About a year ago, my older brother Austin moved out of our childhood home in Denver and headed to Los Angeles. At the last minute, we decided that I would drive out with him, at least as far as Las Vegas. My own classes were beginning soon in Denver, so I wouldn’t be able to go all the way to LA, but I would at least be able to spend a day and half of the two-day drive with him. I’m not exaggerating when I say the decision was last-minute: I decided to go with him about an hour before we left, and my packing consisted of throwing my iPad, a change of clothes, and a toothbrush into a small bag. Out the door we went, waving goodbye to our mother and our house. Though I would be returning less than two days later, we both knew that we were waving goodbye to the past 16 years of our life.
Pulling up Find My Friends, I saw a purple dot for each stage of my life. My father’s dot, centered at our destination in Los Angeles, represented the time I had spent in LA with him over the years since my parents' divorce. The purple dot of my best friend George, centered in Denver, represented my life growing up at home. And of course, the overlapping purple and blue dots of my brother and I as we made our way across the country represented the transition into a new stage, beyond what either of the other dots stood for.
The first day of driving was relaxed and fun. We re-listened to old podcasts, rocked out to music that neither of us would ever be caught dead listening to in public, and had long discussions about life, the universe, and everything. Well, everything with one exception: the topic of Austin leaving was subconsciously off-limits for both of us. We made it as far as Green River, UT on the first day and settled in to a cheap motel for the night. With no WiFi and no functioning television, we decided to watch an episode of The Newsroom through the HBO GO app on our iPhones. We each sat in our own bed, and whenever one of our phones would stop to buffer, we’d call out to the other to pause. Going back-and-forth like that, we eventually finished the hour-long TV show after about two hours. I can’t remember anything about the show itself, but I can still remember the night itself. We finally went to sleep late at night, with several alarms set to begin the morning drive.
The next day was more of the same, at least for the first half. However, as we approached my final destination of Las Vegas, the conversation became more subdued. Long silences were far more common. We arrived in the city far too early for my flight, and after a brief visit to an expensive roller coaster, we decided to sit in a Starbucks for a while. The combination of power outlets, free WiFi, and air conditioning was extremely appealing. At this point, however, we had almost completely stopped talking. Both of us withdrew to our Apple devices for distraction, with only the occasional comment floating from one of us to the other. After we had burned through about an hour, it was time for us to leave the coffee shop for the airport.
We crammed ourselves back into the tightly-packed car, and headed toward the Las Vegas airport. The car pulled up to a nearly-deserted section of the parking area, and Austin and I both climbed out. Me, with my bag sparsely filled with a day’s supplies, and him with nothing but a forced smile. We hugged. And then after exchanging no words that I can remember, I walked away. He re-entered the car and drove off. When his car disappeared from my vision, I pulled out my phone and watched his purple dot continue its western trek, leaving my blue dot sitting still in the airport.
I had never felt so alone.
I sat crying in the terminal for what seemed like hours before my plane left. When I arrived back home, the house was uncharacteristically quiet. The door to my brother’s bedroom was closed. The chair in my room that he typically occupied was empty. And once again, I sat down and cried. I cried for the end of my childhood. I cried for the separation from my confidant and my defender. I cried for Austin.
The next week, when he had found an apartment and moved in, I opened up Find My Friends once again. I tapped his dot, and created a new marker for his current location. I typed “Home” into the box, and confirmed my change. Then, looking at my list of friends, I saw that everyone was home. I realized that “home” really is just a label put on a location, and that despite my sadness, I would move on. My dot would change homes, as would my brother’s, my dad’s, and my best friend’s. But at the end of the day, when I open up the app and I see a collection of purple dots, sparsely strewn across the country in no particular pattern, all I have to do is look down at the list and see the labels. The dots move, but everybody’s home.