Living so far removed from so many friends and family, and coming in contact with as many transient folks as I have in Buenos Aires, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at airport goodbyes. I know to make them quick and lighthearted. I know to keep hugs from lingering for too long, words from getting too ponderous, to avoid getting overly sentimental or hypothesizing on when we’ll see each other again. Airport goodbyes should be treated as casually as a quick trip to the grocery store. One should take every measure to keep mutual misery down to a minimum. This is important.
And the longer the flight, the better– the more tedious the layover, exasperating paperwork, absurd line at customs. Books. Podcasts. Food. It all helps to keep you distracted and functional long enough to keep the avalanche of feelings from smothering you alive. This is how I’m able to get through the increasingly grueling ordeal of air travel without suffocating. Keeping sentimentality at bay, at least until you’re home and partially unpacked. I’ve gotten good at it.
But this past October, as I was hastily scrambling for a decent wi-fi hotspot at Albany International Airport, after saying goodbye to my parents and siblings to fly back to Buenos Aires all by my lonesome, I made the mistake of activating my iPod’s shuffle feature. I was therefore punched in the gut… metaphorically, of course… by an unlikely song. A wistful ballad about goodbyes, departures and heartbreak. A song that brought on all the bullshit I had been trying to avoid; the empty, awful aftertaste of saying goodbye to the people I cared most about to go back “home”. It devastated me completely, and left me an emotional wreck for the rest of the journey back.
The song was Tim Curry’s rendition of “I’m Going Home”, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show original soundtrack.
It’s a gaudy song from a gaudy movie, but it struck a chord. The concept of “home” has become a confusing one for me. Is it merely where my job is? Is it where my family is? Is it where I grew up or where I found my independence? When I leave Buenos Aires to spend the holidays in Barranquilla, am I coming home or leaving? I think I feel as much of an outsider in either city, just as much as I feel a strong kinship pulling me to them. Somehow, though, it’s very important for me to usher in the New Year in Barranquilla. It just feels weird to start the year elsewhere.
My relationship with 2013 was not unlike that of a fickle house cat and its owner. Sometimes it would lovingly cozy up by my side. Sometimes it would be an aloof jerk. Sometimes it would scratch the hell out of my arm for no apparent reason. It was mercurial and unpredictable. All things considered, the good outweighed the bad, and I felt myself grow as an individual, inching ever closer to true adulthood.
The bad: I went through a few small professional disappointments. Some of the projects I started the year off with never came to fruition. I went through some deeply unpleasant family drama. I saw the deterioration of my grandparents’ health and overall happiness. I said goodbye to a close friend. I didn’t blog as much as I wanted to. I flaked out on people. I was uncommunicative and withdrawn. I suffered through my first serious bout of abject depression for a couple of months. I drank more than I should have.
The good: I had a lot of fun. I traveled a fair amount. I got to meet some pretty awesome new people. I worked on several projects that were of deep importance to me. I spent a lot of time with my family. I went to Disney World. I listened to a huge amount of great new music. Watched a lot of great films. Regained my passion for storytelling. Completed two screenplays. Went to more concerts than any other year in my life. I laughed a lot. I learned a lot. I grew the hell up. I found that however deep a hole I dig myself into, I can always count on the wonderful people who’ve somehow found their way into my periphery to lift me right back up and towards the light.
And I guess, after all this coming and going, that’s what I’ve figured out about the concept of “home”. It’s not the house I grew up in, or my apartment in Buenos Aires, or even a group of people. Home is not something static, that I can always find in the same place. It’s not a building, or a city. It’s a feeling you can find anywhere you are. It’s safety. It’s comfort. It’s support. It’s the freedom to be gladly and irrepressibly me. And I find that feeling in my nearest and dearest, be it by actual physical proximity or through a phone call or letter or a Skype conversation. It’s shared laughs and comfortable silences. It means the world, and it’s worth chasing after.
I’ll be in Barranquilla for the next month and change, then I’m flying back to Buenos Aires to grab the new year by the face and make it work for me. This time I might let those airport goodbyes linger on for a bit.
Leaving home to come back home. There are worse ways to live.