COVID Observation: Five years of study abroad, I am homesick for the first time

“Can you get an earlier flight ticket to come home?” 6:00 AM. My phone awakes from this message. I grab it, squeezing to read the text. It is from my mother. After I am conscious enough to process the words, a surge of annoyance and powerless hit me. I type the response without thinking. “NO. Every time I told you things are fine, you don't believe it. WHY BOTHER ASKING?” “I am already very lucky to secure a ticket in November. Why do you keep asking for more?” I don't normally talk to my parents like this. It's not good adult behavior. However, maybe because I am awakened too early, maybe because I am tired of circling my life around COVID-caused issues, I press “send” without hesitation, and lie down again. Yet suddenly I'm not sleepy. But I don't want to get up, certainly not checking the phone. I just gaze at the ceiling, while my mind goes wild. I am from China, currently attending graduate school in the US. I also went to college here, which means it's my 5th year in this country and my parents shouldn't worry so much. But they do. I've talked to comfort them more than once. I am doing well – I like staying at home, which I truly do as an introvert; I have a place to live, food to eat, and a flight ticket back home before the year ends. I'm in a better situation than many other people, and I'm very grateful. If I must think of something worth complaining about, it would be when I first moved to the city. I injured my elbows while jogging. I was tripped over by a rock. Both of my arms were bruised, covered with small blood drops. Later my roommates helped me to disinfect them with medical alcohol. It hurt like my palm is cut open, but I need to hold a lemon and squeeze it. Looks like exercising is not always good for you. I examine the healed wounds. They have a different color now, showing there has been a rebuild. Then my thoughts go back again. I was in elementary school. One afternoon my mother was making fried prawn crackers, a snack that I love as a child. It's made through dipping the dry cracker into oil for a few minutes. It is delicious, quick, and easy. But that day, it went wrong when my father entered the kitchen to get his cup, my mother didn't see him. She was holding a pot of hot oil and halted. The oil spilled out, mostly on her hands. I was watching TV at that time, heard a short cry, and saw they burst out to the hospital. When they came back, I saw her hand scalded from the tip of the little finger to the wrist. I asked if she will be ok. My father said the doctor disinfected it with alcohol, but she would still need to go back for more treatments. I frowned: “Does it hurt, the alcohol?” My mother patted my head: “No. The doctor was very gentle.” I relieved, thanking the doctor in my mind. Since then, I never had a prawn cracker again. As I recall these two incidents, I realize how naïve I was. How on earth would it not hurt? Sometimes it's like we are paralyzed by the present, yet our brain sets a timer. It blocks the feelings, so that five years later when we stand in line for coffee, the countdown is over, and we are drawn by memories. Am I being homesick? I am surprised by my own question. I went to boarding school for three years, then spend five years in the US for college. But I am seldom homesick. I just don't, not when I need to move to a new apartment by myself, not when I take the midterm exam on Chinese New Year, and not when I see cars lining up next to the dorm with parents picking up their kids. Instead, I am homesick if I eat too much, which is quite counterintuitive because I would assume, we miss home the most when we are hungry. When I was at home, my mom would pat my stomach when I am so full that I don't feel well. Often after a hot pot meal or any meal on Friday night – when I came home from high school. Sometimes my father even needed to cut me off hard. He would say: “OK. That's enough. Leave it for the next meal”. But on the days he failed to stop me, I would feel ill because I cannot control myself and eat too much, then I would lie on the couch, my mother would slowly draw circles on my stomach with her hands to help me digest. Therefore, when I was away from home, after eating excessively, I would miss my mother very much. Fortunately, my cooking skills are bad. So it was all good. As I stop my mind from rippling further, I send my mother a message in the evening, saying I am sorry. “It's ok”, she says: “The world is moving, and we can do nothing about it. Stay safe and healthy.” "We love you", she adds a heart emoji. "Love you". I ponder for a minute, slowly type the response, while feeling the tide of five years' worth of nostalgia shroud me.

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