I put my seat back in the upright position and reach out to pull down the tray in front of me so that I have a flat and stable surface to write on. Dutifully, I fill out the arrival card the flight attendants handed out to each passenger. I am so incredibly thankful we are close to landing, because my legs, particularly my calves, are starting to feel like jelly from sitting for so long during the long-haul flight. I note the faint detection of butterflies in my stomach, the first in the more than a day I’ve spent traveling. It seems as though they spent the first many hours of my journey in cocooned slumber, content in their chrysalises. Now, though, at the news that I will be arriving soon, they’ve emerged; one by one, I can feel their wings beat against the rhythm of my racing heartbeat.
I’m going home.
* * *
My mom picks me up at the airport, all smiles and hugs and tears, even. It’s been a year since I’ve seen her, and I know that the year has been harder on her than it has been for me. She keeps looking over at me as she drives, smiling from ear to ear every time.
“Do you remember this part of town?” she asks as she takes the freeway exit that leads to her house.
I shake my head.
“Well, maybe it’ll come back to you soon,” she says cheerfully. Neither of us are concerned, truthfully, because it’s not like I came back for the city in particular. I came back for her, for my brother (who will arrive two days after me), and for our family to be together again.
She helps me unload my bag from the car and I take a bold step into her home. I have never been — only seen glimpses of it through the background of Skype and Google video calls — and yet, it already seems so intensely familiar.
* * *
My brother bursts through the doors of urgent care. I look up from my seat in the waiting room and manage to give him a weak smile.
“You couldn’t handle the idea of me getting all the attention today at the airport pickup, huh?” he joked as he helped me to the car. “Seriously though, you okay?”
I nod. A wicked bout of food poisoning knocked me down for the count my first few days home, and the only available doctor appointment was when my mom had to go pick up my brother at the airport. Neither of us had seen him in a year, either, and someone had to be there at the airport to get him — but someone also had to take me to the doctor. She agonized over what to do, and it brought back memories of when we were little children and my mom was a single parent trying to be in multiple places at once. That was the most painful part of me being sick, truthfully. Not the vomiting or the nausea or the stomach pain or the headaches, but the realization that even though her two children were full grown adults who were fully responsible and capable of taking care of themselves, my mom still found herself praying for a way to carve herself into two so she could be there for both.
During the drive home, my brother offers, “Mom, I can drive the rest of the time that I’m here.”
“I can make dinner tomorrow,” I croak from the backseat.
We slide into our roles as a family easily, the three of us. Soon, we’re teasing each other and arguing like old times, and that alone is enough to make me feel immeasurably better, which the doctor struggled to do.
Just like that, I know we’re home.
* * *
I see him a split second before he sees me. I will later find out that he’s gotten flowers for me and has paid for parking and has been waiting in the cell phone lot for my arrival text since my airplane landed, never mind the wait involved with clearing immigration and customs. He’ll help me bring my suitcase to the car and then inside my apartment, and after I’m settled in for the evening he will hold me close and tell me how much he missed me. He’ll let me choose what to order for takeout and will love every gift I got for him from my trip. He’ll gently nudge me every time I nod off from jet lag but will put me to bed when we decide it’s a reasonable hour for me to fall asleep for the night.
But I don’t know any of that yet. All I know now is that after 30+ hours of flying, the only person I want to see at my moment of homecoming is him.
Once again, I’m home.