Where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Homesick in Heaven”
Sunday, August 29
It’s eight in the evening, and I’ve just finished putting away the dinner dishes after having close friends over as my way of saying thanks for helping me move, thanks for hanging in there with me, thanks for being the friends I’ve always wanted and needed in my life.
Riley’s curled up beside me on the bed I just made — freshly laundered sheets and a blanket from home so he’s comforted by the smell.
This little animal that I love so much; this perfect creature of unconditional love and pure joy that lifts my heart with every tail wag and brings a smile to my eyes with every pant. He’s the one I’ve been worried about all this time — how would he adjust to his new home? How would he react to being away from my parents’ dog, Cody, after they had become so attached?
How would he feel separating from my parents, who, through the past two years of living there, had become his family, too?
Last night, though I was all moved in, I slept on the couch at my parents’ house. I wanted Riley to have a fresh start in the morning, to greet his new neighborhood and have a full day of sniffing and exploring and whatever it is dogs do to adjust.
I just wanted to see him happy.
We said goodbye to my parents early this morning. We said goodbye to Cody, and we said goodbye to the place we had always — or at least for him, for the past two years — known as home.
I was in tears the entire fifteen-minute drive. Fifteen minutes — that’s all it is. A short enough distance that we can visit and be visited in return. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel like I was tearing him away from the home that he knew — his place of comfort — and forcing him into some unknown territory because I was being selfish, because I wanted my dog there with me.
Because my home isn’t a home without him.
All day I tried to make him feel less anxious and more comfortable: I set out his blanket, brought in a basket of his toys, took him out for walks. For a few minutes mid-afternoon, I left him alone to run an errand, and as I closed the door, hearing his whimpers echo behind me, I could only imagine how lonely he felt, how scared and how abandoned.
I cried again.
Tonight, as I made the bed and he watched from the floor nearby, his brown eyes gazing up almost adoringly, my heart filling with both love and guilt, I realized just how much I had been projecting my own feelings onto him.
As much as I fought with the idea of moving back to my parents house two years ago, as much as I didn’t want to give up the sense of independence I had cultivated throughout college and after graduation, I’ve come to realize just how special this time with them has been.
We’re a family.
Figuring out what to do for dinner with Mom, watching movies after a busy day at work with Dad, shoveling snow (and impromptu snowball fights) with both of my brothers…We were a family, not just living together, but part of each other’s lives in a way that is so different from when we were kids. Yes, we bickered and quarreled, but we also laughed and loved and respected each other now as grown adults.
It’s all different now, with me in this new home. I’m happy and I’m proud and it all feels so…right.
But it’s also bittersweet. Because as ready as I am for this next phase of my life, as happy and excited as I am for this next adventure, a part of me can’t help but feel that familiar twinge of homesickness, missing what once was, just a short time ago.
It seems like I can already feel the distance, already feel that sense of comfort being shaken…
I can already feel the loneliness setting in…
I was so worried about how Riley would adjust but the words my mom has been saying for weeks are echoing true: he’s happy as long as I’m happy because his home is with me.
He’s curled up beside me now, already fast asleep. I know he’ll be happy, I know he’ll feel right at home. With every move, he’s always been quick to adapt — maybe dogs are just resilient like that.
My adjustment period is going to be a bit different, a bit harder. Because while this is my home now in every sense of the word, I feel somewhat unbalanced, caught in the middle between this new life I’m creating and that place in which I spent the majority of my life — that place where people and animals are always coming and going, where everyday conversations are had, where they call goodnight to each other and ask what time they’ll be home for dinner once morning rises and everyone readies themselves for work.
That place that will always be my home.
Two homes. One I’m leaving and one I’m creating. I would feel lucky if I weren’t so caught up in these heavy emotions right now — emotions that I’m positive have been brought on by exhaustion, excitement, and the ever-difficult acceptance of change.
Little by little, though, I know that distance will feel less and less. More and more, I’ll find that familiar comfort here. Soon, this homesickness and loneliness will fade.
Because home is where the heart is.
And my heart is with my family.
My family is Riley.
And Riley is here.
Update: I woke up this morning with happiness bubbling in my heart and a content, snoring dog beside me. Emotions have run rampant over the course of the past week, and I still feel a touch of homesickness deep in my heart, which seems ridiculous, I know, but it’s definitely not as bad as the heaviness of night made it seem…After all, it’s nothing a phone call or visit home can’t fix.