I’ve just completed my usual airport routine of performing black-market surgery on the ole red back pack. Stitching fresh wounds with safety pins and dental floss, while packing the gaping holes with scarves and plastic bags; it’s beginning to look as traveled as Forrest Gump’s shoes. I’ve brushed my hair, counted the stamps in my passport, and will now attempt to write an overwhelming account of my past 10 months abroad. And this is the moment my panic would generally set in. This moment, that painful reality of “It’s over and I must now move home,” should be turning me into walking hysteria. Flashbacks of a mundane, routine life of oh-so-familiar circumstance will surely rush in and drown the months of blissful wandering I’ve just experienced. But, you know what? Not this time. This time, I’ve managed to fight the urge to turn into a spasming, broken blender of panic.
Because having lived in Australia for nearly a year, whilst gallivanting through eight other eastern countries, I’ve learned to turn my head west and see America, my home, in an entirely new light. Home, to me now, is no longer familiar monotony. This is not to say that I’ve been fleeing America for the past few years in an effort to escape home, I think I was simply looking to escape familiarity. Which has brought me now to question the entire concept of familiarity, and why we deem it so tragic.
Today I said goodbye to a temporary home in Gold Coast, Australia. I took one last look at a previously unfamiliar skyline just down from my house.
It looked as if it were dusted with aqua eyeshadow and blended along the horizon with cherry lip balm. This is not familiar for a girl raised in swamp lands with hazy shadows of green and mustard. I stared at the two-foot long water dragon (Chuck) wading in the pool, just down from the door of my shed-turned-bedroom and waved goodbye.
Also, an unfamiliar pet for which I felt slightly sad to leave.
The friends I see every night for dinner, each morning for coffee and every Sunday for sunbathing.
This is when the tears began to well. It’s the familiarity that we so desperately wish to escape, that we know we will miss the most. It will be my first Sunday in America that I see photos of everyone back in Australia on the beach that I will long to be there with them. It’s not the exotic sunset or the rare waters of distant oceans that I’ll long for, it will be the routine of family meal with friends and wine every single Thursday.
And realizing the beauty of familiarity is what will get me back to America, without losing my sanity in a fit of fear, returning to the known.
So in an effort to embrace my previously familiar world, I’m making my list of those old golden thrills to look forward to once America is home again.
1- Happy Hour. (I don’t think I need to explain. All I need in life is a bar tab that won’t cost the same as my rent check.)
2- Measurements I can comprehend. (I once asked for a kilo of bacon, thinking it would be around one half pound. I then hosted brunch for the neighborhood.)
3- Movie night out. (Without needing to sacrifice meals for two weeks.)
4- Free condiments. (I’m going straight to a fast-food joint to ask for so much free mayonnaise that I can go home and give myself a deep-conditioning hair treatment. Because, in America, you can HAVE that much mayonnaise.)
5- Squirrels. (You really don’t appreciate the little nuggets until you live without them. A picnic in the park is far less entertaining.)
6- WalMart. (Look—don’t judge me. It’s shockingly convenient to have one place where you can purchase nearly anything. I hate to admit that I’m a fan convenience, but some days, I’d like to buy cereal, pajamas and motor oil all in one stop.)
7- Quality hot sauce selection. (No sugar; just vinegar and cayenne, as it should be.)
8- Team trivia and Karaoke. (I found in Australia, you should only be given a microphone if you’re a pseudo-professional pop artist. But if you want to go drink frozen daiquiris and sing love ballads to a room full of strangers; I assure you, we play karaoke a bit different in America.)
Leaving Australia has been one of the most emotional experiences I’ve been through. Not because I feel I’ll never go back, and not because I’m afraid my travels are over. Rather, I know they’re only just beginning. But I think this experience taught me to appreciate and savor the familiar in my life. Just as I longed for morning walks with kangaroos in the distance one year ago, after I found it, I began to miss dirt roads and squirrels back home. Now as I return to America with gallons instead of liters, I know I’ll miss those familiar Sundays on Burleigh Hill with friends and hot chips. It’s always the foreign, the bizarre and exotic that we search for; but it’s the known, comfort and familiar that we appreciate most.