It’s been more than a year since I’ve been able to see my family. And, yep, I miss them terribly. In fact, I could throw a really elaborate pity party — tear-shaped cakes, Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome,” blue balloons — but I know my situation isn’t much different than anyone else’s. In fact, I’ve secretly felt like if I do complain, people’s response will just be, “Well, that’s the risk you took moving so far away from home in the first place.”

Still, more than a year seems to warrant some type of acknowledgement. Although now that I’m sitting here thinking, I’m not sure what that is. Isn’t that always the case: the less you talk about something or to someone, the less there is to say. All those tiny, insignificant updates that you would share if there were more opportunity slip away and can’t be recovered.

Of course, my family and I try to stay in touch as much as we can. We have semi-regular Zooms with my parents, and I talk to my mom every week. My brother Matthew and I talk on the phone. My sister-in-law Jennie and I are constantly pointing out interesting things we see on Instagram. And my best friend Kristin and I have cooked dinner together over FaceTime.

But that’s not a lot, is it? It’s not sitting at the kitchen island at my parents’ house sipping wine with Gondola pizza on the way, laughing uncontrollably over something Matthew just said. It’s not heading to Kristin’s house, playing with her kids Greta and Henry, and knowing that, if we could stay awake, we could probably talk for 12 hours straight and still feel like there were more to say.

Luckily, so, so luckily, I was able to do a lot of that in February 2020. Matthew and Jennie flew in from Edmonton and I flew up, in part because one of our oldest friends was having a housewarming party.

It’s amazing the feeling I get when I go home. I never thought I’d feel this way about Winnipeg, Manitoba, which, if you’re unfamiliar, is about as exciting a place as I imagine Dayton, Ohio, to be. And yet I love it so. I love that everyone skates on the river in the winters. I love running on Wellington Crescent in the summer. I love driving by my old apartment downtown and remembering how exciting it was to live there.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized almost everyone feels that way about the place where they’re from, whether it’s the prairies or the mountains, the north or the south, big places or small. You can sink into yourself there in a way you can’t in other places.

If I needed to or really wanted to, I could technically drive across the border and get home. But I would never want to get my parents sick and, as my beloved stepdad Peter pointed out, it might not be much fun staying in my room quarantining for two weeks. The government is extremely strict about keeping tabs on (and giving hefty fines to) visitors there. The vaccination rollout has also been much slower in Canada than here due to vaccine availability. My parents, both in their mid-70s, aren’t vaccinated yet and who knows when my brother and Jennie might be. So, the wait continues.

Do you ever have moments where the pandemic still feels surreal? I had that experience the other day. I was walking into Kroger and there was a mask lying in the parking lot. It looked like it had been pressed like a flower for a scrapbook, its loops perfectly looped and everything. In any other year, it would have been a lost mitten in the parking lot. Or maybe a baby’s sock. But here was that mask because that’s what everyone has with them now.

The crazy thing is I nearly walked past it without thinking about it.

I feel that way too when I think about not having seen my family. Has it really been a year? It’s gone so slowly and quickly at the same time. Things have changed — Matthew switched jobs, my mom and Peter now have Charlie, their puppy — but they have mostly stayed exactly the same. I guess I should be nothing but thankful for that.

And, as with all things pandemic, I suppose being grateful is the only thing I should feel. And, in our family, how do we convey our gratitude? We propose a toast.

So, here is to others who are still waiting to see their families today. Here is to others mourning the loss of a loved one. And here is to my own family. I love you so very, very much.

 

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