I woke up on the morning of December 20th and it felt like any other morning. As I put my feet on the floor, kids were laughing, cars were passing, and conversations were being had just outside my bedroom window. I’ve grown accustomed to the noise right outside to the point I hardly even notice it anymore. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, which was, in fact, exactly what was unusual.
It was December 20th. I have a calendar that hangs on the inside of my bedroom door. December 20th was the date with the word Home scrawled in the box. It was the ever-distant milestone that I had been chasing ever since my flight home was booked. It became a ritual for me to tick off each box at the end of the day to make myself feel like I was that much closer to December 20th, that much closer to home.
I opened the fridge and prepared a simple breakfast of eggs and back bacon ham. After taking a quick shower, I checked through my luggage one last time. I wasn’t bringing back much. I had a backpack full of spare clothes and a suitcase empty except for some Christmas gifts for my family. I dressed in the heaviest set of clothes I had, casual khaki pants, boots, a long-sleeve shirt, and jacket. Ironically enough, all the clothes I had here would be useless at home. I was leaving 80s and sunshine for 30s and snow.
I sat down on my bed, staring at my suitcase. The conversations and sounds of passing vehicles continued outside my window.
“By the end of today, I’ll be home,” I said softly, trying to convince myself it was real.
“Well, might as well get going,” I shrugged as I collected my things.
A moment of excitement came through me and on my way out I slapped the wall above my door, similar in fashion to the old Notre Dame football tradition. This was it. I was on my way home.
I closed up my apartment and stepped out into a bright sunny day, complete with a baby blue sky and puffy-white clouds. Setting my suitcase down, I waited on the sidewalk for a bus to pass. Traffic and pedestrians were bustling by. A few members of the community, upon seeing me with a suitcase on the side of the road, inquired about my intentions. I explained to them I was going home for the holiday and I’ll be back in one week.
“Mr. King!” two students of mine called out from across the street. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going back home. I’ll see you in a week!” I answered, reassuring them of my return.
Truth be told, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was them I was reassuring, or me.
A bus came by and I climbed in with my suitcase. I had to pay for two seats because of the suitcase, but I didn’t mind. It was still way cheaper to pay extra on the buses than to taxi all the way to the airport.
As the driver and conductor dropped me off they inquired where I was going and bid me safe travels. My last sight of Grenada was their smiling faces, waving as the van door closed while they drove off. It was quite a friendly send-off from two guys I didn’t know. I wasn’t surprised, though. That’s just how they are here.
As I waited in line to check in, I struck up conversation with an Asian American girl from L.A. that attends St. George’s University. She was halfway through her first year at the Med School, and had arrived on the island just about the same time I did. She was surprised to find out that Peace Corps was in Grenada, and confessed she never knew anyone who did Peace Corps until me. I tried to establish common ground by talking about different features of Grenada, but everything seemed to fall flat. She couldn’t believe I took the buses to get to the airport. It was baffling to her that I was only going home for one week. She had never been up to Gouyave or even heard of ‘Fish Friday,’ much less been to any other parish (Grenada’s equivalent of states and provinces) on the island.
It was a striking conversation, as we were two Americans living abroad on Grenada. Although we did have somewhat of a connection in that regard, our experiences couldn’t have been more different. Her Grenada was different than mine, plain and simple.
After clearing security and entering the waiting area for the second time in as many weeks, I went upstairs to grab a bite to eat. I sat down at the bar and ordered a chicken roti and a Ting. (For those that don’t know what Ting is, it is probably the most refreshing and glorious carbonated beverage I’ve ever had). As my meal was brought to me, I looked up to see Sportscenter playing on the television. I haven’t watched a single television program in months, having cancelled my cable awhile back. So with a passive disinterest in the Sportscenter broadcast, my attention was drawn to the mirror backdrop of the bar. I paused, finding my reflection looking back at me. I was left captivated and intrigued.
I was intrigued because I not only looked the same, but also felt the same. Since the start of this journey, I had almost envisioned a grand reveal of a ‘new me,’ re-born by this experience, whenever the time came for me to return home. But now that I was finally on my way home, I looked and felt no different. I re-started my life in a new country, and I felt as if I should feel different. All those months of walking into rooms not knowing a soul, of awkward conversations, of not being able to understand the locals, of being uncertain about what I am eating, and out of all of that difficulty I somehow managed to successfully create a life for myself. Having landed on my feet, so to speak, this experience has given me a confidence I never knew I needed. Every day is unpredictable here, and somehow I’ve come to establish a routine out of this unpredictability. But seeing my reflection, there was nothing to show for it on the outside. It made me curious to see what, if any, changes my family and friends would see in me.
