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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

"Home" again

Returning to America under such unexpected circumstances left me grappling with a whirlwind of emotions. My family back home was unaware of my abrupt departure from Kiribati and the tumultuous final days I had experienced. Instead, I sought solace in the company of a friend who graciously welcomed me into her apartment for a few nights.

Being back in America felt surreal, especially without the prospect of returning to Kiribati looming on the horizon. While luxuriating in the warmth of a shower was a newfound comfort, it also served as a poignant reminder that my life had taken an irreversible turn. No longer would I wake to the familiar sounds of roosters crowing beneath my house or engage in the ritual of bucket bathing. The stark reality of this new chapter in my life weighed heavily on my heart.

Perhaps the most painful realization was the knowledge that I would never again see my Kiribati family. The thought of this loss overwhelmed me, and I found myself breaking down countless times in the following days, consumed by grief and longing for the home I had left behind. In those initial months of readjustment, the ache of separation was palpable, and I yearned to turn back the clock and return to the embrace of my island home.

It's a peculiar irony how everyone greeted me with "Welcome Home!" and "Welcome Back!" upon my return to America. Yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't truly home. Despite the warm words and embraces, everything around me served as a constant reminder of the vast distance separating me from where I truly belonged.

My friend, who had picked me up from the airport, suggested we stop by a local pizza shop to grab a pizza before heading to my parents' house. The drive felt interminable, and it seemed as though I was merely a spectator, detached from my surroundings, and numb to any emotion. Waiting in the car, my friend observed as I made my way up to the porch—the same porch where, once upon a time, the Peace Corps invitation package had been delivered. Mimicking the FedEx delivery driver, I reached out and rang the doorbell.

The moment of reunification played out differently in my mind than it did in reality. As the door swung open, my dad's expression was one of confusion, as if to say, "You've got the wrong house," or "I didn't order a pizza." Yet, after a brief moment, his face lit up with recognition, and he hastily unlatched the door, bombarding me with questions, as any concerned parent would.

"Shouldn’t you be in Kiribati now? What are you doing here? How did you get here?" he fired off, his voice tinged with a mix of bewilderment and relief. I pointed towards the car parked in the driveway and replied, "Charley drove me." He followed my gesture and saw her smiling and waving from behind the wheel, confirming my explanation.

"It’s a long story, and I’m a bit tired, plus the pizza’s getting cold. Can I come in?" I asked, hoping to postpone the explanations until after I had a chance to settle in. The screen door slammed shut behind me before I could finish my thought. Just like the FedEx truck that had delivered me to Kiribati, I heard Charley’s car backing out of the driveway, leaving me at a place that, despite its unfamiliarity, I eventually learned to call home again.

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