I’ve lived in Mexico for nearly 20 years and have long considered this country my permanent base. But the imposed isolation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, paired with the recent separation from my spouse, have brought the reality of my solitude into sharp focus. I’m homesick in this age of Covid-19.
For what, or for whom, am I homesick?
It hits you out of nowhere, like when you’re at a stoplight, and it’s raining, and you look over at the top of some building and imagine for an instant that you’re back in your own country, and it’s the 90s and a different rainy afternoon, and maybe you’re on your way to Blockbuster or Wendy’s and everything feels so simple.
Or when you’re walking through the park and beautiful orange flowers have fallen on the ground, and you can make yourself believe for just a few seconds that they’re bright orange leaves, and it’s October.
These are pangs of nostalgia that can reach you at any time, but knowing that you won’t be able to even try to relive them any time soon surely increases the longing. Even so, when the U.S. Embassy encouraged foreigners to “go home” toward the beginning of the pandemic’s spread in the Americas, there was no question that I would stay squarely put.
I’m definitely homesick for my sister. She was supposed to come for a visit with a friend about the time the world’s borders started getting ambiguously less porous, so cancelled at the fear of not being able to get back. Her yearly visits to see me in Mexico are always either a breath of fresh air or a sip of cool water — I can never settle on the proper metaphor — and that infusion of culturally-familiar oxygen (See? I really can’t settle on one!) makes me remember all the ways that I’m actually not crazy, I’m just from a different culture.
Do not underestimate the importance of visits from those who knew you when you could only speak one language. They’re important, as it’s so hard to feel really known and understood by those who come from a completely different cultural paradigm.
Let’s face it: at the end of the day, Mexicans are all about family. Their own families, to be precise. And if you don’t blood-belong (or at least marriage-belong) to a family here, things can get real lonely real fast, as even on the best of days it’s not uncommon to get dumped for some cousin’s last-minute birthday party.
I miss my friends on both sides of the border. I wouldn’t be seeing my American friends now anyway, but I’m also not seeing too many people here…even the ones who live within walking distance.
One thing the social distancing and isolation measures have shown me is that I’m apparently drawn to extremely cautious and careful people. I’ve found a few friends with whom to socially-distance, one-on-one get together once in a while, but for the most part, it’s just me and sometimes my daughter.
My daughter says she’s homesick for our old house. She’s suddenly not only in a new place, but isolated from her friends, from school, and in a new house where she can’t have people over, another thing I’ve discovered is something that makes us feel at home.
I miss going out to cafés and working, parties, live music and dancing, going for a walk and being surrounded by other people, the social niceties that are typically exchanged among strangers. I’m still going out for runs, and while the exercise helps with my mood in general, everyone looking suspiciously at each other from a distance makes it a singularly weird experience.
In my neighborhood and in my city, people are obeying social distancing rules to varying degrees. The grocery stores are insisting that only one person at a time go inside, and only with a mask. While plenty of people in my neighborhood are behaving as if there were no safety regulations at all, most are at least keeping their distance and wearing masks when they’re out, which to me, and surely to others, feels like the antithesis of Mexican manners. Being a foreigner now feels even more foreign, as I can’t socially signal to those around me the ways I know how to fit in, that I want to fit in.
I just miss people behaving like people.
You know, of course, that being homesick doesn’t just mean wanting to be at your house. It means wanting to be with the people you know and love, and behave with them as you normally would. In Mexico to a great degree, that means physical closeness: hugs and kisses, patting each other on the back, sitting shoulder to shoulder. So many of the things I most love about the culture here are now at the top of the “prohibited until further notice” list.
I ordered a new copy of “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran a couple days ago, and it came this morning. I read this passage today and pretended that it was written for me:
“And the elders of the city stood forth and said: Go not yet away from us. A noontide have you been in our twilight, and your youth has given us dreams to dream. No stranger are you among us, nor a guest, but our son and dearly beloved. Suffer not yet our eyes to hunger for your face.”
So, don’t y’all worry. You’ll be peeling me off of you with a shoe horn when this is over, so go ahead and get ready. My endless affection is crouching at the starting line.