Moving back downstairs to the waiting area of the terminal, it was flooded with SGU students and tourists. For the first time in six months, I once again was a part of the majority, and not the minority. Truthfully, I became nervous; I felt out of place. It was such a puzzling feeling. Why would I be uncomfortable now? Particularly considering the fact that I am no longer a minority? And if I feel uncomfortable here, how will I feel when I finally reach the States?
I began to look around for someone to distract myself with conversation. A stewardess was waiting to board another flight. We happened to strike up conversation. She was a local woman. I explained to her who I was and how I ended up living in Gouyave. She was from St. George’s. Much like in the States, those that grow up in cities and those that grow up in the country have vastly different life experiences. St. George’s is the city life; everything else, including Gouyave, is considered country. So we laughed about the differences of living in St. George’s and Gouyave. Nevertheless, we had ample things to talk about. I was comfortable again. It was ironic: I had more of a personal connection with a local Grenadian, than with an American SGU student living in Grenada. This realization didn’t help my growing uneasiness.
My boarding number was called and after saying a quick goodbye, I left the terminal to board my flight to Miami. It was time.
The flight to Miami was relatively uneventful. They played a movie about phones and apps, I forget what it was called. It was baffling, yet unsurprising, that they would make a movie solely based on iPhones and their apps. I didn’t pay it much attention, as I plugged my earbuds into the armrest radio and started thumbing through the airline’s limited selection of music.
As I arrived in Miami, however, I realized I was going to be cutting it close on my connecting flight. I claimed my luggage, re-checked it, and passed through customs seamlessly. But upon arriving at the TSA line, I gave up all hope. The line snaked endlessly in and around bends and I only had twenty minutes until I was supposed to board. To reinforce this point, my boarding number was the last one. I resigned to my fate and accepted the fact that I likely won’t actually make it home in one try.
A British man, suddenly, came bulldozing through shouting, “I’m sorry! Coming through! I have a connecting to catch! I’m going to miss it!”’
I thought about following his lead. It worked for him, as he made his way right to the front. I was in the same position as him, if not a more desperate one. I considered it, but I couldn’t make myself push ahead of everybody. So I waited.
The line surprisingly shuffled steadily along and when I cleared TSA, I looked at my watch to see that I had five minutes left to board. Grabbing my backpack, boots, belt, and tablet out of the bins, I hustled to the television prompter with the gate listings.
I found the departures for Cleveland. The gate listed was D60. I spun around to see what gate I was next to…D25.
“D60?! You gotta be kidding me!” I blurted as I took off running.
“Good luck!” the man that was standing next to me called.
I didn’t acknowledge it at the time, given I had a flight to catch, but I appreciated that call of support.
So there I was, dashing through the airport, weaving in and out of people calmly walking to their gates and destinations. Everyone in the airport must’ve known exactly what my situation was. Mind you, I hadn’t even put on my boots yet. Running in my socks, holding up my pants, my boots, belt, and tablet in my hands and the backpack unstrapped, bouncing on my back, I must have looked all out of sorts.
It was at this point I realized, despite playing basketball and going on hikes, I was not in as good of shape as I thought. I was out of breath by D35. I thought about slowing down to catch my breath and consequently sealing my fate; but as fast as that thought came through, it passed. I had to catch this flight.
So I kept running.
D40, D45, D50. Ten gates to go. D55, D56, D57, D58, D59….staircase.
My heart dropped.
Of course it had to be that much farther.
I stumbled down the staircase and upon reaching ground level, my momentum carried me forward. A line was in front of me and I ran right into the group of people congregated in the back.
“Is this to Cleveland?” I blurted, stumbling into the circle, panting.
All eyes in the waiting area seemed to turn to the guy that just ran into the line, completely out of breath and looking entirely disheveled.
“Yeah, you made it,” One of them says, clapping me on the back.
I sighed in great relief as they broke out in laughter. I laughed along with them. I could laugh because I made it. I was going home.
I boarded the flight almost immediately, stumbling into my boots in an attempt to pull myself back together.
As the plane took off I was in awe at the expanse of lights, endlessly stretching across the distance. The lights seemed to pulsate hypnotically, which lead me to realize that it was the Christmas lights strung up throughout the neighborhoods that gave that pulsating impression. Captivated by the colorful and pulsating lights, I drifted off to sleep…
The plane skidded onto the runway and I snapped awake. Ice stuck to the outside of the window as the cold air seemed to try and creep its way inside. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I threw on my jacket and rubbed my shoulders while I waited to disembark.
