Happy Here

The train that will take my family to Boston quickly approaches. “You can always come back,” my mom tells me seriously as we say goodbye, “Anytime. I hope you know that.” I know that. I have never, in the 14 months I’ve been at Andover, doubted that my family would welcome me back with open arms and minimal questioning. I speak to my parents over Skype for an hour each Sunday night, and a week has yet to go by without them not-so-subtly hinting at their desire for my return. They tell me things like, “the weather’s so nice here,” “it still feels like summer” and “the ocean is beautiful,” and they remind me of the beautiful place I left behind. When we talk about college, my mom will always say, “UCSC is such a good school, Annika,” pushing for her Alma Mater, which is just a short 15 minute drive from my house. My sister is even more direct. Fifteen, and attending 10th grade at the local public high school, she’s the unwilling only child of my loving parents. “You have to come home, Annika,” she whispers into my hair as I hug her goodbye. “I can’t take all the attention.” In many ways, it would be easy, going back. Just a short six hour plane trip and I could be in the San Jose airport. My dad would come and drive me back to Santa Cruz, greeting me with a tight hug and a scratchy kiss on the cheek. He might even carry my bag. I would go to sleep in my old room. In the morning, my mom would let me drive her car to my old high school. I could sit with my friends at lunch and get caught up on all the gossip I’ve missed. My old Journalism teacher would make a sarcastic remark and give me a hug when I told him I was coming back. He’d expect an article by next Tuesday and tell me “Don’t just interview your friends.” It’s a life I lived for 16 years, and it’s one I could sink back into without much trouble, if I chose. But the thing is, I can’t go home again; it isn’t home anymore. This—Massachusetts, Andover, Phillips Academy, Alumni House—is home now. I can’t imagine leaving and returning to California and everything I left behind last September. Not after playing “Sorry!” in German and learning to salsa with a broken leg and staying up late copy editing Frontline articles and laughing through four-hour group study sessions at Bruegger’s. I love my friends, my teachers, my dorm, my classes. I love writing for publications and sitting in the mailroom on Friday nights, back against the lockers, just talking. When my parents bring up California, when my mom asks me how I could ever want to live anywhere else when the weather is so nice and the food is so good and all the people I grew up with are within reach, I always try to tell them this: “I’m happy here.” Far too often, though, it seems my family just doesn’t understand; they hear that I’m happy, but it doesn’t really register. To them, there’s no way I could be as happy here at Andover as I could be back home. No matter how often I tried to explain otherwise, for a long time it seemed as though I’d never get this point across to them. But as Parents’ Weekend came to a close with my sister laying in a sleeping bag on the floor beside my bed, she told me what I’ve waited so long to hear her say: “I get it.” That same weekend, my parents ate dinner with my friends, walked around campus and soaked in a snapshot of what Andover has been for me. Before the cab came to take them back to their hotel at the end of the weekend, they turned to me and said they’re glad I’ve found a place for myself here. Like my sister, they finally saw what I’ve been trying so hard to tell them. Yes, I can go back to California. But I can’t go home—I’m already there. Annika Neklason is a two-year Senior from Santa Cruz, CA, and a Columnist for The Phillipian.