Maybe you felt it during your first sleepover at your childhood friend’s house: a dim twinge in your chest as your head buzzed with the rush of illicit, sugary snacks after midnight, squirrelled away from watchful, adult eyes in the recesses of your sleeping bag. Maybe you felt it when your parents went away for the weekend and you stayed up too late with your brother, camping on the floor of your grandparents’ spare bedroom with sugary cups of tea under weighty, faux-fur blankets. Maybe you felt it on a school trip in your teenage years, giddy with the thought of being “free” to explore the streets of a foreign city with your friends but ready to return to familiar comforts by the time the final day rolled around. Maybe you felt it when you moved for university, caught up in a maelstrom of new knowledge and friendships but feeling the tidal pull of the life you knew before.
It manifests in the same, predictable way every time — a slow burn that begins in your heart and creeps through your veins, a sudden tightening of your throat. But before this, there is the unique and peculiar collusion of thoughts and emotions that bring you here, the conspiring feelings and experiences that move you to this. And even before that, there is something that sets all of this in quiet, snowballing motion. Sometimes, it’s the scent of your best friend’s perfume on someone else, three thousand miles away. Other times, it’s hearing your own accent from a stranger in a restaurant or a bus or a bar. Always, it catches you off-guard, a quick kick to the back of your knees.
When you move to a different city or a different country, people will ask you if you miss home. It is a standard part of the “you’re not from here,” conversation and, over the years, you will develop a response that you end up giving every time: “I miss the people more than the place.” It’s a truthful statement but it doesn’t quite cover the whole truth. That would take a long time to explain and you will realise it’s just easier to have this tidy little answer ready whenever you need it.
The whole truth is more complicated and confusing. The whole truth is that — occasionally — no matter how content and settled you may be in your new life, you will still feel like part of you belongs somewhere else. Most of the time, it will be a small part; a careful toe dipped in the warm waves of yesterday. But every now and then, it will feel like your entire self is being dragged into the ocean by powerful currents of nostalgia and memories.
There is a strange dichotomy for many who move away from what they previously called “home.” The steadfast, untouchable love for the family and friends you’ve left behind and the cautious, burgeoning love for new friends recently discovered. The different kinds of pride you feel when you tell people where you’re from and how you got to where you are now. The cosy familiarity of the old and the welcome change of the new.
So yes, you will miss home. You will miss the sound of words that don’t exist on this side of the sea. You will miss the smell of menthol cigarettes that aren’t sold where you live now. You will miss the sight of one-legged pigeons plotting in the train station. You will miss effervescent orange liquid in glass bottles and sausages shaped into squares and scones made from potatoes. You will miss “trousers” being called “trousers” instead of “pants.” You will miss tipsy Saturday night conversations about life on the sofa with your brother. You will miss laughing with your cousins and marvelling at how quickly they are growing and learning. You will miss the sound of your best friend’s laugh during a late-night drive.
You will miss the people more than the place, and this is what you will tell anyone who asks. It’s not the whole truth, but it’s close enough. And whenever you feel the slow burn in your heart and the sudden tightening in your throat, you will be deeply, incredibly grateful to have lived two lives worth yearning for.