I am excellent at navigating comically perplexing subway systems, making flights just in the nick of time, finding cheap hotels, and discovering great restaurants in the dusty corners of the country. But for all the gifts I have in the art of travel, I am most dramatically lacking a talent for coming home.
After a long exhale of relief – the familiar bed, the missed friends and family, the favorite hometown cafe – comes an unbearable stillness, where the air becomes so stagnant I’m unsure that I can coax it into my lungs. It’s unnerving to feel so wrong in such a familiar environment.
Reverse culture shock is a common phenomenon. I remember the way my study abroad adviser cautiously appraised me after I returned from a semester in France. “How’s the readjustment going?” he would ask each time I would pass by him on the campus walkways. “Just fine,” would be my inevitable response, even though I was often on my way to burst into tears the moment I entered my tiny loft apartment.
Returning home is always an isolating experience. No one at home can really understand what your experience was, or how it (dramatically or just slightly) changed you. And after the twelfth hour of reminiscing, no one really wants to try anymore.
I’m not sure why I am particularly prone to this shock, able to feel pangs after only a short time away. I don’t miss the endless Midwest, nor the dusty, raw Southwest. I do mourn the loss of a feeling of infinite possibility and the world we created for ourselves on the road– an imaginary land where we had taken up arms against the lung crushing force of white picket adulthood and we had won.