Every spring, the mist over the shallow lakes across Kansas settles quietly in the early morning hours. During the long winter months in Massachusetts, the ponds and bogs encased by bent willows are sprinkled with slipping ducks on slick ice patches. On the mountaintops in California, in early fall, snow kisses their rocky tips, while stylish men and women in Los Angeles sport revealing outfits. In South Korea, winter skies bring crisp, clear edges to a landscape usually covered in smog.
These are a just a few of the many places I have lived. A silly longing settles into my body when I recall these places, and then, naturally, I think of all the other locations I’ve lived across the globe. You have lived in some of the same places, but at different times. It was when we did not know one another. It was when my eyes were faucets on high for no good reason. It would seem that such memories of these places, especially imagining you in those locations and without me, should inspire some sort of homesickness, but I feel nothing of the sort. Instead I now think of those past moments with you at my side—you are there in Kansas, watching me view the open sky. We are together in New England, experiencing a short trip to the Cape. I see you with me now in Asia, we are laughing, as we do now, at everything, like two children in a park madly in love, and yet totally unaware of that type of sentiment.
When I bring myself to the actual present, and I look across a table at you—something I do often—utter silliness ensues, because I am sucked into a Hemingway novel. We look at one another for—seemingly—immeasurable periods of time. You wear a pilot’s jacket, I have my hair pulled up into a tight bun, and I find myself wearing clothing reminiscent of what my grandmother wore during the war. I ask myself, “When did I find an officer going to war? When did I find myself in love? When did I find myself laughing so much, and yet filled with so much terror about his imminent departure?”
But these moments of time with you aren’t immeasurable, and we both know that. As I write this open note, this public proclamation of love to you, it will be a matter of weeks, and you will be gone. Through this experience, this raw reality that I will be losing you so soon, I’ve realized that homesickness has nothing to do with geography, nor is it related to the German’s obsession of land and feelings of heimweh, a term that can crudely be translated into good ol’ homesickness. Instead, it has everything to do with losing you to the opposite end of the world.
No matter how hard I try, no matter how many pairs of high heels I purchase, I cannot bury your combat boots. And despite my best attempts to avert my eyes when I look into the closet where you have your helmet placed high above suitcases, I see it every time I open that particular door, which means I see it every single day. Just the other day, you brought home your body armor, something I measured you for. It now sits on a sofa in your living room, and I imagine you wearing it, looking across barren lands filled with dangerous men who want to kill you, for protection quite soon. And soon we will both be in exile, two different forms of exile.
This is not a type of exile tied to nationalism, but yet it is still indelibly connected to geopolitical struggle, an endless war, and terrorism. Regardless of how one thinks about the “war on terror,” this form of exile is inextricably tied to a homesickness that only fully grown women and men can understand. But regardless of its ties to geopolitical struggle, it means one thing to me: the loss of, aside from my father, the gentlest man I’ve ever met. And so I will have to endure a type of homesickness I thought didn’t even exist.
At night, I touch the side of your body. Your rib cage feels like strong metal spoons covered in soft tissue. I touch your sharp clavicle bone, and know that a leather strap will soon be wrapped around it. There will be one rubbing or chafing from the strap that holds your gun—a gun you hate—and you will be in body armor.
In a few weeks, I know that my high heels will no longer be hiding your boots. Those boots, along with your face and helmet and hands and body, will all be covered in dust. Once your boots are gone, my shoes will sit quietly on a hollow shelf waiting for the return of your boots. Homesickness has led me to a war zone, a war zone where I am neither present nor remembered.