The last day or two of a visit to the States can be all about “the stuff.” There’s a trip to Target, where we stock up on a few household products that are easier or cheaper here (this list has decreased over three years). I look at the pile of books I bought and begin to wonder if that last hardcover was really necessary. We wash clothes and dry them in my parents’ dryer (a novelty!). And then there is the day-long (with intermissions) feat of packing—weighing—reshuffling—unpacking—weighing—repacking the two giant suitcases that in normal circumstances we would be embarrassed to own. One of them, in fact, I ordered years ago by mistake—not paying strict attention to that little note on “dimensions.”
On a good day, like today, the suitcases are packed with a few hours to spare and a couple pounds’ buffer on that fifty-pound limit (if we believe the old bathroom scale). Family members supervise as we tug mightily on the zipper closing one bag “for good,” only to inevitably realize some object that needs to be inside is still sitting on the bed.
The last phase can feel like it’s about “the stuff,” and about that travel haul looming before us—the overnight flight followed by the four-hour layover followed by the one-hour jump to Amsterdam (it was cheaper—a lot cheaper). The fixation shifts to how long and annoying that flight is going to be, and you-know-I-never-sleep-on-those, and with-my-luck-we’ll-get-awful-seatmates-like-that-time-we-flew-with-the-whole-crew-of-Cirque-du-Soleil…
These kind of thoughts can keep the departure from becoming emotional, and can keep you from thinking too hard about how long it might be before you see someone again. But they can numb you from remembering that the trip wasn’t about all the stuff you’re bringing back; it was about the people who were the reason you flew back in the first place. The US, I have thought many times this week, is a great shopping destination (especially if you’re packing Euros), but that’s not why we’re here.
We’re here because my cousin got married, and so that I could dance until my calves hurt with my siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles (to songs that everyone knows the words to but me). We were here for the moment when my youngest cousins (twins) saw us in a hotel lobby and ran screaming up to hug us, even though they haven’t seen us in more than a year. We were here to hold our newest niece, who’s still less than two weeks old. We were here to visit two relatives who have been ill, and to make sure we made time for visits and conversations. I was here to sit around my parents’ house doing nothing or everything, eating bagels and then wondering when we were going to eat more bagels. Last night we capped it all off by going to hear an old friend’s band play in Asbury Park, a Jersey boardwalk town, one of those experiences that makes you feel OK about your roots.
Like with the packing, I’m probably forgetting something important. I get edgy about coming home, and a little obstinate, because we’re in that limbo now where sometime within a year or so, we might move back. And I like Europe. And if it wasn’t for all those people mentioned above, you could leave me there, no problem. I still feel like I’m giving things a look out the corner of my eye, if you know what I mean. I get skeptical about the lifestyle stuff here. I don’t want to hear one more news story about who sued whom. I get grieved about the politics. I miss biking and am quickly sick of traffic and being dependent on a car. I accidentally say “Tot ziens, dag” to the guy at Dunkin Donuts. I have heart palpitations when I go into a store as overwhelming as a Walmart (“I just need deodorant!”) or a grocery store as option-dense as a Stop and Shop. I feel skeptical when my friend tells me how great it is to order his groceries online. I am amazed when I hear how little vacation time or paternity leave people get. Am I ready to move back? I don’t know. But it’s been good to be home and to be reminded of the things—the people—who make it sweet.
And if you need me, I’ll be in transit for the next eighteen or so hours.