Echoes of Nostalgia
I used to wake up to the sound of my parents bumbling around in the kitchen two rooms away; a mise en scéne of omelettes and coffee centered on white doilies on our glass dining table with the steam from our mugs curled around the three of us. It’s been over a year since I flew the nest, but the phantom sound of my parents murmuring outside my bedroom still floats over to me in the short seconds between sleep and waking up entirely on cold mornings. Opening my eyes and realizing I’m nowhere close to home makes those mornings feel a little colder.
Contrary to how it feels, the ache of leaving home does get better; wounds born out of nostalgia fester for a long, excruciating while but they do eventually crust over. My hands graze against the scab sometimes and the ache comes back with searing clarity but it does get better.
Navigating life when your friends and family go from being tangible people to pixels on a screen virtually overnight is tough. The fear can almost devour you whole when you realize all the shoulders you could lean on are countries or continents away, but it helps to remember the shoulders of the new people we meet can be just as sturdy if you let yourself lean on them.
Regardless, platitudes don’t do much in the way of easing the ache of leaving home, akin to taping a band aid over a stab to the gut. Over the long months of getting used to fending for myself in the truest sense of the word, I’ve had multiple hushed conversations with students just as confused as I was about being in this new country with new rules I wasn’t aware of. A friend divulged how they were driven to the point of looking up “how to deal with homesickness” for an indisputable solution out of desperation but to no avail; every self-help article feels empty and WikiHow suddenly doesn’t have the emotional fluency to understand what exactly it is you’re carrying around with you every second you’re away from home. Perhaps I’m regurgitating a sentiment that an innumerable amount of students encumbered with nostalgia have felt before but it often feels like the past has a chain tied around my ankles and even as I’m steadily marching forward, I hear the metal links of the chain clinking behind me. When I pull at the chain, I can feel there’s a certain amount of give to it but I can’t tell for how much longer. I don’t have bolt cutters. Most people don’t.
Homesickness is such a torrid, abrasive emotion and it is jarring to think about how nearly everyone around us is enduring that flame— the fire extinguisher is lying back home hundreds or thousands of kilometers away after all.
There are still things you can do to douse the fire a little bit, small tricks to tame the beast into a flickering candle that keeps you warm on lonely nights. I went back home this summer- a long, cramped journey of two flights stretched over nearly 24 hours- and came back with a pack of 75 Assam tea bags I can only find back home. I ration them out over the months until I can go back again and restock, saving them for the worst of the worst days nostalgia-wise, when the waves get too rough for the dinghy boat I find myself on. For those few minutes while I’m sipping on that specific cup of tea, the seven thousand kilometers between my home and I compress itself into the distance between the cup and my mouth and the world doesn’t feel so unimaginably large anymore.
It sounds like a nostrum, but it’s paramount you find that cup of tea for yourself. Perhaps a chocolate bar sold only in the little shop on the corner of your street back home, or a local drink you used to share with friends over slow evenings after school. Nostalgia flows with the force of a river strong enough to carve oxbows out of your heart, but you possess the materials to build a dam for it, built out of stockpiles of little trinkets from home. It doesn’t need to be material either. After all, if you’re fond of fighting fire with fire, combatting an emotion as consuming as nostalgia may only be conquered through an emotion just as fervid— the deep-seated contentment of talking to friends back home between busy schedules, late-night calls with family you haven’t seen in a while, wandering around an unfamiliar city with unfamiliar people frequently enough so you come to know everything like the back of your hand. It can be as tiny or as enormous as you want it to be, as long as you’re not letting yourself melt into your mattress out of misery.
It’s not all hopeless, and you’re not doomed to a life of constantly looking back either. I wouldn’t have believed it a year ago, but life always seems to recompense for all the things it takes away. My parents and I moved out of the house I spent my entire childhood in a while ago and while I still imagine myself back in the halls of that house, knowing I could feel my way through the dark, I’m starting to uncover that same comfort in the apartment I’m in now. I still stumble in the dark, but I can now pace myself better than I ever imagined I would again. There’s hope to be dug out of the sand and dusted off in all the new places you find yourself in. Nostalgia blunts your tools, but you’ve got your fists and they’re plenty strong enough to wring all the homesickness out of yourself, just enough so you can keep going forward.
Ultimately, this is just a working theory, but everything always turns out okay.
Writer: Jude Majumdar
Visuals: Diana Chaika
Editor: Csenge Nagy-György