The tale of the homesick student
Four months and two days ago, she was a one-town girl. Then two days and extensive packing later, her whole life was stretched like a multicoloured slinky from one city to the other. With corresponding ups and downs and a whole lot of colourful crockery in tow.
"You'll meet loads of new people!" She'd been told in the weeks prior.
"You'll gain so much independence!" Is what she'd heard, time and time again.
"You'll never want to come home!" People said to her - like maybe her home was a prison and she had just finished serving an 18 year sentence.
And four months on, fairy-lights hung and lectures begun, she realised the truth behind those statements.
A gentle knock vibrated through her door as she lay, tucked up in unwashed sheets. It might have been 7pm or 7am, she didn't know, because her curtains had concealed the darkness for hours now. She shuffled round, facing away from the door and hiding beneath her quilt.
The knock sounded again. "You in there?"
The male voice of one of her housemates slipped under the door frame and muffled through her layers of blankets. They both knew that she was. But if she feigned sleep for long enough, then maybe he'd go away.
Because the truth was, she had met loads of people at university - him included. In fact, he was like a long-lost brother, somebody that she met in a moment and then a few moments later she just knew he'd be a part of her life forever. Just like others she continued to meet throughout the year.
But right then, as she snuggled a little closer to the teddy that smelt like her home, she didn't want to see him. Or anybody. She didn't want to be in that room in that student house along that rowdy street in a city that hadn't witnessed her grow up.
Footsteps disappeared into the distance as her housemate gave in. Guilt bubbled in her stomach for ignoring him, but she couldn't help it. She was too busy drowning in the wave of homesickness that was coursing through her.
She emerged from her protective blanket fortress. Blinking into the darkness, her eyes adjusted as she scanned her messy room. Stacks of empty Tupperware were scattered across her desk, unwashed forks and and an overflowing bin surrounding them.
Because yeah, she had gained independence, that's for sure. Perfecting a pot noodle in under three minutes and figuring out how to stop her washing from smelling like wet dog were at the top of her list. But so was hiding in her room for days on end. Spending too much on ordering food because the idea of cooking in a landfill site that was once referred to as the kitchen made her heart hurt. Independence sometimes struck her as loneliness. Not often, not all the time, but when it did, it was intense.
There were many times throughout her university experience when her mind hadn't wandered home for days - too busy in lectures and on unforgettable (in the drunken, very forgettable sense) nights out with course-mates. But then, whilst shovelling in day old pizza or fiddling with the dials on the broken washing machine, it would hit her like the too-expensive train she'd have to take to get there. The feeling of wanting to be surrounded by familiar walls and comforting faces. It made her want to leave, there and then - to whip on a coat over the top of her pyjamas (that was fashioned from a pen-covered, alcohol-soaked Carnage top) and head straight for the station.
Ten minutes after her housemate left, her phone began to ring. The sight of her mother's face and simply the word "mom" printed in bold white letters was enough to make her grin grab on to each ear.
"Hi mom," she answered, her voice groggy from not having interacted with another human in twenty-four hours.
"Hi sweetheart," her mother replied. The sound of her voice was bittersweet. So close, yet hundreds of miles away. "Heard you were feeling blue."
It wasn't really a question, so she sighed heavily down the phone. "A little."
"Your housemates gave me a call. They're worried about you."
Her heart fluttered knowing that, whilst she might sometimes feel lonely, she was never really alone. She was lucky to have them - these once-strangers turned family. They might not share blood, but they damn well do have the same consistency of vodka running through their veins.
"It's okay, you know, darling. To feel a little homesick."
Tears pricked behind her eyes.
"To feel a lot homesick, even."
A few escaped down her cheeks, soaking into her quilt.
"I know. It's just hard sometimes, I guess."
She could picture the living-room as her mom spoke to her, no doubt curled up besides her snoring dad. Emmerdale would probably be filling the room as her dog fought to squeeze his horse-like frame in between her parents on their brown sofa. A typical evening at home, one she'd experienced every week since waltzing out the womb and one she missed more than she realised.
"Of course it is, baby. But it happens. To everybody. I don't think you quite understand how much I miss peeling strands of your beautiful blonde hair out of the carpet. I get homesickness too, but of you. I get you-sickness."
Despite herself, she chuckled. "Not a real thing mom."
"Well you would know, Miss English Language degree."
"Still got three and half years to go." She reminded her mother and the familiar pang of sadness poked at her heart. That's a long time to be away from home.
"Yeah, but that's three and half more years of you coming home for Christmas and Easter and summer. And at weekends if you can bear to put down the shots for a day or two." She could hear the smile in her mom's voice.
"We'll have to see," she said, "because sometimes there's an offer on and coming home is not worth missing out on five shots of Sourz for £2."
It only took a matter of seconds, a few moments of normality and the sound of a familiar voice, for both her blanket and emotional fort to disappear. After sharing a few drunken tales with her mom - ones in which her mother had apparently also experienced as a student, but ten times more embarrassingly - and sending photos of her first ever homemade risotto, she finally got up, heading to the window as her mother instructed.
Because it wasn't true, not at all. You'll never want to come home! Sometimes, going home felt like all she ever wanted. Like she'd willingly fork out nine grand a year to gain a degree in being at home. But, admittedly, there were times when it didn't even cross her mind. When her tatty house filled with five of the purest hearts she had ever met felt like the only place in the world.
As she opened her curtains and admired the glistening moon, her mom whispered, "see? I can see it and you can see it. Which means I can see you." Her gazed fixed on the sky, she felt as the broken pieces of her heart scrambled back together again and clung on tightly. That's when she finally got it.
Her homesickness wasn't really a sickness at all. It was simply a reminder of a huge part of her - one that would remain that way no matter where she was in the world. Because a home is where a piece of your heart is stationed. A loyal guard protecting your very own private part of the universe. And she had pieces of her heart scattered all around, now. At her grandparents, in her favourite city in Italy. And woven into the un-vacuumed carpet that lined the hallways of her new student house. Her new - albeit new in the revived it's-seen-a-lot-of-vomit sense - student home.
She was simultaneously missing one part of her whilst another part was growing. And that was perfectly okay.
Later that evening, she was tucked up once more. This time, sandwiched between two of her housemates, pizza in hand and giggling. With people she loved around her, she'd always be home.
If you’d like to read more of Emily’s pieces, you can look at her blog here.