In Berlin, your German Lehrerin will introduce the concept of mobility. When she asks, “What does it make you think of?”, don’t think about how you can’t go home. When another student wonders how to say that the world is shrinking, don’t scowl about how it’s not as small as it looks. Not even in your head. When tomorrow’s fieldtrip to the Deutsches Technikmuseum is revealed, focus on the free admission, not the fact that you’ll have to leave the apartment earlier tomorrow, and travel farther, in the cold.
Stop at the supermarket on the way back from language school. Look for bacon. You need it for your favorite comfort-food tomato sauce. It will make you feel better. Settle, optimistically, for small cubes of Schinken-something in vacuum-sealed plastic.
Go back to the apartment. Put the Schinken cubes in a pan. Realize quickly that these pink chunks don’t create nearly as much grease as bacon. Feel sad. Think about how you often make this meal with Jake and then eat and cuddle and watch Parks and Rec on his couch. Feel sadder. Sit at the kitchen table and eat your pasta alone while watching a German movie (you’re trying!) on Netflix via the Yale VPN. Watch in escalating horror as the main character breaks up with his cross-continental long distance girlfriend and as they go their (not so) merry separate ways, realize you over-salted your sauce. Feel saddest.
Consider, finally, that maybe you’re a little depressed. Wonder how to say “depressed” in German. Don’t look it up; it won’t help.
Search for meaningful quotes about homesickness online. Something by Proust, maybe, or Walter Benjamin. Come up empty. Marvel at the preciseness of the German language, that “homesickness” is Heimweh — literally, home-pain — and agree with the German word gods that this feeling is much more of a dull ache than violent intestinal turbulence.
Eat a whole bar of Alpenmilch Schokolade before you shower the next morning. Try to convince yourself that it’s not because you miss your boyfriend and some coping mechanisms for loneliness just don’t change, but that it’s actually because you slept through dinner yesterday and don’t want to pass out under the hot water on account of low blood sugar. Know that you’re mostly lying.
Consider not venturing out in the cold to the Technikmuseum. Staying in bed. Crying.
But instead, regroup. Pull on tights and jeans and two layers of socks. You’re from Chicago, girl, you were made for this weather! Lastly, clasp on the larimar necklace that Jake gave you for your twentieth birthday, even though it doesn’t match your outfit. Let’s be honest, it’s so cold outside that no one will see it anyway underneath your sweater and your leather jacket and your new wool pea coat and your scarf. But you’ll know it’s there, underneath everything, and that will help.
Meet your Lehrerin and the other students in the automobile exhibit. Spend three hours wandering slowly through two centuries of invention and innovation. Run your fingers over the progressive wheels (wood, iron, reinforced rubber), study the intricacies of a V-6 engine, wrap your lips around new words like Kotflügeln and Brezelfenster, and get excited about the complicated grammar on the exhibit plaques. Feel like a nerd. Embrace it. Wish, fleetingly, that Jake were here, and instead of dwelling on his absence, tell yourself you will bring him back when he visits in a few weeks.
After the fieldtrip ends, decide to walk for a while. Take photos. Look for moments worth capturing. You will find some, I promise.
Stop at a discount store to get out of the cold. See scented candles. Buy some. They will make you feel better.
Go back home. That’s right. Home. To your now home. At the apartment on Linienstrasse with the host mother that buys fresh flowers. Just like your mother. Light a strawberry-scented tea light and use your converter and European adapter to plug in your digital photo frame. Write a long email to a good friend. Press “Send” and think about how the world is small. Focus on the fact that there are things in your life worth missing. Smile when you think about them.
Know that this too will pass. That it will get easier. That the dull ache will come in waves, but that coming here was not a mistake, and that you are learning. You are developing, improving, inventing the next version of yourself. Know that you already have a pretty good engine; you’re just looking for the right wheels.