Home Alone . . . at Last
Homecomings can be bittersweet, since they inevitably involve leavetakings. And leaving the MV Explorer in San Diego left me a bit weak in the knees: coming down that gangway and stairs for the last time, looking up at the ship that had been home for nearly four months, and plunging into a sea of luggage and boxes looking for those with my name on them—it was overwhelming in every way. So I had little time for tears or nostalgia: I had to find those boxes, get them to UPS, pick up my bags, and head to the airport.
As the taxi drove away, I took a last look at our ship, waving wildly to those still on board (about 20 people were staying on for an “enrichment voyage” to the Galapagos), and trying to get one last photograph. Time to pull myself together and think “I’m home.” And soon enough, I was home, just a short plane ride from San Diego to San Francisco and then a 40 minute drive to my condominium on the Stanford campus. So I was home. But I was not home alone.
Rather, I was greeted by house guests who had been staying in my place. So I caught up with them while trying to unpack my two suitcases stuffed to bursting with things I had bought for my grand nieces Audrey and Lila (think dresses from the Bahamas and Brazil and Ghana, pajamas from Japan and China, skirts from India . . . and more, much, much more). I threw in a load of laundry and looked at my schedule for the next day: meetings with eight graduate students starting at 8:00 a.m. and then two meetings in the late afternoon. And, whoops, I’d forgotten that I had two other guests arriving the next morning, coming to work with me on a writing project for three days. And oh yes, I would be flying to Vancouver, Canada the morning after they left to give some talks at Kwantlen Polytechnic. And that was just for starters.
My first ten or twelve days off the ship, then, brought a whirlwind of meetings, conferences, shuffling through mountains of mail, and travel: the day after I returned from Canada I set off for North Carolina . . .though by this time I was working pretty much on adrenalin and will power alone.
But then . . . ahhhhhhh. I returned from North Carolina on May 15 . . . and I was . . . home ALONE. My first chance to sit quietly and reflect, to revisit my favorite spots in Ghana and India and Hong Kong, to call up the faces of the students in my seminar, of the Chinese Writing Center students, and of the Kids’ Writing Club. Finally, I had time to do the kind of leavetaking I was hoping for, savoring every memory. I got up and put on the “Thank You Mom” shirt that the students in my “extended family” had given me, the one that many of the kids had carefully printed their names on, along with some illustrations. When I came to Betty’s name, I smiled all over. Betty is almost six and has perfected printing her name, so she had written it out for me: BETTY WILDE (but with the D backwards). She showed it to me with pride and then said, “and can I write dotcom after it? I LOVE to write dotcom. So her name is there, BETTY WILDE.COM, along with Rufus and Aibek and Sam and Josh and Charlie and Maeve and lots more. They are all back at school now, have all slipped into their new selves into their old lives as the end of the school year approaches. And what a year it has been!
So I’m home, and alone for a bit in the peace and quiet of my condo. But I am not alone in the most important ways, for all those students, all those kids, are still with me. They always will be.