The State Department is advising all United States citizens abroad: return home now or stay where you are and wait out this pandemic. If you stay, “you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite period of time.”
So, do I stay, or do I return home?
Home. So interesting. This is the subject of my research for many years now. What is home? I wrote my dissertation on this. I was halfway through my book when I arrived in Italy with my latest draft. The psychology of home. The archetype of home. Finding home. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Attachment to place. Imprints from childhood. Mom as our first home. Family as home. The need to leave home. The hero journey that takes us away from home. Leading to, finally, how do we return? What is home when we come back?
The State Department advisory feels like an ultimatum: Come home now or it’s possible you may never. Ever? My mind wanders to the parable of the prodigal son… And the novel by Thomas Wolfe, You Can Never Go Home Again.
I’ve written about what home is to me. Or, at least, I thought I had. About my childhood experiences that left indelible imprints. Grama Baird and the farm in Michigan. My mother, my father, my youth spent in Chicago. My journey to San Francisco, my home as an adult, beginning at age 18. How it all brought me to Idaho, to the Wood River Valley, where I lived for fourteen years, ten of them in Picabo, a town of only six streets.
I tested the theories I had developed in my doctoral work when I traveled through the South, looking for a new place to live, a new place I could call home. I landed in Oklahoma. Yeah, I never saw that coming! But I like Tulsa, I really like it there. It “fits,” it feels right. I’ve felt at home.
And now I’m in Italy. Considering the State Department advisory: come home now or be prepared to stay away indefinitely.
And I keep wondering, why should I return? What does it mean for me to go home? For me to go home now? Two very different questions. So instead, I consider: what do I miss?
My ergonomic pillow. My backyard, which I never used nearly enough. Rubber wine bottle stoppers – the kind that suck the air out of the bottle and keep the wine fresh. A pair of jeans – the green ones removed from my suitcase (I only brought denim capris). One pair of fluffy socks for night while reading. My hot water bottle for sleeping.
Ok, then, what would I have brought with me to make this place feel like home? I think of my things. My art, my books, the tokens on my prayer alter. The few things I kept when I downsized from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment. As for all the heirlooms and treasures I sold and gave away, things I had been moving with me for decades, I remember but don’t miss. Even the last few months in Tulsa found me clearing away more things. All things. Things I don’t need. Things I don’t miss.
What do I miss here in Italy? Avocados. Roasted dandelion tea. Cashews.
My own dogs. But then, I missed them in Oklahoma too.
What do I need in the States that I don’t have here? Nothing I can think of. Not my health insurance. Yes, I’m paid up through April, don’t worry. But is it really the best health care in the world? I don’t think so. Not today, it isn’t. And it’s damn expensive. And I rarely use it. Acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathic, Ayurvedic, nutritional supplements – all the things I regularly use are still out of pocket. And right now, if I really needed it…? Let’s not go down that road. I’m just not convinced it’s worth returning to the States based on that fear.
So, what? What do I need that I don’t have here?
My family and friends. You are all here with me now. How much we converse and spend time together hasn’t really changed. If anything, it’s better. I can’t hug you, that’s true. But then, how often did we embrace? How often did I see you? Not nearly enough. You live in Chicago, in Idaho, and Oklahoma. In Michigan and California. In Wisconsin, Utah, Colorado and Oregon. In Alabama and Georgia. In Texas and Washington, New Mexico and New York. In South Dakota, Ohio, and Minnesota. In Turkey and Greece, Switzerland, Norway, and Germany. And please forgive me if I’m temporarily forgetting some of the places where you are – the point is, we are already miles apart. We’ve been miles apart for many, many years. Our friendship transcends distance. The love that we share and how much we care, well, I’m tearing up now– it lives in every memory, in every meal, every howl of laughter, every thoughtful discussion, every dance, every smile, every discovery, every touch, every misunderstanding, and, in every remembering. Our moments have always been fleeting, never enough. Visits too short, drives too long, plane flights too expensive, days ‘off’ too few. It doesn’t make sense to come back to the States for you. You’re already here.
We are ALL under quarantine now.
And today, my landlord has suddenly returned.
With Rosalia, his very sweet and silent small dog.
So, for now, or however indefinitely, I think I will stay.
(never doubt how much I love you.)*
And just so you know, I am enrolled in the Safe Traveler Enrollment Plan through the U.S. Department of State. I was already enrolled even before the State Department suggested it with their last advisory. My sister is my emergency contact. They have my Italian cell # as well as my email. And that’s as good as it’s gonna get for now. Don’t panic.
* I almost deleted this, as I don’t want to sound corny. But it’s true. And maybe I don’t say it enough. So I’ll say it again: I love you. Thank you for caring.