Never acknowledge it outright, but let it creep on you. Let it move in on your feelings slowly, so that you begin to see tinges of your hometown in every aspect of the mundane. Not everyone will get it. Even the people who lived where you grew up will not quite understand, because the pang in your heart is specific to you.
Miss certain foods. Miss your parents’ home cooking, but miss chain restaurants, too. Miss your eleventh birthday party at the Cheesecake Factory, and remember how you wore your favorite outfit to what you thought was the fanciest restaurant in the world. Remember the Club sandwich and the triple chocolate cheesecake. Notice a small pang somewhere between your stomach and your heart. Feel a longing for something familiar, something warm. You’ll ask for the recipe, and you’ll try to recreate the meal, and you’ll hunt down another restaurant’s interpretation, but something will always be not-quite-right.
Check the prices for tickets home every now and again. Compare them with your bank account and keep the airline sites open in a separate tab, waiting for the two numbers to align. Try to find a way to escape from work, stockpile your time off, barter your sick days and hope that you’ll find a good enough reason to go. A wedding, a baby, anything. Imagine your triumphant return, cool and aloof and nonplussed, but know you’ll just end up running into your family’s arms, no matter how old you may be.
Cry when your parents get sick, and sob when the family pet dies. Let the ache become a void for a little while. Feel it pull you back to your roots, back to those days when you felt sick and sad and little, when you’d stay home from school and curl up on the couch and your mom would make you chicken soup in the hopes that it would make you feel better. (It always did.)
Find yourself wandering through the streets of your new city, feet carrying you as if on a track to wherever it is that you’re going. You would be driving if you were back home, with your arm on the driver’s side window and music blasting. If you were in a mood, or if you had nothing better to do, you’d just drive toward the sunset, until you hit the city limits or the ocean or needed to turn home because it was dark out. Remember the time you spent in your first car, a dingy, dirty hand-me-down, when you passed your high school and let out a whoop of rebellion, when you passed your friends’ houses and stopped long enough to honk and see if they were home.
Hear a song that mentions your hometown. Create a playlist with every song that mentions your hometown. Add music that’s iconic to the area, silly theme songs from TV shows, music your parents played, songs that were popular at the school dances. Maybe it’s the infamous warble of “California,” or the twang of a country song. Listen on your headphones when you need a moment to just sit and feel.
Tell yourself you’ll call the friends you had in high school. Never call your parents nearly as often as you should. Feel like there was so much you forgot to say when you both hang up. Realize that it’s not that you forgot to say it; you just didn’t know how to put it into words.
Feel a resolute allegiance whenever anyone mentions your hometown or your home state. Get a tattoo of the coordinates or the home team or the state borders. Your ears will prick whenever your city makes the news, your eyes will shoot straight to the bold mention in the story. Form your opinion early. Feel a pang with every news article that mentions how your hometown is changing.
Because you will also remember vaguely how there isn’t much of a home there anymore. You will remember the difference between the way things are now and the way things were as you knew them, how new businesses cropped up and the cool places to hang out aren’t so cool anymore and neighborhoods reinvented themselves. And you will know that you did this. You moved. You left. You went to college in a different state, you got a job somewhere else. You wanted to see the world. And maybe your friends moved with you, or they moved to their own new cities. Maybe your parents moved, maybe they sold your childhood home, maybe your bedroom was remade into an office or a den or a guest room. Realize your hometown now exists in memories more than anywhere else.
But that doesn’t mean you have any less of a right to feel homesick.
And sometimes, being homesick isn’t so bad. Because it reminds you of what shaped you as a child, where your roots were made, where you learned to talk and walk and form an identity. And being homesick is a subtle reminder from deep within your heart about where you’ll always belong.