"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow." - Lin Yutang
David and I parked the car at our apartment complex. We put on our packs, both front and back, for the last time on our 2013 RTW trip. We walked slowly up the stairs to our second floor apartment, almost like we were afraid of it. We unlocked the door and just barely peaked inside. We carefully walked in but only a few steps. And then we stared.
I stared at the clean carpet taking the space between the couch and the fireplace. Did our living room get bigger? I don’t remember it being this big.
We crept in a little further. I craned my neck and looked at the balloons that had deflated while we were gone: a birthday balloon from my 24th in February celebrated two weeks before we left and a dolphin balloon given to me by a friend at work. Both were flat and dead on the floor.
I turned to my right and looked curiously into the kitchen. I turned back around to have a different view into the living room. That’s our couch. It’s still there - all red and big and ours. How did that living room get bigger?
I meandered back into the living room and looked at the pictures on the mantle. I printed those. I framed them. I arranged them on the mantle. I thought, “Now I’ll need new ones.”
I read the black canvas on the mantle that my friend Darcie gave me. It read in bold white letters:
SMELL THE ROSES,
BE KIND TO YOURSELF,
GO FOR LONG WALKS,
LOOK AT THE STARS,
IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD.
And I thought, “I’ve done all those things.”
David and I continued to stand in the living room - lost. Both of us were trying to explain what we were feeling. I said I felt like it was a ghost – the apartment was a ghost. It felt like something I had seen in a dream. It didn’t feel like I once lived there, worked there, played there. I even said those things out loud to David to remind myself, “We lived here. We worked here. We played here.” I said them though, confused, that they had actually happened.
I was flooded with memories of how life was before we left, the struggles we had faced with bad bosses and the boredom I dealt with from “normal” life. I knew all those things had happened – and even not that long ago. But somehow, they felt so far away.
We walked through the rest of the apartment. I thought about how lucky we were to have a washer and dryer. I looked at my wedding dress in its bag hanging in the laundry room and the vacuum cleaner next to it.
When I got to the bathroom, I glared at the vanity. Was it always that cream color? It looks so clean. Why is it so clean?
I looked behind the door and was blown away by all the toiletries I own. I have a full size stick of deodorant. That's strange. And I have a hair dryer, a straightener and a curling iron. Not to mention the hot rollers under the sink that are also surrounded by toiletries.
When I looked into our bedroom, I asked David if our bed had always sat that high. Why was it so high? I paced from my side of the bed to David’s side of the bed over and over asking David if our bedroom has also grown larger since we left.
I didn’t even walk into my closet. I peeped in briefly without turning on the lights already flabbergasted and overwhelmed by the amount of clothes I own.
After we walked ourselves through the apartment, we just stood in the living room again… staring.
I believe this painstaking account of our return home is important. Coming home to the same apartment as we left it was weird. Very weird. And next time, if there is a next time, I don’t think we’ll keep our same place – because we are not the same people. And there is a small fear in me that things will be as they were before we left and that somehow it will be as if we never had our adventure. David will soon be working for a new boss but for the same company. And I will return to my previous position with the same company. I don’t know how things won’t return to how they were before we left. But I know they can’t. Somehow, David and I will have to find new rhythms and new habits and new grooves.
I’ve had a few people give me much-appreciated advice about going home. One piece of advice came from a friend who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. She said she experienced a type of postpartum depression after coming home. She said eventually she was able to find a new rhythm but not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about the trail. Another piece of advice came from a couchsurfing host in Rio de Janeiro who told us to be patient with our family and friends. She reminded us that no one has any idea what we just did and what we just experienced.
These words of encouragement aren’t exactly “cure alls” but they did at least warn me. I knew I would be sad and that having those feelings would be normal. I am figuring the sudden panic spells I'm having wanting to leave again are most likely, not, out of the ordinary. And I’ve tried to be patient when people have told me that I must be so relaxed now after a 4-month vacation (although, I do want to ask those people if they’ve ever slept in an airport or hostel during their vacations).
I guess I get to learn again how to function in American society and how to make money. The upside of this is that I can wash my clothes whenever I want and wear something other than the seven shirts I can fit into my pack. I can even wear something other than my Chacos (but I probably won’t be doing that).