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How to go home for break: A field guide

By Emma Shibley, Staff Writer

Tuesday: Wake up. Miss your 8:30, because you have what feels like the flu and you can probably catch up on what you missed. Get out of bed and blow your nose. Shower.

Pack your suitcase for the Thanksgiving week like you've never heard of the town you lived in for more of your life than anywhere else. What is the weather like? Is it sunny there? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, what should you wear when going downtown for dinner with your mom, older brother, stepdad, stepdad's mom and stepdad's adult son? What is the culturally appropriate number of shirt options to bring for a five-day, four-night stay in your parents' house?

Get picked up by your mom after your last class of the day, 15 minutes later than she said she'd arrive, the perfect cushion of time to let you load the last few notebooks into your backpack. Find yourself speaking in your "small talk" voice on the entire one-hour drive home, and vow to not do that the whole week.

Write three short papers on the couch in front of the basketball game on TV while your mom empties the dishwasher, scrubs a pan and wipes down the countertops. Congratulate yourself on being so productive, and on your first night home, to boot. Go to bed shortly after midnight, and hope that things feel more like home in the morning.

Wednesday: Sleep in. Lay around some. Snack a lot. Take a nap. Feel kind of out of place once your brother is home for dinner. He's sick too, but he watched Miami win the football game last night. Get out your laptop to do homework, but end up on Facebook for the first time in weeks. Go to bed too late.

Thursday: Be the first in the house to wake up, walk downstairs in the dark and start the coffee. Drive, with a ridiculous headache, two towns over for the Turkey Trot you signed up for in August. One of your best friends from high school is meeting you there. Walk the first of five miles with her, then get in your car and drive back home. Your mom is glad you decided not to do the whole thing. You just got over being sick, after all. And it's Thanksgiving.

Friday: Wind up Black Friday shopping, more out of necessity than desire. You lost 20 pounds and gave away more than half a dozen trash bags of clothes this summer, and as a result you have been rotating about three tops and two sweatshirts and one cardigan for the entire month of November. Leave the store with six cozy sweatery things that your mom says are just high quality, and that's important, you know? And $100 less in checking... oops.

Saturday: Take a four-hour hike with your stepdad and his son, Andy, who lives in Cincinnati and is 23 years old. Stop at two small waterfalls to let your stepdad take pictures. Bounce the new rope bridge for just a moment, like you're on a grade school field trip again. The same group that sponsored the Turkey Trot paid for the bridge. You feel guilty for those last four miles left un-trotted.

At night, go to Waffle House with the best friend you bailed on at the Turkey Trot. Forget your diet when you see on the menu that adding chocolate chips to a waffle is less than a dollar more. Catch up on everything little about her college in Alabama and her new major and what her friends are up to. Rehash just enough high school triumphs and embarrassments to feel like old times. Fall asleep cozy with your cat at the foot of your bed. Wish it was already winter break.

Sunday morning: Go to the church you've all but grown up in with your mom. See a girl you know from when you were younger across the sanctuary. You went to her seventh birthday. Her kitchen pantry always had enough buttery Townhouse crackers for an entire afternoon playdate. Don't say hi, because a part of you is the same shy seven-year-old you were then.

Visit the cemetery and place a wreath for the holidays. Stop for donuts at the nationally ranked shop on Main Street. Play your most upbeat, happy music on the one-hour drive back to school. Watch the fields and coal plants and trailer parks and small houses in various states of dilapidation whoosh by through the passenger seat window. Chat with your brother about nothing in particular. Feel panic about the impending end-of-semester doom anyway.

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Sunday evening: reentry shock. Turn on the lights and all three lamps in your room. Take two full hours to unpack what had taken 20 minutes to toss into a suitcase, laundry hamper and backpack at home.

Open Youtube and type in the name of a song that you listened to on repeat last semester. Hear the first melancholy-sweet tinkers of the piano. Remember the first time you found it, sitting alone on a bench outside McGuffey, holding a cooling cup of King Cafe coffee on a crisp Tuesday night after the stars came out.

Close the tab immediately. Too angsty. There's enough existential dread floating around in your mind as is. No need to throw the pain of nostalgia in the mix.

Stop looking for music to distract you from the work that needs to get done tonight. You won't find any.

Check your phone. Your mom already texted you -- it's a picture of your two pet cats. They're sitting sweetly next to each other on your unmade bed.

Send her back one or more hearts so she knows the message made you smile. Leave out any mention of your mounting desire to, with less than three weeks left in the semester, drop out of college and become a vagabond. It worked for the boxcar children -- they had all those books written about them for pete's sake \0xAD\0xAD-- but saying so will just make your mom nervous.

Take out your headphones. Make a to-do list. (Try to keep breathing when you see how long it really is.) Open your laptop again. Open a new Google doc. Pick your favorite font: Times New Roman, 11 pt, 1.15 spacing.

Look outside the window one more time - know the stars are there, even if you can't see them right now. Choose what to tackle first. And at last, begin to write.