Stepping off the plane, I shouldered my carryon bag and quick-stepped down the jet bridge. It was the end of a very, very long day of travel, which had started in a sleepy English village that morning, continued through to the city of Manchester, over the ocean to Chicago O'Hare, and culminated here, over 4,000 miles away in rural Arkansas. One day, a car, a train, and two planes later, I was home.
My brother ran towards the gate. Rumpled hair standing up in all directions, his backpack bouncing up and down, comfortable shoes skimming across the floor, he ran for all he was worth toward the end of the hall. I imagined the waiting area where our parents would be standing just across the line, craning their necks for a glimpse of us. I'd looked forward to this moment for nine long months.
But for some reason my feet would only movie sluggishly. The white tile floor felt like molasses dragging me down. Coming almost to a full stop, I made myself round the last corner. When I saw my family up ahead, their tear-streaked faces and wild smiles, I could only muster a tired grin.
We greeted, hugged, laughed, and rejoiced that the waiting was over, but it wasn't as I'd imagined it. It wasn't a fireworks-and-birthday-cake moment. It wasn't Christmas. It was coming home, except that my soul rebelled against calling it home.
I felt numb, and it was the most painful non-feeling I've ever experienced. I wanted to laugh with a light heart, I wanted to hear everything, say everything, but I also wanted to go to sleep and not wake up for a very long time. And I wanted to wake up somewhere else. I wasn't even sure where. The word "home" didn't have much meaning anymore.
In the next weeks I remained numb. Sad farewells back in England, happy returns here—neither seemed to matter. It was a time of limbo, dazed confusion. Nothing had changed here, and yet everything had. This was the next step in my adventure, but why did it feel as if I'd stepped off into dead space?
My heart didn't cry for a very long time. I didn't feel the need to cry. But then the memories came knocking one by one, and at last I wasn't able to shut them out. They brought back feeling, like that horrible hot tingle you get when you move a sleeping limb. It hurt, it hurt worse than I'd hurt in a long while, but at least it wasn't numbness.
And after a while, the happy feelings came back too.