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The Road Back

Some days, I wake up and hold a staring contest with the ceiling, lying in bed until I blink and start all over again. Other days, I stare at the sink mirror for a little too long, until someone walks through the door and I remember this isn’t my own bathroom. I’m not quite sure when it started, or if it even has a start. The best I can do is pin it to different parts of my life: maybe I haven’t been sleeping enough, maybe I just need to walk outside more, or maybe I’m just forgetting to feel the sunshine. 

I give it a name. I call it homesickness, because surely if there’s a name then there’s a way. I search up “cures for homesickness” and all the websites, videos and blogs tell me the same thing. Keep yourself busy. Find friends. Stay in touch. Stop missing home. And after that, everything works out for a week until it doesn’t, and the cycle repeats. 

Homesickness is a strange thing. For the three months prior to my departure, I’ve always known that I would be leaving home soon. It drifted in the back of my mind like a plank of wood from a lost ship. I always knew of its existence, and I knew of the emotional wreck after the tsunami, but I only ever acknowledged parts of it. I thought of it as a seasonal cold, something that would go as quickly as the first two scorching weeks of summer in Durham. 

Summer came and it went, and then autumn came with a broom, brushing the leaves of their color until they became indistinguishable from the cold earth below them. I was ready for the change of clothes. In a metaphorical way, I was also ready to shed this “homesickness” behind me, and blossom into the amazing, successful, completely changed and absolutely-not-homesick person I was going to be.

Of course, that didn’t happen. On the contrary, I spent the first week of autumn hiding in my bed, holding street pictures of Taipei so close to my eyes until it took up my peripheral vision, just so I could pretend I was back home. My mom sends pictures sometimes trying to help: bubble tea with a layer of roasted brown sugar, the neon signs of street food vendors, the simmering pot of hot and sour soup she just cooked. 

She asks me to video call her so she doesn’t have to eat alone, so I grab a to-go plate from Marketplace and call from my dorm. She says the soup is too hot and I blow on the screen, pretending the distance between us was only the width of a screen. When she asks me if I’m coming home for Winter Break, I can only give the same response I give every week: I don’t know

After the COVID outbreak back in May, Taiwan has been enforcing a two-week quarantine policy for every person who enters, regardless of vaccination status. Recently, there has been talk of extending this policy to three weeks due to the Delta variant. Given the cost of the trip and the quarantine hotel, and the short duration of Duke’s winter break, I know, deep-down, returning this winter is hardly a viable option.

There’s a corkboard in the corner of my room, which has been sitting there untouched for the past month. I remember purchasing it on my last trip to Target with my parents, promising that I would put all the family pictures I brought along up, as soon as I moved in. Yet, I haven’t been able to look at it since then, choosing to hide it in the corner behind bags of luggage. 

I can still remember all the pictures and their details clearly, specifically the picture of our dog, Momo, pinned in the upper-right corner. As ridiculous as it sounds, I grow jealous of him sometimes, jealous that he’ll never have to leave the comfort of our house, jealous that he’ll never have to experience these feelings which I have no words for. He seems to grow chubbier every time I see him. I wonder if I can eat up these feelings the same way he finishes every meal we prepare for him.

But sometimes, just for a moment, I feel like I’m heading in the direction of somewhere I can learn to call home, even if I don’t know where I’m heading. Maybe I’m not even learning to call it home. Maybe I’m learning to make it into a home. I think about the other day, when my friends and I were heading back to my dorm from a Thai restaurant in Downtown Durham, and how I asked them if they wanted to “come by my home” to hang out. And I choose to believe it was more than a slip of the tongue.

Deep down, I want to believe that every road is a way back home, whether that be Taipei, Durham, or somewhere I have yet to know of. But for now, I’ll keep exploring and getting lost in the streets and winding hallways of Duke, until it becomes instinct, until I stop counting the days till I return home—because I am already at home.

Spencer Chang is a Trinity first-year. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.

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