The Last Night

The last night at home always comes so much more swiftly than I think it will. I love the first night, when my long-planned trip stretches ahead of me. There is usually some kerfuffle to find my sheets (a mystery – why can’t I keep track of them from one trip to the next?) and there is unpacking, and sleep-deprived mildly surreal conversations with my parents over snacks that sit strangely in my stomach. There is that first glorious shower after the long flight, and unpacking because I like to have all my clothes nestled into their home-time dresser and my suitcase stowed away and out of sight; I don’t want to be reminded that I will have to leave again all too soon.

The last night always comes all too soon. The days flit away, heedless of my attempts to hold them back, my mind grasping and snatching at thin air. To no avail. I count down the last few full days, their poignancy mounting as each one passes. The last trip to the mall, the last trip downtown, even the last trip to the recycling center takes on the weight of impending nostalgia.

I start to gather things that are mine. My glasses had taken up residence in the cupholder of my mother’s car, my sunglasses and my earbuds on an end-table near the door where they are easy to grab on the way out for a walk. I deposit my little presents for next-trip me: toothpaste and a new pack of toothbrush heads, pads and tampons, sometimes even a can of soup or some frozen Kind bars in the freezer (not this time, though – I just ate the last one!). I lug the suitcase back out and fill it, trying to stuff this feeling of home, familiar and safe and beloved, in among the socks and books and Reese’s candy (can’t find it in Italy), but you can’t capture it. Somewhere between the floor of my childhood bedroom and unzipping the suitcase on the other end, it evaporates and I am left hollowed out with homesickness.

I always recover from it (and, indeed, am always sad for whatever season is ending whenever I am on my way back here, be it summer in Italy or pre-Christmas festivities) but from where I sit now, in my cozy chair in my beloved childhood home with the wind swishing through the trees I’ve loved all my life, the travel day and the first few days back in Europe stretch ahead, lonely and disorienting. The last night in my cozy bed – the best bed in the whole world, I swear it! – the last morning in my cozy chair, the last hours here in this house with my beloved parents, ever more conscious that my time with them is not infinite… it’s hard.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be like this, if I hadn’t chosen this type of life, with the pins of my heart tacked firmly into several quite distant parts of the map. Would I have lived around the corner, and had so much time with my parents I wouldn’t even notice it? Would I have lived somewhere else in the US, and would weekends stolen back at home been all the more rare because of limited US vacation times? Would I somehow still have arrived at 35 and the awareness that my time with my parents is not forever, and so every dinner, every coffee, every weekend with them is precious? Or would it have taken longer? I’ll never know, of course, but I think about it sometimes. I often want to ask some of my friends who stayed in the US if they are as aware of time passing as I am. I assume so, although I must admit that twice yearly visits really highlight the passing seasons and fleeting years.

For now, I will finish my work while trying to soak in the precious sound of the wind in the trees with at least some part of my brain. I will clean up the kitchen and lovingly wipe down those counters until next time, and prepare my coffee for tomorrow morning. I will sip my coffee trying to absorb the peace and familiarity of my room and not think too much about the impending rush. Then there will be the impending rush, and eventually I will shut that door, and try to stopper my heart against the feelings of time passing and things ending, and by this time tomorrow night I will be a third of the way across the ocean, and that much closer to the other part of my life.