I would not really consider myself a “walker.” For years, people have been recommending that I pick up a habit of mindless ventures around the city. New York is absolutely the place for this, and it could be cathartic.
But as a person who constantly wants to maximize my productivity in order to feel better about myself, it’s hard for me to put aside that amount of (really important!) purposeless time. So it was surprising to me when I set out on Saturday night down Broadway.
The weather has finally settled into an established late autumn. It won’t get warm again and walking at night was brisk. I hadn’t changed out of my studying clothes—ugly pink athletic shorts and a worn out Columbia hoodie—so I was trying to be quick enough to stay warm.
Lately, I’ve been sleeping poorly. It’s like all the thoughts I’ve been keeping in come out at night and my mind won’t stop fixating on all the worst possible outcomes. This past week in particular has been rough—two cumulative bio exams, one heavily weighted paper, and of course, this column. I’m applying to grad school and desperately trying to figure out what is happening next. And, as a result of everything, I’m homesick.
Homesickness is a weird, secret thing. I love my parents, I love my home, I love the places that know me as I want all places to know me. So lately, I have been calling my mom when I’m finally done with my classes. She tells me about my dog who has been lonely. She tells me about her piano students, about the fall foliage in the Wissahickon trails, and about all the things I know so well.
Still, I am ashamed that, as a senior, I am still attached to my parents. Talking about how stressed I am comes easy, but I’m always embarrassed to say this. It feels childish. It is as if by admitting I don’t love every second of college, I irrationally believe I am performing inadequately and not good enough to be what I consider “well-adjusted.” At 20, shouldn’t I be excited about change? I should be grown up by now. Homesickness is an embodiment of all of these emotions. Now that I am changing again, I want the safety and self-assurance of the past.
My parents met in music school in New York. Going to college in the same city as they did has changed my understanding of them as people. I could go on in detail about how significant this is to me, to feel for a second what they were like when they were younger (my mother smoking cigarettes and selling gloves on the street, my dad with his white cello case and favorite practice room). But in short, it means they were here before.
So my walk took me to the Lincoln Center, of course. As I got further and further away from Columbia, my clothes looked more and more out of place, and I felt less and less guilty about the time I spent walking. And I felt like I could breathe again. There are people out here that aren’t me and they are living their own lives. It’s a simple thought, but I forget so often.
More so than ever before, I am emotionally strung out. I am the age where I think I should be letting go but I can’t. I am so scared of failure and finally putting myself to the test. I know nothing is so insurmountable that I won’t get through it. I know I will get up tomorrow and move to the next task, or even just the next cup of coffee. At the same time, the consequences of my actions have never mattered more.
I stood there for a bit and looked at the people. I was totally alone and almost entirely invisible to the strangers around me. I imagined my parents meeting and fighting and playing their music. I know they understand now. They had been here.
I know they are home in Philadelphia right now with my dog. I know they love me; I know that now more than I have ever known anything, even though we don’t actually ever say “I love you” in our family. All the dark frightened bits are still there inside of me and I can’t make them go away, but the things that remind me of home are worth looking for and spending time finding. Going home is not what will ever help, I know, but finding this approximation was enough that night to make me feel a little better.
Sabina Maurer is a senior in Columbia College.
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