cs-salute1

An artist's rendering of what I may have looked like then.

I remember when I first spent any real time away from home. It was just a week at a Cub Scout camp during the summer I was eight-years-old. I had felt the thrill of sleepovers at the homes of friends for a couple years by then and my parents and I believed that I was ready for an extended time away. Years later, my memory of the experience is cloudy. Like trying to remember a dream, only the sharp plot points stick out. I remember the hot dustiness of the place, earning something called “the polar bear badge” which required a jump into the frigid lake every morning and swimming around the dock, and I remember that it was the first time that I ever felt homesick.

“You wanted to go,” my mother says during a recent phone conversation and then corrects herself: “you were ambivalent about going—sometimes you wanted to go and sometimes you were afraid of going.” I remember the sensations: impending excitement followed by dread and then excitement again and back and forth. My mother was guiding me through my own foggy memories. “We got a phone call, probably about Tuesday,” she says. “And they said that somebody else had left, one of the other kids had left and that had caused you some anxiety.” Yes! I remember that. He was my tent-mate, my swimming and hiking buddy. We were told to keep tabs on one another, to make sure that we were both safe. It was the backbone of summer camp life—the buddy system. And my buddy was so homesick he left. “You were homesick,” says my mother, “but they thought you could make it through to the end of the week.” Yes, that was right. But I don’t remember any phone call home. “They wouldn’t let us talk to you,” she says. “They just wanted us to know.”

I remember the melancholy striking me while I lay in the dark waiting to fall asleep. “I think you really only had trouble at night,” my mom says. “You know you were so busy during the day that you didn’t think about it.” What’s odd is that I wasn’t homesick for an actual home. As an army brat, I’d lived in five other houses by that point in my life. So I knew that I didn’t miss the physical place, but rather the comfort and stability of being there. That’s what “home” was.

Years later, I would spend one week every year at Boy Scout camp and with each stay the homesickness was less and less. I was older then and felt the burning need for independence. I even spent one whole summer away as a counselor and comforted the teary eyed kids who just wanted to go home. Eventually, I went away to college. Those first few weeks of late August felt strangely familiar. “It feels like we’re at summer camp,” we said to one another. And it did, but then over time things became settled and one day I woke up and went about my morning routine before my 9AM Spanish class when I realized that it didn’t feel like camp anymore. It didn’t feel like a different place. I felt at home. Since then, I never lived with my parents again. Sure, I visited for a couple weeks over the holidays and a week or two before I took off for wherever I would spend the summer break. But from then on, I was at home wherever I was.

Reflecting now on those nights spent quietly crying in my cot, I realize that being away wasn’t what upset me the most. I missed my parents, but I knew that I would see them again. I think I knew that first week away and on my own was the beginning of me growing up. And I think that being “homesick” was nostalgia for being a child and wanting to stay one. Today, as an adult living on my own, I find myself often laying in bed at night and thinking of my responsibilities, my dreams, and my memories. And on occasion, I feel just a flash of that homesickness from that one summer week when I was eight-years-old.