Ariane de Gennaro
My car jumps up as it hits the typical Pennsylvania potholes and follows the familiar route through my town to Haylie’s house. The sights outside my window haven’t changed in the three months I’ve been away, aside from a few trees that were cut down across from my elementary school to make way for more houses. Otherwise, the home is exactly as it has always been.
Except it isn’t.
The bed I’ve slept in for the last 18 years of my life feels cold and fresh, just like a bed in a hotel. It doesn’t take time to adjust to your body because it knows you won’t be there for long. My walls are still adorned with peeling pink paper and old Broadway playbills, but there are noticeable gaps in decor. Once upon a time, every inch of wall space was covered. Now there are brightly colored thumbtacks in the wall, sticking out like tombstones in a floral pink field. They trace the outlines of what once was, which I have since torn down and moved to my new home five hours away.
When I arrive at Haylie’s front door, she greets me with her usual big grin. “I almost burned my house down!” she exclaims as soon as she sees me, and then proceeds to explain all the things that went wrong while she was cooking the turkey for our Friendsgiving. She is dramatic and full of life as she always was, and just looking at her soothes my aching heart.
When our other two friends arrive, another wave of nostalgia washes over me. Val is still Val, arranging her charcuterie board with extreme precision and moaning about her aching stomach after dinner. And Angie is still Angie, joking about the people we know from high school and pretending to bite my shoulder when I hug her. Together the four of us form the Pinocchio Hate Club. It’s not because we hate Pinocchio; It’s an old inside joke that became the name for our group chat, and now it’s too iconic to replace.
“It’s nice to know that some things never change,” I think to myself as we pass around a box of Crumbl biscuits. Minutes later, I accidentally knock said cookie box off the table, and it’s clear my college days didn’t make me any less clumsy. Haylie laughs, Angie gasps, Val looks in dismay at the crushed cookies, and I wish I could bottle the moment and cherish it forever. I never felt homesick in college, but in that moment I realized I was human sick. I’ve missed having those three rays of sunshine in my life more than I thought possible. They are familiar, they are safe; they are constants in an endless sea of ever-changing variables.
But as we sit around the table and share stories from our respective colleges, I realize that’s not entirely true. Although she’s still essentially the same person, Angie sits a little straighter when she speaks, and her words convey a newfound confidence. Haylie’s stories about the people she met at the University of Michigan is hard to follow because they include so many characters, and it’s clear that she’s become even more outgoing than before — which none of us would have thought possible . Val stayed closer to home than the rest of us, but even it’s different. She talks about her feelings much better and doesn’t push them aside like she used to. The changes are so tiny that my friends probably won’t notice them themselves, but I’m privileged to see them again after months of separation. As I kneel next to Haylie to scrub cookie icing off the floor, I wonder what changes they must be seeing in me, in turn.
I complained earlier that home feels foreign, but maybe I’m the stranger. Life at Yale couldn’t be more different than life in my tiny hometown – not in a bad way, just in a “different” way. The changes in me and my friends are the same: not bad, just different. They’re probably good, if anything. It is not human nature to be static.
When we first arrived at Haylie’s house and reunited after months apart, Val had joked that the Pinocchio Hate Club was taking its “final form.” “You make us sound like Pokemon,” I teased, but maybe she was right. We’re always evolving, just like Pikachu. This evolution may mean feeling like a stranger in your own bed or eating overcooked turkey with friends on Black Friday, but it’s all growth. It’s all change, whether we see it or not. It took me a trip down memory lane to realize it was happening. Maybe that should make me sad, but the idea of growth just makes me excited. “Heimat” is defined less by places than by people, so “Heimat” grows with me. It has already been expanded to include the people I met at Yale in addition to those I love in Pennsylvania.
My physical “home” feels different, yes, but my “home,” the capital “H,” will always be the friends and family I love most. And if I ever get sick, I know the Pinocchio Hate Club is just a phone call away.