It was a couple of hours before midnight last Christmas Eve, and my home was still. My girlfriend was asleep in the bedroom, exhausted after several 12-hour shifts as an emergency room nurse, and our dog was curled up next to me on a couch overlooking a twinkling tree.
I have always preferred the calm of a late night to that of an early morning, so this wasn't an unusual scene. This was the time of day I used to reflect and to be alone, and a moment when the city felt quiet. But despite sitting comfortably amidst the warm glow of our decorations, I knew that something was missing.
I wanted my parents and my little brother.
It was strange to be apart from them on this particular night for the first time in my life. I missed our stories and our meals together. I missed my dad's corny jokes, the weird sibling moments I shared with my brother, and my mom's infectious laugh. So, I picked up the phone.
Thanks to the time difference between my home near Washington, D.C. and my parents' place in Seattle, I was able to avoid causing any worry by a late-night call. And once I had my parents on the line, I had my little brother help them turn it into a video chat to make it feel more special. After working through the technical hiccups, and making fun of my dad for still using Internet Explorer, we finally got to see each other. There they were, my mom, dad and brother clearly on my screen — faces I hadn't seen together in the same place since the previous year.
We talked about my brother's recent trip to Cuba, our busy work schedules, and the new Star Wars movie. We swapped recipes and discussed politics. The conversation filled me with warmth, and it was exactly what had been missing in my night. And as we talked, I realized that they were all congregated around the kitchen island.
My family decided to move from Washington, D.C. to Washington State after I graduated from high school eight years ago, and I remember wondering whether or not I would have place that really felt like home once I started college. I lived about 20 minutes away my freshman year, but despite my proximity to my parents' place, I rarely wanted to visit. To be honest, I avoided it. Once I no longer had childhood memories and a familiar neighborhood to come back to, it was easier for me to open myself up to new experiences elsewhere. After college, I moved to four different cities in four years, always choosing to make a new home rather than return to the one that didn't feel quite like mine.
But seeing that kitchen island stirred a feeling of nostalgia in me that I didn't know was there. The dark green marble rectangle sits in the middle of the kitchen and is usually surrounded by a few wicker stools. Despite having a dining table nearby, this is where my family often chose to congregate for meals and conversation. The kitchen island is where we connected, and seeing it on my screen reminded me of how much it had become a source of positivity for my family.
It's one of the few things in that house that holds a lot of happy memories for me.
A week after our long-distance chat, I found myself there to celebrate the New Year. I teased my little brother, now home for college himself, and told embarrassing stories that made my parents laugh. We ate and joked together. And when it was over, I almost cried. Even though I had a supportive and loving girlfriend waiting for me at our own home — and our moody puppy, too — I wanted to stay. Coming together with my family in our kitchen gave me a feeling of continuity that has been in short supply these last few years.
I don't ever plan on living near my parents again, but I do wonder what it would take for me to create a sense of home without them and my brother. The kitchen island is a symbol of our bond, the physical place where I would see them again after returning home from London, Los Angeles, and the East Coast. It's where I can feel connected to my childhood and removed from my adult responsibilities.
I'll always miss being near my family as my life continues to grow far away from them. But whenever I feel homesick, I can think of that green island as a warm oasis. It's a place I hope to return to often, and a place I want to create for myself.
Jabari Smith Fraser is a research analyst at a behavior-change marketing firm. He currently lives in the Washington D.C. area with his girlfriend and their dog, Indie.