the unexpected benefits of not going home
Spend enough time in a place at the right time, and your heart becomes steeped in its details. Because Providence has been a home, but not my hometown, I only knew its fall colors and chilling winters, filled with homework and clubs and too little time to get everything done. The blooms of late spring are also amazing, but come coupled with exams and move-out. Summer is the time for everything that doesn’t happen during the year: exploring, enjoying, entertaining.
Sitting on the Quiet Green—especially quiet after the Summer@Brown students disappeared into the Ratty for dinner—I noticed the way the late summer sun glinted off the Van Wickle Gates, almost creating an illusion of a dusting of snow. The arcs of tree shadows were stoic across the pavement, filtering the light in front of my eyes. Granted, the green is equally picturesque in spring, when I’ve procrastinated on papers by enjoying the reemergence of the sunshine, but there is something different about campus in the summer. There’s no rush, and the sun never seems to set.
Working in Providence is new, and the sweaty commutes to my two internships are certainly a change from my traffic-laden rush hour drive from previous summers at home. But both the commutes and jobs are exposure to a city I’ve grown to love and hope to appreciate more. I force myself to embrace the walking and 80-degree heat because I know I’ll miss it come February.
Slowly making my way home from work one afternoon, I paused on Thayer to look south. For the first time, I realized that, from that vantage point, I could see the water sparkling and rippling in the distance, as if a tantalizing mirage. A slight breeze ruffled my hair, a further reminder that I’m in fact closer to the water here than I am in my home in Hawaii.
When I return home, it’s easy to fall into the same routines. I know where everything is, what to expect from certain eateries or beaches, how to drive to avoid traffic, which beaches will have the fewest tourists, which hikes to postpone when it starts to rain. I play tourist with the added benefit of insider knowledge. But sometimes, I find myself wishing there was more opportunity for discovery. It’s good to get lost or deviate from the schedule. This summer, I had every opportunity to do just that, faced with a few months in a house and a place that were almost home, but in which I’d experienced very little.
A walk to India Point Park at dinnertime on a Thursday in July, seeing the greenery though my camera’s lens, calmed my stress. I recalled a night, a few weeks earlier, when the park had been packed with people for the Fourth of July. Eating, drinking, and laughing, they sprawled across the grass, anticipating the concert and the fireworks. The park felt just as alive on that quiet Thursday, but with light and insects and the lapping of water. I knew I’d made the right decision to put off cooking and grab my camera—looking at the world through a new lens always reminds me of all I forget to notice.
I thought I might miss the beaches at home, the sparkling sand and turquoise waters. As I prepped for my first beach day in Rhode Island, I reminded myself not to be a beach snob. I’d been to a few East Coast beaches and knew roughly what to expect. But I refused to arrive with a negative attitude. I’d spent a lot time at one of my internships looking at maps of the smallest state, learning about its many little towns with big personalities. Outside of Providence, I’d barely seen Rhode Island beyond this paper perspective, yet I thought of it as one of my homes. Since it is “The Ocean State,” the best place to start seemed to be the beach.
Staring at the deep blue expanse of Narragansett Bay, dotted with sailboats in all colors and a few rocky islands, I didn’t feel homesick or disappointed. It was a beautiful day, perfectly warm, and the glittering water was inviting. Jumping off the dock with my fellow interns and friends was a cold shock, but refreshing nonetheless. I wasn’t used to the seaweed or rocky shoreline of the North Atlantic, but just because it wasn’t the Pacific didn’t mean it wasn’t a pleasant beach day. Later, eating ice cream at the pier, cones dripping and smiles growing, a friend asked if it compared to home. “It’s not the same, but that’s a good thing,” I replied.
Missing home was more about a feeling than being in a different place. Being in a different ocean, a home that wasn’t mine, an environment that wasn’t “local,” didn’t make me sad. Rhode Island was a different experience and I could mentally separate it from my 18 years in Hawaii. That isn’t to say that I didn’t miss things. I missed the people, the comfort that only the room you grew up in can bring, the unique food that wouldn’t be the same anywhere else. But at some point I needed to step away from that and find new things that would curate new feelings and memories.
Leaning against a paint-chipped railing, thoughts scrambling between my final days of work and packing, I force myself to take a moment. Rising next to me, outstretched arm reaching into the sunlight, is the statue of Roger Williams. He gestures toward the city I’ve learned to call home. A few picnickers and relaxing couples inhabit the park, half shrouded in darkness from the overgrown trees, half lit brilliantly by the setting sun. They have their place in this small patch of grass, and so do I. The few high-rises that barely dominate the skyline, the iconic Biltmore sign, they’re all a part of my city. And I now feel comfortable enough to call it that.
Later, drinking wine and eating pasta with one of my roommates on our porch, watching both students and locals go by, I feel like I’m part of the community. It feels right.