If you've ever lived abroad or travelled for an extended period of time, you know the feelings going home can evoke; you're excited, sad, confused, and antsy at the same time.
You're excited because you're going home! You'll see the friends, family, and pets you've been missing, you'll hang out at the old stomping grounds, and eat the food you can't get overseas (seriously, the world needs to get on the poutine train, like, yesterday). You're looking forward to having home cooked meals made by someone who loves you, but mostly, you're looking forward to just spending time and catching up with the people you had wished were with you on your adventures.
You're also sad, though. The holiday is over, and you're back to normal life. Whatever the reason was that you left, chances are, that thing is still waiting for you upon arrival.
You're confused because everything feels the same, but different. On the one hand, it feels like you've seen the world and everything in your life has changed, but you're stepping back into the space you left, and you don't quite fit into it. You feel like a fraud because you're not that person anymore. On the other hand, everyone at home has basically moved on. People missed you, of course. The first couple of weeks are packed with catch ups and coffee dates. But you quickly realise that in your absence, they've built lives that have nothing, or very little to do with you, and you wonder, if you left again, would it matter that much?
You're antsy because you don't really know what to do with yourself. Should you commit to staying at home? What does that look like? Should you get a job? Should you go (back) to school? Should you try and find an apartment? How long after living abroad is it acceptable to crash on your family/friend's couches? Maybe I should just book another flight somewhere else, you wonder. My social media feeds are at least half people I met travelling, and a third of them only go home briefly before they're off on their next adventure. So what becomes of us wandering souls? Do we settle down at some point? What does settling down look like in our world? I don't want to buy a Downtown Toronto condo that costs more than a Thai Island, but I sure AF don't want to be that creepy old fart in a hostel trying to smoke ganja with the backpackers. That whole huge space in between, where exactly in it do I belong?
I've met plenty of "perpetual travellers," people who wear the length of time they've been away from home like a badge of honour. It's like a competition between them:"I haven't been home in three years," "Dude, I haven't been home in 10!" Personally, I don't see the appeal there. I haven't actually lived in Toronto in 4 years, but I go home every year. If you won't go back, I think it says more about your problems with home than your ability to survive away from it. I think for people like me, it requires more courage to go home than to keep travelling.
I've spent three of the last five months in Toronto, due to circumstances out of my control. I've been up and down and all over the spectrum of emotions. I've felt surrounded by love, getting to spend so much precious time with people who really matter. I've been so lonely, missing my guy and my life overseas. I've felt restless and useless, brave and strong. I've had to face things within myself that I had been ignoring, that travelling gave me the luxury to ignore, and that was important. I feel like a different person that I was when I left Japan five months ago.
I leave Toronto in three days, and go back to a life that feels a little unfamiliar right now. I've been here a long time, not my usual three-week, "HEY! HI! GOOD TO SEE YOU, I'M OFF, SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! MUAH!" trip. Knowing that the goal has been to return to Japan, every happy moment has a bit of "Mono No Aware," (物の哀れ) a Japanese word for the awareness of impermanence. It's that feeling of transience lurking beneath happy moments. I've also been feeling plenty of, "Natsukashii" (懐かしい), kind of like nostalgia, but more intense. A happy memory so good that you feel sad recalling it.
This is the life I've chosen, and I know how exciting it seems from the outside. People say they want to live through me, and, I mean, yes, I understand the urge. Don't get it wrong --I'm not complaining. I'm very lucky. I chose this way of living with purpose. I worked hard for it, I have been persistent and patient, and I also encountered a fuck-ton of good fortune, all of which has allowed me to continue the journey. But if I am honest, I often find myself fighting waves of Natsukashii. Remembering life on hill at Sunshine Village in Banff, and everything that happened in those mountains. Remembering sitting on my sister's veranda in Berlin, sipping coffee, having only met a few days prior but loving her so much while we learned about each other. Being so immediately welcomed and loved on the Gold Coast in Australia, fish and chips by the beach at Burleigh, and the way the sea breeze felt on my skin. And there's all the memories here, like sneaking in to my bedroom window with my cousin, or the countless hours we spent in the Theatre Council Office in high school. And then there are my friends in Toronto who I am still very much in contact with, the group of us who've been together 10+ years going strong; every cottage, every concert, every trip, every holiday, every birthday, everything, all of it, just comes at me and cuts me open when I think about leaving. But then there are my Tokyo friends, who understand the simultaneous need to be in Japan and desperate longing for the place they come from. And of course, Jonno. The life we've built together, the journey we have been on, and the many places we've called home. Christmas of 2015 he gave me a journal. Along with the sweet words of love and encouragement at the front, on random pages throughout, he wrote some travel-themed quotations. Here's one by Miriam Adeney,
"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."
I am not complaining about my life. We are not meant to ignore or avoid sadness and sorrow. Difficulty can have huge transformative effects. The feelings I experience recalling these memories allows me to appreciate each new moment as it occurs. I can't take a loving embrace or a coffee date for granted, because I understand the inherit value each of these things offers: the gift of time with people who matter.
This is the life I have chosen. I've had many "homes," but Toronto will always be my number 1. I don't know when or even if I'll live here again, but I'll never stop coming back. Of course it's the people I know and love, but a huge part of it is the city itself. The neighbourhoods, the buildings, the sights and sounds, the food, the strangers on the train and on the street. How we are all different, diverse, but one and the same. Toronto has changed so much in four years, experiencing great triumphs and profound sorrow. But despite the gentrification, the housing crisis, and the role it's taken on the International Stage, Toronto has sort of stayed the same, too.
Same-same, but different. Kind of like me.
photos by: @adventure_with_ana