what does it mean to ‘miss’ people?
The wheels of my plane touched down against Indianapolis pavement just after midnight on Friday morning. No matter how many times I fly, that moment of impact is jarring. The sudden reappearance of the ground, the plane gliding closer and closer to contact, wheels reuniting with earth, and then the roar of the wind overhead as the plane lurches to a halt. More often than not, I discover I’ve been holding my breath.
The airport was sleepy, operating at an eerie lull, and I arrived at baggage claim just in time to grab my luggage without a wait. Rolling it behind me, I stepped through automatic doors and out into an Indiana night. Familiarity fell over me the way a lover surprises you while you’re working, gentle kiss on the crown.
My first honest heartbreak came at the age of 25. Some months afterwards, when life had resumed rhythm and I’d shed enough skins not to feel covered in scars, I woke up and missed him. The feeling followed me throughout the day –– if he were here with me, coffee in hand, what would we be talking about? and for a second, I thought that was him laughing over there and what would he say, right now, if I lost the wherewithal to hold back from telling him I’m thinking of him.
That night, I sat down to write. Exhaling, I pushed that tap into my sternum, collected the outpour in cupped palms, and kept on finding him. What does it mean, I wrote, to miss somebody? If it’s true that every inch of us was developed by a Creator, that we evolved to survive in the atmosphere we inhabit, why is it we ache at the absence of people?
Of course, social bonds provide us with ongoing support, purpose, and connection. Our lives develop meaning, story, because our threads get tied up with one another’s threads. We weave into each other’s lives, and – even when we wander – we feel the occasional tug back. We call our parents, text our friends. Ask for details of their day so we might imagine we were there, too.
Not every connection was meant to last, however; life will find every one of us bearing the seething pain of severing the tethers we made to other people. We tear, we ache, we heal, sure, but why is it I can’t let to go of the frayed and hanging threads? How is it I find myself missing people who don’t belong to future chapters? Why do old relationships ache, phantom limbs, and what in the hell am I to do with any of it?
College was my first experience in holding multiple homes at once. The morning I left home, my breathing was labored. When it was time to go, my Dad found me stooped beside the dog, saying goodbye to what it was to see him every day. I arrived on campus, put every piece of home I could up on the walls, shared a room with my best friend, but still ached at my father driving away, still walked this new world on shaky legs.
I made a home there, with time and human connections and purpose. Every time I left campus for home, I felt sad at what I might miss. Then, once I’d shared a weekend with family, laughing and lounging and arguing alike, I climbed into my car for the drive back and felt those threads aching. No matter where I was, I felt the ache of missing.
I’ve called numerous places home, put myself up on the walls and figured out how to feel at rest, and I ache for each of them. Moving to New York City resolved a long-held dream, opened my life to much-needed new beginnings, but, that morning, when my father drove away, I found myself swallowing a familiar ache, longing to exist in two places at once.
I realized, some time in the past year, that people can become homes, too. The friends who surround us become couches, cradling us when we’re weary. Co-workers become favorite television shows, lovers favorite sweatshirts, a comfort we pull over our shoulders and insist we’ve never felt more beautiful.
We miss people in the way we ache for homes we’ve left behind to make new ones. We’re able to visit most of them, silently pushing aside the ache of what it is to be a visitor to a place we once inhabited, but not all people stay in our pages. And, like a spot on the map we only push our pin into for a select time, there will still be the things we fell in love with to feel at home – coffee shops, running trails, the Mexican restaurant, the store where they learned our names. And, when we encounter something that reminds us of them, ignites neurons of memory and sends waves to crash against our sternums, those shaking threads ache.
I’m still searching, perhaps, for why it is we miss people, from a pragmatic standpoint. Why we can’t let go of old threads, like a starfish parts from a limb, and forget that which was once home.
I’ve decided, however, it’s one of the most gorgeous pieces of humanity. That part of us that cannot help but tremble, swell, make streams of our eyes. Frayed, hanging, broken, perhaps, but beautiful.