The American singer Alan Jackson once sang:
You can always come home
Wherever life’s road leads
You can get back
To a love that’s strong and free
You’ll never be alone
In your heart there’s still a place
No matter how right or wrong you’ve gone
You can always come home
As an introvert, I’ve always thought I was pretty good at navigating my alone time, especially during the pandemic. I was able to fill up my days with solo activities and discover new ways to keep myself occupied at home, even impressing friends and family who would ask with curiosity and a little bit of awe, “How do you not get bored being alone all the time?”
Admittedly, that alone time got a little harder to navigate after I went separate ways with the last person I dated. I was still mostly okay, but there were times—laying in bed at night or when my mind began to wander—that I’d feel it. That tiny but potent ache, the one that made me yearn to be held, to be with someone who made me feel warm and safe, to be taken care of.
This past Friday, my older sister came to pick me up so we could drive to my parents’ house for the holidays. Though I talk to my family almost every day, it had been a few months since I’d seen them or been home. I was looking forward to being reunited with everyone, but I also felt a faint sense of dread as we set off. It was the first time I’d be back home since things ended with my ex. I worried that if my mother made comments about me settling down or if I didn’t have my usual activities to distract me, it would make me think of him and all the negative emotions I’d done such a good job of evading so far. There were so many unpredictable factors at home that I didn’t have to worry about in the safety of my apartment and daily routine.
We got home around lunchtime, and by the time we walked through the door, there were already two plates of warm, home-cooked food waiting for me and my sister. To someone who’d spent the last few weeks eating salads, microwave meals, and takeout, I couldn’t get enough. Each bite made me think of my childhood, to all the times I’d gotten home from school to find my mom bustling around the kitchen, preparing my afternoon snack.
A lot of times when I come home, I’ll get bored pretty quickly. I’ll retreat to my bedroom and watch a movie on my laptop or see if any hometown friends are available to meet up. The last few times I came home, I would keep my phone beside me, anxiously checking to see if my ex had returned a text yet.
This time, I didn’t want to retreat. I wanted to be present and soak up every good feeling. Over the weekend, we spent a lot of time together as a family. My parents sat with us in the kitchen while my sister and I tried out new recipes, we watched the snow fall outside while laughing about past memories, we spent hours video-chatting with extended family, my sister and I snuggled up together at night the way we used to when we were younger and watched cheesy television.
The thing is, when you start telling yourself a story, it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. The only thing that matters is if you believe it’s true. For a long time, the story I’ve been telling myself is that I’m alone. I don’t have a boyfriend or as big of a social circle as I’d like. Not even a roommate to keep me company during this pandemic. I was so lonely, and I was tired of being alone.
But then you have these moments that put everything back into perspective. When my mom offered up something for the umpteenth time (“Take these bananas with you,” “Do you need more paper towels?” “Here’s some cookware you can take with you.”), or my dad jumped up and got ready to drive to the store anytime we even vaguely mentioned needing something, or my sister spoiled me the way she always has since I was a baby, I was overcome by how wrong I’d been.
I’d spent months, maybe even longer, bemoaning the love I didn’t have in my life, never appreciating the love I did have. My parents and sister would call me daily, checking up on me, seeing if I needed anything, and I would brush them off so I could invest all my emotions and energy into people who didn’t invest in me at all. Despite that, their love for me never changed.
I still have a few more weeks left at home. I’ll probably get annoyed at my family a bunch of times while I’m here, but I’ll also be grateful that I get to spend this time with them. In the new year, I’ll head back to the city. I’ll take risks and push myself, experience both successes and failures, but above all I’m going to remind myself as often as I can that I will never be alone, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise. Knowing that, I already feel a little braver in building the life I want. Everything’s easier when you have people you love in your corner, and I’m willing to bet if you take a close look at your life, you’ll find you have plenty of people in your corner, too.