Six years ago, I was 19 years old, on my own in Italy, studying abroad, living a dream and, at the same time, the most homesick I've ever been in my life.
It was grey and cold, much like it is here on the East Coast, where, in every month but February, we like to say we love having four seasons. By February, we are all ready jump ship and move to SoCal, where, according to my dad, who has been trying to get me to move there since I was nine, it is 60 degrees and sunny all the time, no exceptions. Yeah, I'll take some of that, please. I've had it with my sweater collection for this year.
But back to being in Italy. I lived in a mountain town. It was picturesque and beautiful, the quaint, ancient city nestled on the side of a big hill...and cold, oh so cold. In January, everything had been new and the exhilaration of the adventure obscured the culture shock and longing for familiarity. But in February, everything was grey. Grey like my soul, as my sister and I would joke. The grey sky was accented by the grey stone buildings, and the grey cobblestone streets, and the grey trees, and the grey fog that descended on the mountain top until, maybe, the sun might burn through enough of it to lift the fog and turn it into grey clouds. But the sun could not burn through the fog of homesickness that surrounded me every moment of every day that February, as I walked among the antiquated Etruscan buildings, marveling at the fact that I was still a teenager a world apart from the security and comforts of my American life, making fabulous memories far away from those that I loved and missed in the deepest parts of my being.
The bright spot in my life that lonely February were the emails from my sister. Knowing how much I missed everyone back home, she took up a campaign to send me an email every day, detailing the humdrum and mundane events of her life with her signature humorous flair. I remember sitting in the library of the international school and laughing aloud at my computer screen after reading her emails, receiving sideways glances from other students nearby. Sometimes I would get a poem about high school trivialities, other times she sent pictures of the things I wasn't there to see (like her formal dance dress, and her cast covered in a rainbow of signatures after she broke her arm snowboarding with our favorite second family), and every message ended with a post script of song lyrics. That was always our thing, taking stupid lines from pop songs out of context by removing the melody and applying normal syntax (our favorite being "Play that funky music, white boy"), so usually by the time I made it through that line, I was bent over with laughter.
But my favorite email of them all was one that wasn't funny; it was heartfelt and comforting. I thought that I had saved it from the black hole of my college email account, but a search of my current inbox turns up nothing. I wish I remembered what the whole email said, but all I remember is the end:
"PS. 'Another winter day has come and gone away, in even Paris and Rome, and I want go home...''
The emotional response was immediate as I read the beautiful words. In one line, like a heartfelt poem, she summed up everything I was feeling - Paris and Rome the symbols of my grand adventure but not enough to stem the constant tug in my heart for the people and places that had always been home. Tears welled up in my eyes as I finished her email, believing that no one, ever, would be able to understand my mixed emotions like my sister.
Yesterday, she called to tell me how much she loved my latest project. Tomorrow is her birthday. Today, I am cursing the month of February for being so grey and boring and miserable. Once again, like that month six years ago, the shiny thrill of freedom has been dulled by the drudgery of fighting daily through the fear and loneliness that come when I'm out of my comfort zone. But as I was drinking my pick-me-up Joy tea this afternoon, wishing it was actually infused with its namesake emotion, staring out the window, willing the sun to make an appearance and bring back the warmth of spring with the promise of growth, the strains of Home came through the laptop speakers, like a message from the shuffle gods. Again, just like that winter day six years ago, tears welled up in my eyes, as I thought of my sister and how she knew exactly what to say in that moment, thousands of seconds and miles away, wrapping me in the comfortable hug of her words and a song, as if she was right beside me. I am home, embarking on this adventure with the people who mean the most to me. And all of a sudden, surrounded by gratefulness for the memory of a more lonesome winter than this and for a sister who knows how to brighten any day, February doesn't seem so bad.