I don’t think the word homesickness amply conveys what homesickness actually feels like. Like, the word walnut or squirrel or table sounds like what it actually is. But the imagery associated with homesickness just doesn’t emulate the actual feeling. I would know. Because when people ask me how I’m doing after moving to the US, I always cringe as the word ‘homesick’ escapes my mouth.
“Homesick” sounds like motion sickness from long hours in a rocky, coffee-stained, velour-padded camper van. The camper van would be mildewy, and the kitchen cabinets would open and slam shut when the vehicle lumbered down a pothole-y road. The camper van is unbearably stuffy- the sealed windows trap in the moist air and let it cook. “Homesick” sounds like nausea and discomfort. Annoyance at the slamming cabinets. Disgust at the rub of the moist velour padding on your sticky skin. But this is not what homesick feels like.
When someone asks me how my new life is, I want my confession of “homesick” to convey this: I want “homesick” to explain how much I miss my old apartment overlooking the arid ocean. I want “homesick” to explain what the warm salty air felt like as it brushed against my sticky skin. I want “homesick” to bring forth an image of the banyan tree whose roots I would swing from as a kid. I want “homesick” to explain where the living room sofa sat and why the clock was missing its hour hand. I want “homesick” to illustrate the street dog that would ceaselessly bark at 2 am and the kitchen sink that spewed brown, worm-infested water throughout the drought months. But I also want it to explain that I don’t really miss the walls or the furniture or the clock or the sinks, and I don’t really miss the view or the salty air or the annoying street dogs. Really, what I miss the most is standing in the middle of my living room and recognizing where I am. Feeling like I am somewhere familiar. Feeling certain of where the nearest grocery store is. Feeling confident in the location of the clean towels.
When someone asks me about my new life, I want to talk about how much I miss my old friends. How the features of strangers walking by mould into the familiar faces of my friends from my previous life. How my mind assigns their names to their masked look-alikes. How I almost smile and ask their lookalike how their weekend was. I want to tell people how it takes me a few good seconds to return to this reality and how it feels to watch the faces of my old friends mould back into the faces of strangers. Because I miss knowing the name of each person I walk by in the hallway more than I miss the actual people.
When someone asks me if I’ve settled in, I really want to say no. The homesickness is too overwhelming. Though in the summery months, I found solace in leisurely walks through the annoyingly grid-like streets. It doesn’t matter if I’m walking through a maze of brick houses and political lawn posters or on the soft yellow sand ornamented with plastic bags and instant biryani packages. Because for a few minutes of my day, it can feel as though I am adventuring; exploring. I can pretend that in a few minutes I will return home and know where to find the towels and be able to locate the nearest grocery store. During my leisurely walks, I can pretend that soon I will return home. I’m able to escape from the anxiety of feeling lost in my new house or watching my friends’ faces turn into that of strangers. I’m able to forget that I don’t know where my home is. Though I cannot change the way the word sounds, I admit that I am homesick. Incredibly. I hope that these feelings of anxiety and insecurity will subside as the year progresses and I hope that I am able to create a home out of this suburban jungle of American perfection. Because I wanted for years to attend high school football games and eat fast food and drive cars too fast at night. But now that I’m here, I can’t help but feel sick for what I no longer have. I can’t help but long to feel the familiarity of honking cars and rusty busses and salty warm air and sweat trickles and engine exhaust. Ergo, this feeling is what I think the word “homesick” should sound like.