Homesick as All Hell
My Mom, sister and I. Nan’s kitchen. 1992
Homesick as all hell, is the term I would use to describe my current emotional state, in particular these last few days.
I keep picturing my mom’s face and her wide smile when she laughs, seeing my dad leaning against the kitchen cupboard, his arms crossed in front of his chest, and my grandmother sitting at her kitchen table lighting a cigarette as she waits for the kettle to boil.
And I know everyone misses home, and it sounds deluded when I say it, but there is something extra special about a Newfoundlander away from home. There’s a reason we write so many songs about it: going away and longing for home, the smell of the salt water and the sight of a boat coming around the point. Jesus, we even miss the fog.
Uncle Carl, Mom and I. 2018.
When you’re from outport Newfoundland, you’re raised fully understanding without anyone ever telling you, that you will leave. And you know intrinsically, that it will be a painful departure, that you will spend the rest of your life continually trying to navigate your way back there.
I’ve never thought to consider it too much until now, what being raised in that type of understanding does to you. The looming departure from everything you’ve ever known like an impending grief and there’s not a damn thing to be done about it.
I grew up waiting for summers when my aunts and uncles and cousins would all come from the mainland, making the long pilgrimage back to Newfoundland. And isn’t that what it was, sort of? A pilgrimage? Everyone off in search of the one place that gave their life meaning? The place that felt like home? And nearly every year, they came home to the Cove and they filled it up with life and they spoke about how they didn’t want to go back.
A tide of people as recurring and constant as the ocean rolling there on the same shore. That does something to you: that constant ebb and flow, arrivals and departures, hellos and goodbyes.
I spent the first seventeen years of my life wanting to get out of Wild Cove. I have a strong memory of sitting in the passenger side of my mother’s silver Ford Taurus while she drove us to Baie Verte and me telling her that I would resent her for the rest of my life for forcing me to live there.
It’s hard being a teenager no matter where you live, but doubly so when you’re raised in a place as small as where I’m from. Needing social interaction and stimulation from your peers but not having a soul around to get it from. It painted my adolescence with a special shade of lonely.
And it bestowed on me an intense sense of longing, for anything really, any person or place or aspect of a life that was different than the one I had, like the rest of my life lay in waiting behind some secret door I didn’t have the key for.
I’m still trying to understand the ways that shaped me, that ambitious hunger for a life that was bigger than the one I had. It put me on the Trans Canada Highway four times with a Honda Civic packed full of things, driving back and forth across the country looking for something that I didn’t have words for. It is probably one of the biggest reasons I moved to Asia.
But even then, all those departures I found myself taking, my life was always motivated by my eventual return. I oriented my days and years around going home.
Five years in St. John’s and I took every opportunity I had to get on the highway and drive six hours home to Wild Cove. Sometimes it was only for a night. It didn’t matter. 600 kilometers was worth it.
I moved to Calgary when I was twenty. A month and a half later, I had repacked my car and drove it back across the country to Newfoundland. At twenty-three, I moved to Ontario and returned home four months later.
And then I moved to South Korea. But even then, I spent the whole year knowing I would be going home after. It was the spot on the horizon I was walking towards, my life directed at a steady but distant light. I went home and then moved to Vietnam with the understanding that I would be returning home in nine months time.
That return has continued to be what I have measured my life with: how many days or months until I get to go home? A yardstick that has imbued my life with meaning. Everything I did in reference to it.
But now my homesickness is so bad—heart-aching, crying myself to sleep, calling my Grandmother while I lay in bed in the dark, something I’ve never done in all of the three and half years I’ve been out here—that I have been forced to sit with the weight of it and wonder why.
And I realize, for the first time in my life, I am not going home.
Jason, Mom and I. Dad’s infamous big deck party. 2018
I’m leaving Vietnam in September and moving to Australia, where I plan on being for a year or two. And of course, plans change and things fall apart but it is the first time in my life when I am not orienting my life around home. And in that absence, I feel this crushing apathy, like my life has been sucked dry of significance.
I understand myself best in the context of my family. Sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, with my aunts and uncles standing around. The beach just a minute away. The hills and reaches of Wild Cove. It has always been a mirror that reflected back at myself all the ways to measure the things of value in my life: a self-defining entity.
So I’m here, crying in the phone as I call my grandmother and the first thing she asks me is Sabrina, my love, when are you coming home?
And I do not have the heart to tell her that I don’t know, that it might be another year or two before she sees me again, because she’s ninety-one and time is not a luxury she has.
A Wild Cove Sunset
And without the promise of going home, the worst parts of myself, where all the fear of my life lives, tells me things like I’ll never see her again and it gives me fitful dreams and restless sleep and there’s this blistering absence in most of my days.
It feels like a swelling uncertainty, the next six months to a year looming in front of me like a foreboding abyss, and isn’t that silly? I know the difference. This is not my first time moving to a new country. It’s just my first time not returning home.
But I also have awareness, and this I have to remind myself of. I may only be twenty-seven but I have lived enough to know that seasons of uncertainty are rife with discovery.
That doesn't necessarily mean it’ll be good. Odds are, it’ll be shit—like things in life oftentimes are. But there will be something at the end of it, some lesson hidden amongst the debris. A shiny new skin under the one you’ve just shed.
When I first moved to South Korea, I had a pink notebook on my desk at work, and on the cover I wrote in large black letters: You can always go home.
The trick lies in reminding yourself of that.