I used to have this awful habit of coming and going. It drove my mother insane. “I think I’m going to go to Italy for a few months,” I told her once on the phone. She simply sighed. When I came back to the U.S. and told her I wanted to move to Philly, she wasn’t exactly surprised. “It’s just what you do,” she told me once. “Maybe you aren’t made to sit still.”
It’s funny — every time I’d go, I only really thought about my own future, on the things that laid ahead. On the new experiences, the new people, the new environments. It never occurred to me that elsewhere, someone else was trying to fill the gaps I used to fit into so effortlessly.
“I miss you,” my best friend texted me once when I was away for a few months. “I know I never say it, but I’m drunk right now, and I really miss you.” At the time, it seemed endearing, cute, but also kind of weird — she wasn’t really one for emotions. But then again, isn’t that just what drunk people do? By the next day she was laughing it off, and we pretended like we forgot it ever happened, and we never spoke of it again.
I think about that conversation a lot now. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved back home and the tables have turned; instead of the one leaving, I’m the one who watches people go. I guess that’s part of growing up. The older I get, the more goodbyes I have to say, and somehow, it never gets easier. My friends still poke fun at me for how easily I cry when someone moves away. “You act like the world is ending,” one told me once.
And in a way, it is. My friends are scattered across the world, creating new lives in new places, while I’m still stuck on the old ones. I walk by coffee shops we used to hang out in and my heart aches; I hear my friend’s favorite band is visiting town, but I don’t have anyone to tell. I find mementos of our friendships scattered around my room — a carved stone elephant brought back for me from India, a note written during class, a gag gift presented to me on my birthday. Reminders everywhere of everything that once was, of everything that has changed. The world as I knew it has ended, and I’m adapting, but I can’t help but notice the little pockets of emptiness people leave in their wake. Maybe I spent so much of my life moving around just trying to avoid them.
I remember my mother once told me that my childhood bedroom never stopped smelling of me. There’s a perfume-y aroma, she said, like flowers and vanilla and something soft, sweet. She admitted that there were days she’d step inside my old room and close the door, sit down on my old bed and close her eyes. I could hear the emotion climbing into her voice as she said it made her feel like I never left. At the time, it made me roll my eyes. “Mom, you can just call me when you miss me,” I reminded her.
But I get it now. Because sure, people leave behind memories and routines and objects, but there’s also an essence I cannot describe. It’s when you smell someone’s cologne and recognize it instantly; it’s when you hear a song and it hits you square in the chest. It’s when you’re sitting there, drunk, and you have the urge to text someone, “I miss you,” even if you can’t put your finger on why. It’s wondering how someone is doing when you don’t have the means to ask them and telling stories about people you haven’t spoken to in years and hoping, deep down, that maybe they’re thinking about you, too. Perhaps we’ll spend our whole lives sifting through all the things people leave behind.