It’s always the greenness of the drive which gets me; after I’ve left the airport and merged on to I5, whether it’s northbound from Seattle or southbound from Vancouver. It’s so easy to take a color for granted, but such a concentration of it after an extended absence makes me realize what I’ve missed. The Evergreen State is never without her charms.
The ritual of going home is one overflowing with conflicting emotions. It’s infused with the excitement that I’ll soon be seeing my loved ones and eating all the foods I’ve missed. It’s heavy with an anticipation of letting down my guard and relaxing in the safety of my home. There’s an element of wistfulness for a journey that has ended. And finally, a creeping dread of the boredom I know will soon take root.
This time, there’s grief — for a friend I’ll never see again.
When I first started traveling long-term overseas, going home was something I tried to put off — wanting to stay on the open road for as long as possible. That first adventure lasted 19 months. The next two trips were shorter, about 15 months each. This one I’m just wrapping up would’ve been longer, but a brief interlude at home between Christmas and New Year’s spoiled the metric. Over the course of all these trips, something has changed.
The desire to remain away from home for prolonged periods of time has faded. Watching my ‘nieces’ grow up far too quickly through a computer screen, seeing the aging of my parents’ faces… These things have made my absences increasingly more difficult to bear.
But the past few months have shown me that I knew nothing about loss or homesickness, and in February, I had my world torn to pieces when one of my best friends suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Never have I felt such regret for the life I’ve chosen, never have I wanted so badly to be home. This dream life I’ve built for myself felt like a prison.
Going home this time is much more potent than previous returns. The excitement is heightened — I want so badly to be with the people I care about and can’t wait to be reunited. But dread and grief make for a bitter cocktail, and I’m terrified of the emotional gut-punch I know will hit me when I get back to Big Lake and see all the places where Cody and I used to play.
I’m terrified for the moment when the finality of his loss hits me.
I don’t know how well I’ll do with the whole thing, so I’m going to focus on my rituals:
Looking at the evergreen trees on the hillsides as I cruise down I5, hearing the squeak, squeak of the windshield wipers as the PNW rain welcomes me back. ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads‘ and ‘93 Million Miles‘ playing through my headphones. Cookies — freshly baked and filling the house with the comforting smells of vanilla and chocolate. Two little voices calling out, “Nathan!” just before giving me the best hugs in the world.
Yes, those are the things I’ll focus on. And, hopefully, they will add enough sweetness to the heartbreak to make it bearable.