I hugged my mom tightly, squeezing her until my arms trembled. If I held her tightly enough, maybe I wouldn’t have to leave?
It was the logic of a kindergartner, but unfortunately I graduated from college. I was already late for my flight, and I knew I had to let her go, so I said my goodbyes. I quickly turned around so I wouldn’t have to see my teary-eyed mom, and walked away from the drop-off zone toward the airport terminal.
Goodbyes always sucked, and this wasn’t the first time I left home. I’ve left San Diego and my life and family behind when I headed off to college. But college was just another structured thing, just another step in the fake world, and trips back home were guaranteed during summer breaks. This time, I didn’t know when I would come back.
I sat in one of the chairs in the rows of black leather seats at the gate, waiting for my departure. The airport was really crowded today. A stream of people rushed toward their destinations. They looked so sure of themselves, of where they were going, and what they were supposed to do. I looked around at the older adults sitting around me, bored, passing time by immersing themselves in a book or a smartphone. I listened in on someone shouting at their co-worker for screwing up an important meeting and how he didn’t have time for this shit because he was catching a flight soon.
I looked at all these adults, and, even though I was also an adult now, the chasm between me and everyone else felt as big as it did when I was in elementary school. They all seemed grizzled, hardened by the world, even cold. I felt jealous. Even the angry guy shouting at someone on the phone at least seemed sure of himself, and he somehow made adulthood look easy. I felt the urge to go up and ask them questions.
What was it like when you left home? Did you feel scared? Did you feel sad? Does it ever become easy to be an adult? Does it ever become as good as the old days? Is it possible to find a new home, a real home, somewhere in the world? Have you found it already?
Even in college, all my friends seemed so sure of themselves. They didn’t look back even once. Only excitement filled their souls as they moved forward to the next stage in life. I knew that the idea was ridiculous, that everyone has to look back from time to time, and that everyone was just hiding it, shielding the perceived weakness from the world. But still, it felt lonely sometimes.
I walked through the aisle on the plane. I couldn’t help but look for glimpses of the warmth and connection I’ve taken for granted for the past two months at home. All I got were rows of bored faces and a short warning that no electronic devices are allowed during take-off. It was hard not to look after being with my brother and my mom, who I shared experiences with for the past 22 years of my life. The total understanding between us, mostly unspoken but tangibly real, was something I wasn’t going to find in that plane. Maybe I would never be able to find it anywhere else.
The plane took off. The lights of San Diego, floating in darkness, became smaller and smaller until they faded.
Memories from my post-graduation visit came flooding back. Riding perfect waves with my brother in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, glinting in the sun. The long conversations I had with my mom as we took our dog for a walk every night. Watching my twelve-year-old Golden Retriever light up and start exploring the same beach that he’d been exploring since he was a puppy. They were all moments that I took for granted as I was growing up, but now appreciated every second of it because it might be coming to an end.
My family wasn’t perfect, and we definitely had our share of problems. But at that moment I realized that it might be the closest thing to perfect I will ever experience in my lifetime. I never appreciated it as much as I should have growing up, and now I felt I was going to be searching for it for the rest of my life.
Change is always associated with fear, but not many people talk about the sadness. And sadness is so much worse than fear.
By the time the plane landed in Oakland, San Diego was already a vanishing dream. It took about thirty minutes to get to the train station in Hayward, my new home for the year, and there, waiting in the night for me, was my girlfriend. As I walked toward her and hugged her as tightly as I hugged my mom, I felt a familiar warmth, and things started to feel right again.
Maybe home can be found away from home. Maybe it’s waiting for all of us, somewhere out there.