I remember where I came from

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve become acquainted with the music of a band called Ripe. The first time I queued up Joy in the Wild Unknown and “Ex-Life” bathed my ears, I felt that spark you feel when it sounds as though the words in a song were taken straight from your own mouth. Robbie Wulfsohn sings, over the backing track of his six bandmates, about how he hopes that the people in the life he leaves behind won’t forget about him.

It’s a song about nostalgia, and remembering your roots, and recognizing that things are always changing. It’s also, I think, about homesickness.

Ripe and “Ex-Life” were slipped into my soundscape at a time when I was finding myself in someone’s tail lights (as the song describes it), which only solidified for me the experience the song represents. “Ex-Life” means so much to me that, now, I’m hoping that the folks who carried me through the past four years will hear my own voice represented in some of its lyrics.

At the time of writing this, I’m a week out from moving across the country for the first time, and I’m only a little bit sure that I’ll be returning home at the end of my four-year grad school stint in North Carolina. I’m even less certain of whether my friends will still be here in the Bay if I do. 

The idea of living so far from home is completely new (and very scary) territory for me. I had it easier than most incoming freshmen at UC Berkeley: I grew up only an hour away, and when I said goodbye to my parents when I first moved into the dorms, I cheerfully told them I’d see them in only a couple of weeks. While some of the other freshmen who lived in my dorm or who joined the same organizations that I did struggled with that very unfamiliar brand of loneliness, I enjoyed riding BART back and forth between school and home at my leisure. In the end, the ability to stay local was something I took for granted, and I was able to ease into the college scene rather painlessly — it was easy to present myself confidently when I was already so familiar with my surroundings. 

This time around, I’ve been saying goodbye to my closest friends with a perky “I’ll see you in December!” — and each time I do, a little bit of panic sets in. 

I’ve spent far too many hours this summer fixated on all the things that’ll make me homesick. In North Carolina, there’s no Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, or post-improv show celebrations, or peaceful drives along Interstate 280, or movie nights with my parents. There’s no instant access to friendly faces, no sense of reassurance that comes with more than a decade of living in the same place. I’ll have to meet new people. And I won’t know where the nearest Panda Express is.*

I don’t know which I’ll ultimately miss more: the people or the place. One makes the other. To put it in Ripe’s words — I’m not sure what to do with the memory of you. 

There’s not a ton of concrete strategies out there for combating homesickness, or at least not many that work. It’ll take more than a beach-scented candle, Train’s Save Me, San Francisco and a 15-minute FaceTime session to make me feel as if I never left NorCal. 

But even though I’m no expert, I have realized one thing about homesickness: It means you’ve done something right. You’ve fallen so deeply in love with a place and the people in it that being somewhere new is disorienting. And it’s OK to miss the relationships and the memories you’ve built. The important thing to remember is that these things don’t disappear when you drive away. They’re a part of everything that comes after.

In other words, categorizing your life based on what-was and what-is is doing yourself dirty. The trick is to call your friends when you miss them, but to admit that the new pizza joint you just discovered is pretty fantastic. Keep up with the news in your hometown, but allow yourself to be excited that the girl you just met likes the same TV shows that you do.

At the time of you reading this, I am an indeterminable number of days deep into a big, beautiful new adventure. And if you’re a freshman at UC Berkeley, then so are you. Hopefully, it’s going swell for both of us.

But for my friends and family, know that I miss you constantly. And to echo the promise Ripe makes in “Ex-Life,” when I do come back, you’ll know. 

*Actually, I looked this up well in advance of moving.

Contact Shannon O’Hara at [email protected].