I stepped off the plane and into the airport, ironically enough at the gate adjacent to the one I left from six long months ago. As I made my way to the baggage claim, flashbacks of the morning I left ran through my mind. I thought about how much has changed in those six months.
Going down the stairs and coming around the bend, I found the track to my flight’s baggage claim. As I walked toward it, a familiar face walking with that ‘King strut’ looked up to the screen to check the flight number associated with the baggage claim. The face was familiar because, well, I saw that face every day growing up. I smiled slyly, but tried to contain the excitement bubbling within me. I thought about calling out, but didn’t. The moment I waited and envisioned in my head for the past six months was finally here. He turned as I approached.
“Boy, am I glad to see you,” I grinned, embracing my twin brother, Tom, in a long-awaited hug.
“Welcome home, dude,” he answered.
Gathering my suitcase, we stepped outside into the brisk, Cleveland-winter air. Out from the driver-side door stepped my sister, Mj. I wrapped her up in a big hug as the trunk popped open.
The parade of hugs had begun.
The drive home was short, it was after 1:00 a.m. and I-71 was clear of traffic. We passed through the familiar landscape of Cleveland: the Terminal Tower lit in festive green and red lights, the Lebron banner hung from the building across from the Q Arena, Dead Man’s Curve, and an empty Muni Lot.
Finally reaching home, I dropped everything and climbed up the stairs to my parents’ bedroom. Having done this all through high school and college, I was cautious and tapped lightly on the door before entering. For those who know my mother well, she has quite a sudden wake-up when awoken unexpectedly.
“Mom,” I whispered, poking my head in. “Dad. I’m home.”
Let me tell you, I have never seen my mother jump out of bed faster.
The parade of hugs continued as I went downstairs and woke up my grandmother, who opened her arms for a warm hug only a grandmother could give.
The first part of my weekend was spent trying to see as many people in the one, short week I would have at home.
The first night some old high school friends came over and we took to my parents’ basement, the old stomping grounds for many late nights over the years. I took a seat next to the pool table, but wasn’t sitting often. I had to keep getting up as familiar face after familiar face came down the stairs and the parade continued. These guys were some of my oldest and closest friends, having gone through high school together and spending much time throughout our college years as well. These were the guys I made some of the best, worst, and most questionable decisions of my life with. These guys saw me at my best, and they were with me during my worst.
The last time I saw their faces was six months ago, on a sunny and cool late May morning. They were all that were left of my going-away party the night before. Conversation was minimal, as we all sat around my family room, hungover, waiting, wishing to prolong the inevitable just a minute longer. (Okay, maybe that was just me). The inevitable came and the guys stood up for me as I prepared to make my final round of goodbyes. I didn’t make it through my first hug before I broke down uncontrollably. I hugged each one of them goodbye, tears streaming down my cheeks.
But this time the hugs were different. They were just as strong, just as caring. But these were joyful hugs, hugs of reunion. I was home; and life was good.
We went out bar-hopping in Ohio City, just a short walk from the high school we attended together. We started out at Porco’s, a hole-in-the-wall tiki bar inside a plain brick building. It made sense to start there, as that’s where we first went when we became of age. That’s where we would meet after work during our internships downtown in the summer. That’s where we would start the night before going out to downtown, an Indians game, or Cavaliers watch-party. At Porco’s, more familiar faces rolled through, as the parade of hugs marched on. In just one night, I had seen just about each one of my friends from high school. I even reunited with a close friend I coached a youth baseball team with for a summer.
The night that ensued was just like any other I had with them: another night of drinks, another night of stories, another night of laughs, but most importantly, another night of memories. Nothing seemed different. It was like I had never left. All seemed right in the world.
The next morning, Tom and I drove down to Columbus, Ohio. It was wedding time. A roommate and close friend of mine from college was getting married that day, and it was time to celebrate. Tom dropped me off at the location of the wedding, held in a quiet, beautiful little community center in Mount Vernon, Ohio. The reunion with the two of my senior year roommates was quick and seamless, as we fell right into place to prepare for pictures and the ensuing ceremony.
I stood outside in the waiting area, pinning my corsage on with the other groomsmen when all of a sudden, “Scott!” was shouted and a tackling hug hit me from behind.
I laughed, turning around and embracing the other college friends able to attend the ceremony; but the reunion was prolonged for later, as just like that the ceremony started.
The wedding was small, but beautiful as you could feel the love emanating from the close family and friends in the room. It was a wonderful time in which the smile never left my face. What a beautiful thing, weddings are.
