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Holiday Reflections

Guest Column Veena Thomas

For me, Thanksgiving this year became a time to give thanks that I could go home, away from school, and away from my life of the past three months. I longed for the simpler life of home.

My family arrived Friday afternoon to take me home. My parents looked older and more tired than I had remembered. Perhaps it was the result of a three-and-a-half hour car ride. It's not far, compared to the distances others must travel, but any distance between family members is too much.

The ride home was just as I remember family car trips: laughing, joking, and pauses of silence. I stared out the window, trying to envision the weekend. White and red lights stretched towards the horizon in both directions, as others on the Massachusetts Turnpike made their way home. A line from Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" played, and stuck in my mind: "Count the headlights on the highway."

Upon entering my house, I realized that I was home. Yet I was nave to believe that nothing had changed. All of my life, I had lived in a completely off-white house. But as I went upstairs, I discovered that the walls were peach, and that my bathroom was now sponge-painted green. Eventually, my initial fury turned into complacency. It didn't really matter. I was home.

I had idealistically believed that life had stopped in my absence, and that everything would resume once I returned. But time never stops. People continue in their own directions. I had thought that my sister would remain a high school freshman forever. But with her new report card hanging on the refrigerator, and amid talks of the PSATs, I was forced to admit that she, too, had grown up.

I thought that Thanksgiving dinner would never change. Every year, our friends prepare a feast for friends and relatives. We have eaten there for years. I know their house as well as I know my own. I longed to return, to be embraced again in the arms of those so close to me that I call them my second family.

Embraced I was, but somehow it was different. For years I had watched the college students come home for Thanksgiving, but this year it was my turn. Instead of the usual chatter, everyone wanted to know about college. "How's MIT?" they asked. I paused. How could I possibly sum up the greatest transition of my life in words suitable for small talk? I finally settled on, "I like it, but it's hard," words which only grazed the surface of my feelings.

My family friends at the party had grown up also. They seemed older, cooler, trying to determine how I fit into the new scheme of things, wondering if I had changed. Had I changed?

My littlest friend at the party, age three, used to refer to my sister and me collectively as VeenaSapana. Now he waved excitedly to my sister, and blankly stared at me. When I tried to remind him that I was half of VeenaSapana, he turned away and clung to his mother. Rejection from even a three-year-old hurts, but I can forgive him. I have been away. To a toddler's time frame, it's like I never knew him.

My reunion with my high school friends was amazing. Petty differences were forgotten; there simply wasn't enough time. We forgave each other for not returning e-mails. We didn't bluntly ask each other how college was going, but somehow we understood. It was like we had never left each other, but better somehow. The impending separation made our conversations intense. My friends are more themselves than they were before. I see them changing, growing up, and I realize that they must be seeing me like this also.

We all hugged goodbye, with promises to keep in better touch. Only time will tell if we will. Perhaps it doesn't matter; when I return home again, my friends will be there for me.

Leaving home once more was tough. I flashed back to the morning three months before when I had to say goodbye to my family. So much has changed. Yet everything important has remained the same. It doesn't really matter what color my bathroom is now. My family and my friends still welcome me.

On the Massachusetts Turnpike once more, this time in the opposite direction, I wondered if I was leaving home or returning home. After an intense three months, MIT has become a home away from home. When I returned, it was as though I had never left. Thanksgiving weekend seemed like a dream. My friends here welcomed me back. Somehow I was home again.

To put it simply, although life at college is hard, I like it.

Veena Thomas is a member of the class of 2002.