I moved to London in September 2004. When Christmas rolled around, I knew I couldn't go home. It was too expensive, and I worried that if I saw my family and slept in my own bed, I'd never leave again. I loved London, but I was still homesick and uncomfortable.
Fortunately, I had a family to spend the holidays with. In high school, we had hosted a German exchange student, and we had become close with his family. That year, they invited me to spend Christmas with them, skiing in Switzerland.
I called Tommy to confirm my travel arrangements: "I'll arrive in Frankfurt-Hahn at 6:30."
As it turned out, the Frankfurt-Hahn airport was far from Frankfurt, and really far from Tommy's house in Freiburg.
The Disch family agreed to delay their Christmas vacation long enough for me to meet up with them, but first I had to figure out how.
Later, a cab dropped me off at an airport outside of London. I planned to sleep for a few hours before my 4 a.m. flight. When I arrived at the airport, I realized that it was too late for me to check in and too early for my gate to be posted. I literally had no idea where I was going in the morning, where I would ultimately fly, even what country I would touch down in.
I slept under a huge Christmas tree. I was crying when I fell asleep, lonely, scared and homesick. I wrapped my body around my bag like a starfish, afraid someone might steal the gifts I had packed.
When morning rolled around, I peeled myself off the floor and looked at the tinsel-strewn tree with blurry eyes. The overhead announcements instructed me to proceed to gate 3B.
Eventually, I navigated my way to Freiburg. I took a metro, taxi, airplane, bus and train. Twenty-four hours after I left my apartment in London, I walked through the doors of the Disch family restaurant to applause. Tommy's mom took my coat while his dad poured me wine. We stayed up late eating and drinking, but at some point, Frau Disch made us go to bed — we had a long drive to Switzerland ahead of us.
I cozied up under the big comforter and listened to the bells ringing from the church down the street. Although I was 5,000 miles away from my family, I was home.
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