“A feeling generated by the mystery of water; water that seems alive, always rushing past yet never going, always the same yet ever different.”
* * *
My time at home began with a long, quiet plane ride from Grenada to Miami. The gentle whirring of the plane’s engines provided a monotonous comfort. There’s always been something about long, solo trips that have given me the peace of mind to relax and reflect; not only on where I’m going physically, but holistically. So I gaze out of the small plane window, peeking at the stars above and the clouds below. Inside, different emotions were churning: excitement, nervousness, relief, curiosity. Outside of a brief, six-day stint the year before, I had spent the past year and a half down in the Caribbean, living over 2,000 miles from home. The time I never thought would come was finally here, yet it didn’t feel like it was supposed to be. Questions raced through my mind.
“What was it going to be like?”
“Would I feel a reverse culture shock?”
“Will I be able to see everyone?”
“How will I feel when I have to return?”
Just then the bright, blue monitor on the headrest in front of me caught my eye. A small plane was pictured crawling on a trajectory from Grenada to Miami. According to the screen, we were flying directly over the Bahamas. I leaned over to the window and took another peek.
The clouds below had dissipated, leaving an endless expanse of hazy blue sea. On a closer look, however, a sprawling dark mass seemed to have been splashed upon the surface. A childish excitement coursed through my veins as I glanced from the monitor back to the window and determined that the dark mass was, in fact, one of the numerous islands that make up the Bahamas.
A short while later the small plane on the screen penetrated the border of Florida. Again looking out the window, the hazy blue sea was gone, replaced instead by a sea of blinking, flashing, colorful lights of the greater Miami neighborhoods. A true testament to the vibrancy of the holiday season, I may not have seen anything so welcoming.
Reality began to sink in: I was going home.
After landing, clearing customs, and a quick change over to a connecting flight, I boarded another plane headed for Charlotte.
Another hour later I was stepping out of the Charlotte airport, a small SUV sitting idle in front of a departure gate. A small, blonde figure was standing outside the open driver’s door and looking back.
“Hello!” I call with a smile.
“Oh, Scott!” the figure turns around, my Aunt Colleen.
After a warm embrace, we climb into the car and she drives me back to her home where I was to briefly stay the night, as my final connecting flight to Cleveland was slotted for early the next morning. We only had a few hours together, but we made the most of it by staying up late into the night and early into the morning, sharing stories over a serving of homemade buffalo chicken dip. We laughed about the rescue mission just a year ago, when she and my cousins picked me up after I was stranded in the Miami airport after missing my return connecting flight to Grenada. By the time we turned in for the night, we awoke only an hour later to return to the airport. After all, this was one connecting flight I couldn’t afford to miss.
The plane that morning took off into a burning morning sky, orange and pink colors streaking across as if cracked from an egg. Ascending over the brown foothills and mountains of Appalachia, I leaned my head back and nodded off to sleep.
The subtle commotion of the preparation for landing roused me awake. Passengers strapped on their seatbelts as the flight attendants made one last pass down the aisle. Looking out the window, the coastline of a faded blue Lake Erie appeared in the distance. A few skyscrapers protruded from the dormant-brown landscape below and stuck out into the mid-morning sky. The downtown skyline was complete with stadiums, bridges, buildings, and roads where cars and people alike crawled like ants around a hill. Excitement began bubbling up inside as I looked on with a child-like awe at the bird’s eye view of downtown Cleveland.
Collecting my things, disembarking, and walking out of another departure gate, a green Subaru pulls in front of me. It was my mother, arriving nothing short of perfect timing. And just like that, I was home.
Just like that, my life in Grenada seemed like an off-distant dream.
A lot of people asked me, “How is it being back?”
“It’s really nice, honestly,” I would reply, oftentimes with a joke about cold weather (which was actually pretty mild considering typical Cleveland winter weather).
But it really was nice, something about the word nice just seemed to fit. I finally had time to catch up with a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long time. For many of them, things have changed since we had last met. It was nice for me to see the trajectory with which everyone is taking their lives. Some are taking on new jobs, others are getting engaged, a few are even getting houses. Some are in transition, finishing school, or still figuring out what they’ll do next. But everyone is getting along, moving at their own pace.
It was kind of numbing at times, witnessing your home life as if it were a movie. All the same characters are there, all existing within a certain setting. Yet each time I’ve come back, although they’re largely the same, their stories are always changing, always different. More importantly, though, was that this was a time for me to catch up on all the things I’ve been missing for the past year and a half. It was a night out in Cleveland, reuniting with old high school friends and a gathering of old, familiar faces. It was riding around the country roads (and momentarily getting lost), in rural Ohio with a friend. It was sitting on a sofa, eating takeout pizza and watching Netflix with an old roommate in Columbus. It was meeting up with an old friend for lunch, a new one for coffee. It was laughing over a game of What Do You Meme? and watching a football game on a friend’s TV.
A particular highlight was tailgating and attending the Browns game with family and friends. Having watched every game this season from abroad and even going so far as to recruit locals to become Browns fans, this was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. There’s something special about standing outside a tailgate in the Stadium parking lot, the feeling in your toes going numb in the frigid Ohio air. It was incredible experiencing a sold-out crowd at First Energy Stadium, buzzing with excitement as they watched their young team defeat the home-state rival Cincinnati Bengals. I loved every minute of it.
