You’re in the middle of two worlds. High school is long gone, but you’re not fully settled into adulthood yet. You’re technically returning home as somewhat of a real person, but parts of you still regress into an awkward, high school version of yourself the minute you cross the threshold of your home.
The only solid feeling you can acknowledge right now is one of being “in-between.” You have your own life and your own job and your own separate family of friends now, but it also feels like you left a part of yourself in your childhood home, and you forgot about it until this point.
Your home is still littered with pieces of you – your old trophies and high school text books and favorite blankets and picture collages and $70 t-shirts from Abercrombie & Fitch that just say “Fitch” on the front and nothing else. You’re reminded of all the ways that you tried to be cool and blend in and get through your social life unscathed, and it’s in this moment that you realize you’re so much cooler now that you’re being genuine and doing things because you want to do them.
At first glance, your house pretty much looks the same, but then you start noticing little differences here and there. The bathroom wallpaper got redone. There’s some new cups and bowls in the kitchen. There’s a lot less clutter now that you (and most of your siblings, if you have any) have moved out for the most part. Your pets are older and moving more slowly. The kids in your neighborhood seem so young and you don’t know where they keep coming from. You alternate between states of feeling completely at home while also feeling like a casual observer in a place that looks vaguely familiar.
You drive on the same roads as you always did, but you no longer do it on autopilot. You have to actually think about where to turn left and where to turn right when you go run errands for your mom. You know where the dry cleaners is and where the best fast food places are, but you have to actually concentrate on where you’re going – it’s not totally naturally anymore.
You drive by the gas station where you always filled up your tank before school. Maybe you go by your high school as well. You’re surprised at how small it seems, and you’re flabbergasted by the fact that there are still kids going there every day, experiencing some of the things you experienced, even with some of the same teachers. You can’t wrap your head around the fact that the kids who go there now were 4 and 6 and 8 when you were in high school.
Your house is still there. The roads are still the same and your school is most likely still the same. The street lights change at the same speed as they did when you stared at them every day on the way home from Friday night football games. The mall still opens each morning and closes each night. Your overall childhood home and life is still physically in existence.
But your exact childhood home is gone. It’s now just a period in time that you’ll never get back. You can go back to your hometown and see all the familiar sites and let the memories come back to you. But you will never be the same you that you were at 16. And everyone you knew at 16 is different too. Your friends are different people and your family members are different people and every single person you knew at 16 is a different person now. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing that your home at 16 is now just a memory in time. It only exists in your mind. That’s what makes it more special.
Going home feels weird because it’s a way of forcing yourself to acknowledge that things are never going to be the same again. They’re never going to be as carefree and innocent. You’re never going to feel as infinite as you did back then, and you’re never again going to feel like you still have so much time to do everything.
It’s not that you’re too old now or that you’ve run out of time. But you’ve gotten to the point where if you want something, you know you have to go after it now. There’s no more “I want to try that someday” or “I might want to be this when I grow up.” It’s all happening now. And going home for a little while only emphasizes that further.
That might be a little scary and unnerving, but it’s so, so important too. You might not know who you are yet. You might have a lot of work left to do. But you’re on your way. Going home might make you feel weird, but it’s a good reminder to keep working at it. You are now the person that 16-year-old-you imagined when they talked about the things they wanted to do and the things they wanted to try. So go and start being that person.