When Max and I travel, our destinations usually have a wholly “vacation” vibe. We are always visitors, not residents. There is no overlay of “real life” on our trips. There isn’t any consideration of work, chores, obligations, or normal day-to-day routine. As a result, our usual emotional experience of vacations is fairly one-dimensional- pleasure, relaxation, excitement, fun.
Our recent trip to California was a whole different beast. Some of what we did on the trip did constitute “vacation vibe.” We stayed in a hotel with a jacuzzi, took a side trip to Nevada to go to the casinos, and didn’t worry about responsibilities. On the other hand, we did a lot of things that recalled the time when California was our home- went to favorite restaurants, took a trip to the San Diego Zoo, visited friends. Being in a place where we spent most of our lives made it impossible to escape the impact of the remnants of our past. Things were pretty much as we remembered, but not quite as we remembered. Everything seemed too familiar to truly feel like “vacation.” The rub, though, was that everything also seemed a little too stylized to feel like “home.” California probably didn’t change. It is more likely that the different lenses through which we now look- ground by our new lives- are the reason for the differences we sensed. Reconciling those feelings of “home” and how they have changed was a huge theme of this trip.
This nostalgia created by a vacation tangled and snarled up with the memories and associations of “home” produced a much more complex series of emotions. It was fun and wonderful, but also complicated. Yes, we originally decided to vacation in California precisely to experience some of our old favorite haunts and activities that we have missed since moving to Florida. I was just unprepared to still feel so connected and, yet, so ephemerally connected to California. It was almost as if my old life in California was covered in cobwebs and I had managed to get tangled in some of those silken threads. I was always aware of the sense of being attached and always equally aware of how easy it would be to pull away from the thread. Still, I was not sure that I wanted to completely disengage… either from my California connections or the Florida connections that are just starting to form.
It was a very weird sensation that overwhelmed me several times during the trip. Everywhere I looked, I remembered the best of my times and the worst of my times. I remembered who I was and how I perceived the world during the nearly fifty years I lived in California. I remembered the experiences I had with people who are either gone from my life or who have changed radically. I remembered how satisfying it was to regularly and routinely see my friends in California. I think I felt more nostalgic and mournful about moving from California during this trip than I did when we actually moved. On the other hand, being in California didn’t feel quite real… or quite right.
The last time I went to California was a little less than a year after we moved. At that point, I was still somewhat of a stranger in a strange land in Florida. The brief trip back to California was a welcome, comforting dose of familiarity. It was really too soon for California to not seem like home any more. At that time, I had sketched in the outline of a life in Florida, but there was still a lot of blank spaces. Since then, I’ve grown and expanded my Florida life. I’ve colored in the blank spaces and the Florida life is more dimensional now. As familiar as California felt to me on this trip, it also felt weirdly unreal. It was hard recognizing that I am losing my attachment to my old home, especially when it still all felt so familiar. Familiar… yet more faded, kind of like the way a copy of a copy of a copy used to look in the days before we had digital images. Maybe it isn’t really that I am losing the attachment to California, but just redefining that attachment. California may represent my past life, but it is still my life. Surely that means there is still some kind of attachment. Besides, people I love are still part of the California life that is unfurling each day. I think that means that California life is still a present part of my life, too.
When I went to church the Sunday after returning to Florida, a friend asked me how my trip was. I replied, “It was wonderful, but I am glad to be home.” She looked at me and said, “so, here’s home now for you, is it?”
As soon as she asked the question, I realized it was true. I had said “home” referring to Florida without thinking, but I knew I meant it. California still houses a lot of the artifacts of my life- the memories and experiences that brought me to where I am now in my journey. We revisited many of those memories and experiences during our trip, sort of like the way you might go to a living history museum to discover how people used to live in the “olden days.” Then, after soaking up a dose of yesteryear, you go home and go on with your own present and future. That’s what I did. After our trip to California, I went home to my present day real life.
Have you ever gone “home” after moving away? What was that experience like for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day!