After the wedding, it was time to commute to Columbus for the reception at a bar downtown. The area upstairs was rented out and reserved for us. Upon arriving, I was wrapped up in a conversation downstairs and I hadn’t even made it up to the reception yet, when another, “Scott!” rang out.
Looking up at the top of the stairs was another close friend of mine from school. She ran down the stairs and I moved immediately to greet her in another celebratory, reunion-type hug. Then proceeding upstairs, I found Tom sitting with more college friends of mine, those that weren’t able to be at the wedding but were able to make the reception. Included in this group was one of my first college friends, who I hadn’t seen in over a year since he had moved to Florida. The parade marched on.
For the duration of the night, I was surrounded by the people I love, friends who became family. We were finally reunited, in celebration of the holy union of two of our own. The night was much like the one I had the night before, only this time with a set of people from a completely different facet of my life. It was crazy to think that just one year ago, we all lived within a two-minute walk from one another. Oh, how life has changed in just one year. But for this night, much like the last, you wouldn’t have known the difference. Nothing seemed different. It was like I had never left. All seemed right in the world.
On our way back home the next morning, Tom and I stopped to see our brother Jeff and his wife Joy, in their new home just outside of Columbus. The morning was pleasant, as he proudly showed off each part of his newly-acquired home. You could tell from their smiles that they were happy there. Their house certainly beats the small, one-room apartment they used to live in, one in which I would crash on the couch at various times throughout college. We kicked back together and watched Ocean’s Thirteen, a movie I hadn’t seen before. The family time was simple. Our presence together was all that mattered.
The next day was Christmas. The reunions and parade of hugs continued, from my brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and of course a long-awaited kiss to my new-born niece and goddaughter, Brenna. We gathered in our family room around the tree, mimosas and coffee-Baileys in hand, and opened and exchanged gifts. Christmas this past year operated much like many of the holidays before it. Everyone gathered in the kitchen, a million conversations going on at once, a grand family dinner, a holiday-themed game, and a late-night trip to see the ‘West Side Rodgers.’ Nothing seemed different. It was like I had never left. All seemed right in the world.
Two days later, it was time for Brenna’s baptism. My immediate family and other close family gathered at the same church in Twinsburg, Ohio, that my two nephews were baptized in just a few years before. The ceremony was small and quiet; peaceful, really. The priest went through a short sermon and proceeded through the ceremony. Tom and I shared the honors of godfather. Fitting, as having two godfathers is a blessing only a King girl could have. At this time let me say that there are many things of which I am proud of, but being a godfather has to be one of the biggest honors I’ve ever had the privilege of having.
After the christening, we returned to my brother’s house for a light brunch. I was surrounded by the people I love. I was surrounded by all those who have been with me and supported me since Day 1. It’s not often that we get all the Kings together in one room, so times like these carry a special weight. Once again, nothing seemed different. Once again, it was like I had never left. Once again, all seemed right in the world.
Then it was time to say goodbye. It was at this point, reality began to set in. Time suddenly began to feel like sand sifting through my fingers as I desperately tried to hold on to it. My return flight was set to leave the next day, and this would be the last time I would be seeing most of my family. I knelt down to say goodbye to my nephews, already having grown so much in my six months’ abroad. I started my rounds farewell-hugs, being re-acquainted with the sinking pit in my stomach. The tears welled up in my eyes and a knot tightened in my chest. I didn’t want to let go. I returned back to where my nephews were one last time,
“Give me another hug,” I said, as they leaned in and ‘squeezed the stuffing out of me.’
“I miss you guys,” I whispered, giving in to the tears.
They probably don’t understand at their young ages. I likely won’t see them for another year. After seeing how much they’ve grown over the past six months, I can only imagine how much they’ll grow in the next year.
Then coming around the corner I found my niece, sleeping silently in her motion rocker. I knelt down and kissed her little forehead, still streaked with oil from the christening. Then turning aside, I walked out the door and returned home one final time.
The next day I found myself back at the airport, set to depart for Miami. I checked my bag, cleared customs, and made it to my departure gate. With a deep sigh, I took a seat in the waiting area in front of the window. A small plane sat outside in the cold, early morning light. Looking into the window, I saw my faint reflection looking back at me.
It was the same reflection I saw one week ago in Grenada. My time at home was up. Once again I found myself sitting there, alone, with only my thoughts to keep me company. I thought I had only wanted one week at home. At the time I figured that would be enough. But the week ended just as quickly as it had started. I didn’t have any time to process it all, so I was left wishing ‘if only I had more…’