Leaving home is such a strange thing. I spent 18 years fed up with the sameness of the world I was surrounded by. The same house, the same room, the same people, the same routines. The same hiking trails with the same views of the same chaparral plants. The same family and the same dog and the same little boutique stores. The present chaos was predictable, and even as my life changed, my environment did not.
Of course, that didn’t last. I came to Berkeley last year and told myself that I would never look back. I hated routines and I hated other people making my decisions for me. When I got to Berkeley, I finally felt free. I could go where I wanted when I wanted. I could be friends with the people I liked and see them whenever I wanted to. For months and months, being at Berkeley felt like some sort of extended summer camp, a place that I didn’t quite understand but that I loved, nonetheless.
For many reasons ranging from incredibly complex and personal to simple and mundane, I didn’t want to go back home for the summer. So, on somewhat of a whim, I applied and was accepted to a national park ranger position at the Indiana Dunes National Park, which, as the name suggests, is in Indiana.
Berkeley was filled with fun and friends and distractions. Indiana, while beautiful, was not. Being away for the summer in Indiana was the first time, I think, ever in my life that I have felt homesick. Compounding on the simple loneliness of being thrust into a strange and different place, my dog had to be euthanized halfway through the summer. I never got to say goodbye.
I missed my parents and I missed my friends. I missed the softness of my bed and the water pressure of my shower. I felt so far away from everything and everyone I loved, much further than the hour plane flight it takes to get from Oakland to Orange County. I couldn’t wait to pack up my shoddily placed posters and piles of clothing I never wore and head back home.
But when I got home, it didn’t feel right. My dog was gone, of course. Driving my dad’s car felt foreign. My friends couldn’t seem to go more than a few days without bickering. Away from the gradualism of residence, it seemed like everyone and everything had changed. I had never felt that way before.
I spent my week in Newport as a tourist. I went to the beach to soak in the sun, I went inside of the little boutiques instead of just walking past them. I watched and appreciated the sunsets. As much as I hated Newport when I lived there, I felt a newfound appreciation for the environments that now felt a little bit foreign. But even so, it didn’t feel like home.
A couple of days before classes started, my dad and I drove the seven or so hours up the Central Valley so I could once again return to the hills of Berkeley. My excitement grew as I began to recognize the landscape around me. My smile grew as I saw familiar BART stations and almost jumped with joy as we pulled into the street outside my new residence. I couldn’t wait to see the friends, the people who had gotten to know me better in a year than others have in 10. In Newport and in Indiana people tended to stare at, glare at or catcall me. I felt constantly judged for everything that I did, as if I were some sort of strange bacteria on a petri dish, examined and put under the microscope by everyone around me. As I walked through the chaotic hallways of Casa Zimbabwe and bear-hugged the friends who had pulled up in a Gig to see me, a realization permeated through me: I realized, finally, that this was my home now. This is what felt familiar. This is what felt right. I was home.
I can’t go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
— Alice in Wonderland