Since I came to Italy to stay, eighteen years ago, I have lost a lot of my family in the US. My father and stepfather both passed away in 2009. My mother passed in 2017, my sister and grandmother in 2020, and my aunt in 2022. I have not been home since my mother’s passing, and that was the last time I saw anyone in my family. We talk occasionally on the phone; my brother and I have a standing appointment on the third Sunday of the month, with “extra” calls if something of importance happens.
Every now and again, however, I am hit with a blow of nostalgia and a longing for “home”, whatever that means anymore. It can come from watching a TV series that I remember watching with Mom, or a song that contains some indefinable something that connects me with a long-forgotten memory, or a film that touches on themes of loss and strikes me just so, causing me to burst into tears, aching for something that no longer even really exists.
July 2021 was my fiftieth birthday, and while I don’t really feel much different in the physical sense, on more emotional levels, I find myself changing immensely. All my memories of home have a different quality to them with the benefit of distance. I don’t fool myself into thinking that everything was ever perfect, once. I know better than that. But I do feel that nostalgia in a much different way, right down to my bones, it seems, and I honestly am in mourning for so much more in addition to the losses of my loved ones.
Even post-pandemic (can we really call it that, yet?), I still can’t imagine going “home”. What I see on the news and in the posts on social media tell me the US is more foreign to me than ever before. Frankly, even before I left, I often felt distinctly “other” for a lot of reasons.
More and more often I’m asked when I’ll come back to visit, and I never have an answer. I can joke about it, but the truth is, I just can’t say. I know I can’t wait for the “perfect” time, because there’s no such thing, and anything can happen in the meantime, without warning of any kind.
That’s a lesson I’ve learned, believe me. At the same time, though, I don’t know when I’ll ever feel like I can be there without worry. I don’t know when I’ll be strong enough to face my fear of what has become an unsettling “unknown” in the time since I’ve been away. Nevertheless, I keep hoping, and even, very vaguely, planning, just in case. I look at the prices of flights, rental cars, hotel rooms. I plot journeys of all sorts, where I’d arrive, where I’d drive to, where I’d leave from. I even allow time for quarantine, just in case.
Just in case.