go to a new spot and watch the sunset. Where the city is the perfect distance away, and the serenity of beaches and nature is at our fingertips. Where yellow lights mean hit the gas and the words “coffee” and “dog” are pronounced so distinctly that we are mocked for it everywhere else.
This home welcomed me back after I had changed immensely in nearly every sense, and I find that I am the one who has the chance to rediscover all of the gems that make a Long Island summer so sweet and satisfying. My heart sings and loud, pounding air ripples through my hair as I ride down Sound Avenue, windows down and the delicate chords of Sunday Morning intermingling with my own voice doing its best to do Adam Levine’s falsetto justice. My taste buds are gleeful in their joyous reunion with Briarmere raspberry crème pie, and the tiny hidden beach that boasts the best purple seashells on the Island beckon me to the marshes of East Marion. With each freckle that reappears on my nose after a long winter under the clouds, I am reminded again of how lucky I am to call such a place home. I drive to Cedar Beach just to park and read a book by the shore of the Sound. I bite into local corn as sweet as candy and make s’mores with my family sitting around the bonfire in my backyard as the tinny strings of Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar plays in the background. I sit shotgun in my friend’s Jeep that lacks doors and control the music that we sing along to at the top of our lungs, on our way to the diner in the early hours of the morning. I climb to the top of the lifeguard stand at Coopers Beach and feel as if I am nine years old again, all-powerful and fearless. Yet the moment comes when I am forced to jump onto that ominous pile of sand that seems altogether too far away until my feet have met with it, and I remember that while it is always scary to leave a place where we were on such a high, coming down and settling back in can be comforting, sweet, and remarkable in its own special way.