I had been expecting homesickness. I had not expected to miss home so much that it made me sick.
The sickness I’d expected was a general one. A malaise that would come to me in moments of frustration at light switches turned the wrong way and waiters who can’t comprehend an r-less “water”. What I felt, instead, was a localized pain. I didn’t miss home in one hit, I missed it in tiny pieces all the time.
At 11am, I would be deciding which tea to have and remember that James hates rooibos tea, even with honey in it. At 2:30pm I would recall a joke that Chloe had told. While I walked to the bus I would remember the peanut sauce at the good Vietnamese place on King St, across the road from the overpriced new one. I would then remember that I say “across the road” when Americans say “across the street.”
I craved people like food. On Sunday, I would crave Dionne and the flat white from Mecca on Ultimo Road. On Tuesdays I would crave sushi with Joe and the theater with Alex. I would need tea with James as though it would sustain me.
I would be struck by longing for people and places so specific that I knew, rationally, that they could never be repeated. I wouldn’t get to sit with Katie on our lunch break on the hot black stones around the fountain on a crisp June day. Katie and I were no longer friends and Junes were no longer crisp. I knew, that as the world turned in Madison it was turning in Sydney and even if I went back I could never actually go back.
I had been in Wisconsin five months when my husband found me sobbing into a pillow on our spare bed. I call it a single but Americans call it a twin, even when it’s alone. The snow outside was wet and heavy on the unfrozen ground and I didn’t know that it was not yet considered cold outside. I was crying because the snow was pretty and I still felt sad. I was crying because I was in America and I still felt sad. I was crying because I had absent mindedly washed the sheets on the spare bed and they no longer smelled like my sister. But you can’t tell your new American husband all of that. Instead, when he asked me what’s wrong I found what voice I had and said “It’s 3am in Stockholm” and turned my faced away.
“Oh,” he said.
At that moment all I wanted was Rebecca. John was sweet and there, but it was Rebecca I needed. I needed Rebecca and the chili cashew nut noodle from the place on Glebe Point Road. But Rebecca was in Stockholm and the noodles were in Glebe. And the sheets still smelled too clean.
My homesickness was both chronic and acute. It was ever present and sometimes overwhelming. And although all I wanted was to speak to Rebecca and James and Joe, I never knew what to say.
Solange, who had been the only friend at my wedding, would check my vitals periodically.
Alright, missus, we are long overdue for a catch-up. Can we Skype on Saturday?
Hey love, are you free Saturday Melbourne time?
Please, hon, we’re worried.
I would stare at Facebook trying to calculate the pace at which the world was turning. Phoebe moved cities. Chloe graduated from her masters. Michael got engaged to a girl I’d only met once. No matter how much I stayed still, in bed watching the snow, everyone else continued to spin.
You’re so lucky to be living in America.
“I’ve been feeling homesick a lot lately,” I confessed to someone who might be a friend as we scrubbed the coffee shop floors late one night. Newbies got the Friday and Saturday night shifts at Cargo and these left time for chatting and scrubbing.
“I’ve never been homesick before,” said Jess. “But I do get really bad seasonal depression.”
“I’ve never had seasons before,” I said.
That was the first time I had considered another name for my condition. Homesickness worked for the first six months. But then? What term described my symptoms of days full of tears and evenings spent hyperventilating on the bathroom floor? Wishing I could wake up to Triple J radio surely did not necessitate bouts of rage that caused my limbs to flail and fly. Surely no noodle was so good that, when denied it, a person could decide not to speak to their closest friends.
So I adjusted my diagnosis. I was seasonally depressed. Seasonally affected. In the spring I would reply to Solange. I’d write her a really long email and send her those pictures. I would mail Michael his wedding present. I would apologise to Alex for not editing her resume when she asked me to. I would spell apologise with a z. In the spring there would be mangos for sale again and I would be able to get out of bed and get dressed and stop screaming.
In fact, it took me five more seasons to adjust my diagnosis again. There was heavy, wet snow coming down when John joined me on the bathroom floor. I had learnt to put a towel over my mouth to slow my breathing and tap a rhythm on the tile with my fingers so I couldn’t hear my racing heartbeat.
“It’s time,” said my new American husband. “Your symptoms are getting worse.”
“You mean my homesickness?”
Three days later, in my snow boots, I took myself to the doctor and took my first antidepressant. Fluoxetine 20mg. I stopped taking the contraceptive pill since the doctor thought it was making things worse. I started talking, first to my therapist, and then to my sister, and then everyone else. My panic attacks stopped right away. Slowly, I felt less like screaming.
That spring, I was out of bed and walking through Tenney Park. I wanted coffee. I felt like chatting to Rebecca, who was back from Stockholm. I texted her and asked if we could Skype. Now that the depression had begun to clear, I could sense everything else about me. I missed my friend. I liked my new job. I had found a good Thai place on the East Side. I felt a little homesick and everything was new.