A view of a sunset above a car dashboard with The Front Bottoms’s “Going Grey” album cover on the phone music player.
Design by Reid Graham.

After a complicated freshman year of virtual college, and a slightly less complicated sophomore year, I’ve found myself intrigued by the unique nostalgia folk punk band The Front Bottoms gives me, especially their song “Vacation Town.” I killed time and relieved stress in quarantine by going on drives and chasing the sunset while listening to The Front Bottoms’s hits and oldest songs — ballads of banal, yet painful, parts of life told via powerful, poetic lines in simple diction over somber guitar. 

But “Vacation Town” isn’t one of those songs. Its energy and blend of orchestral and pop elements are much more upbeat than the releases that defined The Front Bottoms, though their characteristic melancholy remains. The premise is a bit simpler, with the narrator comparing the feeling of being on vacation to the feeling of being with someone and missing both. However, it still captures my feelings of moving out and not needing to cope with home on those drives, while retaining an odd nostalgia for that dark period. My life plays back to me through its lyrics.

I want to be that comfortable place where you write and read 

I know home isn’t really a place, it’s a feeling, or it’s people, or it’s something I’m having trouble finding right now. I’ve caught myself referring to my apartment as my home, and the house I grew up in as my parents’. Still, I sometimes feel homesick in my apartment bedroom, which coming back to my hometown doesn’t cure. Things change every time I come back: The kitchenware’s a little more rusted, the fridge is arranged a little differently, my family ages a little more without me. The bedroom I learned my hardest lessons in looks almost exactly how I left it over a year ago; I can barely stand to be in it except to collapse in my bed, and I’m not exactly sure how that happened. It was once so comfortable to me, especially during COVID-19.

At first, I was able to comfortably pass time by consuming and constructing prose — reading books both old and new and writing as much as I possibly could. I rekindled that hunger for reading that dominated my spare time in elementary school. At one point, I began to challenge myself to write at least one page of something every day. When I finished, I’d print out the page and tape it to my wall. I wanted tangible evidence that I was doing something with my time, physical proof of my time spent in my bedroom, like the stacks of books on my nightstand or the small epiphanies I’d scrawl on my whiteboard at night. Now, of course, I try to write and read as much as I can in my apartment bedroom. My unfinished book series gathers dust on the desk of my home bedroom. The tape on the wall is weathering, and the inked madness of a sleep-deprived teenager fades.

Watch TV, or deeply breathe

Eventually, writing and reading couldn’t consume my attention enough. I delved into rewatching my favorite TV shows and starting new, sadder ones. I’d play them in the background while cleaning my house, cooking and eating. When I got to relax, I’d play video games to keep the overstimulation going. When my therapist recommended meditation, it seemed like coping with being stuck at home would be all-or-nothing. My attention would be held most of the day by these shows in the background, and for just five minutes daily, I would try to stop. I’d sit on my bedroom’s hardwood floor with the external silence and try to quiet the internal noise. When I closed my eyes for the first time, all I could see were frames of the shows I’d been watching on loop as I tried to steady my breathing. I return to overstimulating in my apartment bedroom every once in a while when things get tough. I haven’t attempted meditating for a while.

Back to back, you and me feel trapped 

The growing need to overstimulate proved to me that if I couldn’t get out of my own head, I needed to get out of my house. Whether it was walks, biking or driving, I started keeping myself on the move as often as possible. Of course, I found myself needing to listen to something, so I’d cycle through podcasts and playlists, trying to block out the noise. By winter, my excursions would be limited to the end of the day when I headed out to get the best view of the sunset as I could. The Front Bottoms would accompany me, as I’d play the same older tracks almost daily, skipping their newer, happier, pop-infused songs. Those hours I spent driving — scream-singing and sobbing while speeding toward the sunset — were the only times I felt genuinely free. When I was homesick and carless at college, I’d listen to those same tracks in my apartment bedroom. Each pluck of the guitar string pulled me back to that state of mind. It was so odd to be nostalgic for the worst period of my life.

Never defend, only attack

I needed those drives to stay sane. Some days I felt like a caged animal, lashing out at the hands that fed me, raised me and kept me company in quarantine. Looking back, there was a contradiction in the person I was becoming. I had resolved to work on accepting myself while alone, but I don’t think the conditions were bettering me. Part of me still can’t stand the person I became in quarantine. Part of me is still working on loving that person.

I miss the hours in the morning // And you in the morning hours

Mornings always feel blissful for a second, like anything is possible when the day starts. Waking up in my family’s house, my best friends’ couches, futons or floors or getting up with my girlfriend feel like the most comfortable places on Earth. Maybe there’s home in those blissful moments. Maybe there’s home in those blissful people. Maybe that’s why I felt the need to escape my house so badly, to be near those moments of home. I often sleep past the sunrise, so I drive toward the beauty of sunsets. When I’m away from those blissful people, I need to find home by myself.

I miss walking, naked // Through the backyard to get to the outdoor shower

I guess that’s why people need vacations, right? The house starts to feel cramped, so you make a home somewhere else for a little while. As soon as I could after quarantine, I took a week-long camping trip with my friends away from our hometown. Camping wasn’t foreign to me, but the roughing it, the independence and the outdoor showers felt different. Something had changed between vacations, something that I couldn’t escape no matter how far from home I went.

I miss the way things used to be // I miss the way things used to be

I can’t ever go home, can I? At least, what I’ve been really missing isn’t superficial things like how my room used to be arranged or how many books I could read, but how those things felt to me. How my loved ones felt to me. No matter how much I miss it, I can’t ever return to being picked up from an after-school program and sitting in the backseat, staring in awe at the Scholastic book-order sheet while my dad asks me how my day was as we drive home with the sunset behind us. I have to be okay with that, and I will be. The fact that I miss home so much shows how much I loved it. I miss the person I used to be, and the people my loved ones once were, but parts of us are still there. I’m in the driver’s seat now. I’ve chosen the music, and I’ll get us where we need to be.

It’s okay no one’s around // I’m offseason 

Home is in my nostalgic past. Home is my loved ones. Home is any space I’ve poured my love into. So what’s the common thread? Is it just when and who and what I’ve loved? Then why do I feel homesick for the period I never loved? The version of myself I couldn’t love? Maybe the lights of those sunsets leave bright spots in my darkest memories. Maybe the persistence of a part of me that did what he had to do to survive shines through to me, something that I can love him for. Or maybe if you spend enough time in misery, it feels as if it’s trapped you in its home — it’s the only thing that’s meaningful, the only thing that’s worth listening to — like the same sad songs by a band played on loop. Of course, there’s still value in that feeling, of allowing yourself to feel those darker things. You mourn what’s been lost long enough, and you can forgive yourself, lest you lose yourself, too. You can allow yourself to be happier and allow the band that you grieved with to play those happier songs, too. So in those moments I’m not “home?” If I’m okay with being with myself, I can be at home in my own arms. I can be relaxed and at home all at the same time. Anywhere can be home. Anywhere can be 

Vacation town

Daily Arts Writer Saarthak Johri can be reached at sjohri@umich.edu.