Nick’s Roast Beef in North Beverly was closed for vacation during my brief annual stay in America. “Are you kidding me?” I yelled, pounding the steering wheel of my rented Honda Pilot. “Are you &^&%$ kidding me!” I yelled again over the background noise of SportsHub 98.5 arguing in thick Boston accents why the Red Sox didn’t make a move at the trade deadline. Nick’s has the juiciest, meatiest, tender-ist roast beef with the best buns and sauce in the civilized world. I make a beeline for it when I get off the plane. It was traumatic not being able to get my fill during the short time I was in America.
International educators all have their own versions of Nick’s, those places across the globe that allow them to reconnect with ‘home,’ to reboot old memories that anchor them to something to balance the weightlessness of 10 months in Bangladesh or Brussels.
They also have the things they miss that are less predictable, less stable, and rarely show up on Facebook.
I missed three funerals of relatives this past year. Three. It was heartbreaking. But it’s part of that compromise we make when we choose this life. I’ve never been a fan of international folks posting their sunsets in Bali or their elephant rides in Tanzania while everyone back home is slogging it out in traffic trying to make a living. The things we post often don’t represent the sacrifices we’ve made to be away. Maybe we’re compensating somehow to numb the pain of the things we missed and to show everyone back ‘home’ what a great time we’re having. But it’s a hard sell.
When I return ‘home,’ there are the routines that I do to connect and replenish just like everyone else. The visits to aging relatives and parents, the ice cream outings with young nieces and nephews, the craft beers with brothers. It’s all done at such a frenetic pace I cannot always summon the energy to be sincere, attentive, grateful and engaged everytime. “Oh, it was your birthday last month? You’re learning to play the drums? You have a new job? Wow! You’re going off to university already?” There are so many details that fast forward in time it’s hard to keep track.
The hardest part, though, is re-inserting myself into the realness of what it means to be home. The superficial catching up can only last so long. Then it’s time to talk about the family business that is late on its payments, the parents with Alzheimer’s, the sister in law with breast cancer, the high school friend whose young son is on life support. Those are the homecomings we never see on Facebook. It’s so hard to re-engage and get up to speed on the crises that have been a part of ‘home’ life during the time we’re away. Engage too quickly and you disrupt family dynamics that found equilibrium during your absence. Disengage and risk the wrath of relatives questioning out loud if you’re committed to anything other than hiking through rainforests.
I’m always drawn to the bedrock of my childhood to get re-centered. The pond I skated on as a kid. My grandmother’s house (pic). The rock by the ocean where I asked my wife to marry me. All of the places that (unknown to me at the time) built the foundation that led to the decision to live overseas. Going back to those places stabilizes me for the often turbulent (pun intended) times far from home.
Thank God Nick’s re-opened just before I had to return to my international life. I didn’t post any pictures of the large sandwich and onion rings I consumed in less than two minutes, but rather quietly wiped a dribble of bbq sauce from my nephew’s chin and tried to get up to speed on his fledgling lacrosse career.
It felt good to be home.