“Coming Home”

Carmen B., Editor-in-Chief

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I hadn’t returned to England for three years. Now, I know for a lot of people that’s not a big deal. Most never make it across the Atlantic, let alone multiple times. But for me, it was. I missed my friends, my cousins and my grandparents. I missed my gym, my coach. I missed the countryside roads, the bramble bushes that lined my driveway, the red door to my house…

To give you some background, I was ten when my family and I moved to Massachusetts. It wasn’t my first time moving – not even close – but it was harder than others before. Much harder. I was three when we moved to England from Colorado, young enough to forget what I was leaving behind, and I was five when we moved to Peru. Although Lima was difficult at first – learning Spanish wasn’t easy –  I found common ground with my classmates: most of us were English, did gymnastics, and grew up traveling. Plus, I moved there with the comfort of knowing that I would be returning home… to my countryside roads, to my red door.

Moving to Massachusetts was different – it took time to find my place. The people I met had only ever lived in the same small town, and I felt as though they didn’t understand real challenges like I thought I did. They didn’t know about five-year-olds selling candies beside the highway in Lima. They glorified England based on its stereotypes and didn’t understand that hardships exist there, too. Worst of all, they didn’t even realize they didn’t understand these things.

One thing that had given me comfort during each move was my sport. Gymnastics had been the constant everywhere I had lived; it was how I made some of my closest friends, and it was a defining factor in my life. I trained between 24-30 hours a week, commuted a 100 mile round trip to practice, and devoted my weekends to traveling for competitions. It was all worth it: I loved the sport, and I was good at it.

But then, in 2014, I fractured my back. I was devastated. It was the first injury to keep me out of the gym, and I felt lost having so much free time. Time that I couldn’t really do anything with. I hated being stuck at home and feeling like I was falling behind. And I hated watching my teammates compete because I so badly wanted to be there with them. But most of all, I hated that I had become someone who hated so many things.

I felt like I was drowning. As though I couldn’t escape this vortex of misery that seemed to have planted itself over my life. (Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic…but let’s remember that I’m a teenage girl). I constructed this idea in my mind that all of these terrible things only happened to me because I was living in Worcester, and consequently I began to idealize the time I had spent living in England and Peru. I spent hours on social media looking at the lives of my friends from these places, and they seemed so perfect to me. I begged my parents to move again. Preferably back to England, but honestly, I would have agreed to almost anywhere. They said no, which made me all the more annoyed by the irony of my situation; after a childhood of moving every two-to-three years my parents had chosen to settle in the place I couldn’t stand. Typical, really. I mean, that would be my luck.

Then, in early December, when I was moody and sad, and probably very unpleasant to be around, my luck changed. My father announced that he had been asked to speak at a conference in Manchester and offered to take me with him. I couldn’t say yes fast enough – I was giddy with excitement knowing that in two weeks’ time, I would be going home. To my real home.

I slept for most of the flight to England – my back-brace had earned me pity points, and my father and I got upgraded to business class. We landed at Manchester airport, quickly passed through customs, collected our bags, and headed outside to find a taxi. And when I walked out of those sliding glass airport doors, I was overwhelmed with emotion. As I breathed in the English air, I felt a massive wave of relief, as if the burdens I faced in Massachusetts didn’t exist anymore. By walking through that door, and coming home, it was as if they had all been washed away.

We drove the twenty minutes it took to get from the airport to our house in near-silence. I spent the entire time staring out the window, taking everything in. I wanted to remember all of it – every little detail – so that once I returned to Worcester I could close my eyes and relive this moment.

As we drove down the bumpy cobblestone road that led our house, it all felt so familiar. The countryside roads hadn’t changed, the bramble bushes were still there, and as we turned the corner I saw it…the red door to my house. I felt like a little kid again – as if I had never left.

The next morning, a Saturday, one of my friends picked me up and we headed to our old gym. I met up with my coach, Cerys, and we chatted for a while; she told me about her different gymnasts, and I updated her on everything that had happened to me. It all felt a bit surreal. And when the gymnasts started to arrive, and practice began, she told me to stay and watch. Cerys pointed out one girl in particular, Eleanor, and told me about the plans she had for her: English Championships this year, British Championships next, and then hopefully a spot on the national team. I smiled when she told me. That had been the plan we had made for my next competitive year before I moved to the US.

It wasn’t just her gymnastics that made Eleanor remind me of myself; she was also eleven (just older than I was when we had moved), small, and had short blonde hair. She was even wearing one of my old leotards that day – one that I had donated to the gym a few years earlier.

As I watched Eleanor train, I felt jealous. To me, her life was perfect; she was living the life I had wanted so badly. The one I had worked so hard for, but given up the minute my parents decided to move.I was jealous that she didn’t have a back brace. I was jealous that her parents hadn’t forced her to move, and that her dream of becoming an elite gymnast was still possible. And I was so busy seeing all the sacrifices she hadn’t had to make, that I forgot to see the ones she did make.

When I went out to lunch that afternoon with my coach, she told me more and more about Eleanor. She told me how she was such a hard worker and a promising young athlete. To be honest, I didn’t really want to hear it, but I politely nodded my head as Cerys spoke. She then went on to tell me how tough Eleanor’s childhood was; how she and her three siblings were raised by a single mom, how her mother worked three jobs to pay for her gymnastics, and how some days she couldn’t make it to practice because her family couldn’t afford the petrol. Hearing that, I realized Eleanor was making sacrifices that had never even occurred to me at her age.

Sitting there, I realized that I had become the type of person that I couldn’t stand. I was the one who didn’t understand real challenges, and I was the one who hadn’t noticed my hypocrisy.

As I thought about Eleanor smiling while at the gym, working so hard at her sport despite the adversities she faced, I realized just how fortunate I was. Sure, it sucked that I was in a back brace – but it wasn’t permanent. And it’s too bad that I gave up on my dream of making the English national squad – but who’s to say that would have worked out anyway?

 I decided that this little girl who looked like me, trained like me, and wore my hand-me-downs, was actually nothing like me. Instead, I decided that I wanted to be more like her. And when my trip was over and I returned to Worcester, I worked hard to focus on the positives of my situation.

This trip to England was more than just a journey home. After being so caught up in details of my life that weren’t perfect, I’d forgotten what was truly important. I’d forgotten who I really was. And, thanks to a certain little girl, I managed to find my way back on track.

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