Another highlight was getting to see my niece and nephews again. One thing I was admittedly concerned about, was coming home to see how much they’ve grown since I’d last seen them a year ago. And grown up they have, but it wasn’t as unsettling as I was afraid it was going to be. Although they did get bigger, they’re still the energetic, exciting children that they were a year ago. This was okay with me, for I had experienced them at their previous ages; this was my time to catch up on all I missed at their present age.
So I laid back on the kitchen floor, having been tackled by a seven-year-old and a four-year-old, both of whom were now pinning me to the ground. I couldn’t help but smile and relish that very same moment when my niece spontaneously began walking on her own, a feat she had only recently accomplished. I took comfort in this, having borne witness to yet another step (sorry, pun intended) in their growing up.
We had our laughs when, on my final afternoon at home we went ice skating together. Much of my first half hour was spent cautiously shuffling along the wall, as I was conveniently masking the fact I was an ice-skating novice while supporting my nephew Collin (4) by his raised arms. We soon, however, found a plastic ‘seal,’ one that he was able skate with and even ride on when he got tired. So taking the seal by its upstretched tailfins, I skated along as Collin rode in front, his skates scuttling across the ice. Soon thereafter, I was skating confidently on my own, racing Connor (7) across the rink and waving at Collin who rode past, being pushed by my brother. After becoming a bit too confident, however, I took a dramatic and sprawling fall to the ice. Collin couldn’t help but giggle with sheer laughter and a pointed finger, laughing at his uncle’s expense. It was moments like these, and moments like sitting in the penalty box with them to “take a breather,” that I’ll be able to remember and cherish as time marches on and they continue growing up.
My time wasn’t finished without some even bigger news, however. My extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends had all gathered around the TV to watch the Clemson-Notre Dame Cotton Bowl game, a ‘house divided’ of sorts considering my family’s deep connections to Notre Dame and my sister’s graduation from Clemson. At some point during the game, the highly-anticipated phone call had arrived as my mother snuck away into another room. She returned with the news of the holiday, that a new princess had arrived in the King family.
On New Years Day, I made my way back down to Columbus to meet Riley Elizabeth King, the first child of my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Joy. I spent part of the afternoon simply holding Riley in my arms, enjoying the few precious moments I would have with her at this time. I was leaving in just a few days to return to Grenada. When I finally do come back at the end of next summer (or “baseball season,” as I later told my nephews), I knew that she’ll certainly be a lot bigger. So I savored the moments of holding her, peacefully asleep in my arms. By the time we said our goodbyes and walked out the door, I was already looking forward to the time I would be able to see her and the rest of my family again.
And sure enough, just a few days later I was back in Grenada. Suddenly, now it was the past two weeks at home that felt like the dream. I took my time re-acclimating myself to my life down here, laying low and enjoying my own company in between visits to other Volunteers and community members. I even stopped at the beach, swimming out into the cool, shimmering waters as the sun dropped gently over the sea’s glowing horizon.
“Scott, you look good,” a fellow Volunteer had told me earlier that day. “You look refreshed.”
As I settled back into school, my counterpart teacher actually told me the same thing. I had returned to my regular school routine, co-teaching Language Arts lessons and playing games with my students in their pull-out sessions, games that made them learn without realizing it. I was back in a familiar world, a world that oddly didn’t seem so exotic anymore. Coming back this time was a lot different than the last. I’m established now. I know where I’m at and I know what I’m doing.
“You look refreshed.”
When I was first told that, truthfully it kind of caught me off guard. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized how much I really needed that time at home. But although right now it’s my time at home that seems like the distant dream, its effects have remained strong. I’m comfortable now, re-energized and re-vitalized by a little time away to not think about the everyday stresses that come from being 2,000 miles from home.
This past weekend, I traveled across the island to compete in a pool competition. Mansa’s, the bar I frequent, had challenged another bar in Grenville. It was a Gouyave vs. Grenville team competition, bragging rights and prize money on the line for the two Grenadian towns participating. We went over to Grenville, and won the singles and doubles matches for a final score of 11 matches to 5 (I contributed a victory for Gouyave in one of the doubles matches). We left the bar victorious, climbing into the back of the pickup truck we came in. As we huddled inside and took off over the mountains, a heavily-clouded sky began to clear away. A full moon was shining large and bright, almost blinding to the eye but illuminating the night. A faint, faded shadow, however, appeared like a growing blemish on its side.
“The eclipse is starting now,” someone says, as all our eyes are cast to the sparkling heavens.
Then it was in this moment, the cool breeze of the night from the moving vehicle, the palm trees blurring past, the looming shadows of the mountains, the illuminating glow of the moon and a solar phenomenon taking place above us in a crystal clear and star-scattered sky, that I felt a very distinct feeling inside.
It was a feeling that was kind of hard to explain.
It was a feeling that I felt before.
It was a feeling that I believe, is what lead me to feel, “refreshed.”
I tried to come up with the words to describe that feeling, yet struggled to find them.
But looking back into a journal, I found just the one:
“A feeling generated by the mystery of water; water that seems alive, always rushing past yet never going, always the same yet ever different.” – Jane Goodall (A Reason for Hope)
Suddenly, it all made sense.
This, I realized…was the feeling of home.