Justin Hutchinson/Getty Images

Justin Hutchinson/Getty Images

Upon first mention of break, you tell your mom how excited you are to see her again. Of course, you can’t wait to hug your younger sister or pet your dog; admittedly, the latter holds more appeal than the former. Dad books the ticket for you – it’s always that way – but you’re still excited to have snagged the last seat on a Saturday morning flight. You will be home before noon, even accounting for the time difference.

A week passes.

Maybe coming home Saturday morning isn’t the best idea. After all, Charter Friday is huge the night before a break starts. What if you sleep through your alarm? And even if you do manage to drag yourself out of bed, you can’t check your hangover as baggage. Instead, the pressure in your head will surpass that of the cabin as the plane creeps towards its 39,000-foot cruising altitude. So you dial your dad at work and tell him the news. He makes sure to express his relief; like any good parent, he noted that this was the third call home in a week, a deviation from the normal two and thought something could have been wrong. He agrees that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t worry about it, he assures, he’ll take care of it. What’s five hours in the scheme of a week, anyway?

It’s that Saturday.

You rub the crust from your eyes and realize that you’re without an immediate death wish: the room is stationary and your feet haven’t departed for their instinctual weekend-morning sprint to the bathroom. But your senses have deceived you one too many times for you to let your guard down just yet. You assume a defensive fetal position and fall asleep for another hour before getting up. One foot in front of the other, this might turn out okay. On any other morning, okay would be great. You could swagger through the dining hall with a knowing smirk, maybe even dish back a fraction of the judgment conferred upon you throughout the rest of the semester.

But today is not any other morning. You were meant to be bed-ridden until at least one-thirty. Your roommate’s polite, albeit disingenuous, concern—shouldn’t you be awake by now?—was to be met with a knowing groan. You were supposed to vomit just once, leaving some of that Freshman Fifteen behind. You didn’t want it to turn out this way, but really you did.

Now what excuse do you have for the cab fifteen minutes away and your bag still unpacked? With all your friends gone, this is going to be a one-man job. You fumble around the room out of courtesy before resigning yourself to the fact that this luggage will not, cannot, be filled with clean clothes—sorry, Mom. You pride yourself in showing at least some restraint and leaving your most pungent articles behind. You let the door lock behind you as you walk out to the cab, hoping you haven’t forgotten anything too important behind. It’ll only be a week, anyway.

The plane takes off. The plane lands.

You’re sweatier from flying than usual, though it’s nothing the holdup at baggage claim can’t account for. Or maybe it’s because the notion of home as some faraway place still unsettles you. Your musings are nevertheless cut short by the sight of your family. Before you know it, your sister wraps herself around your leg as if she were still five. This blatant manifestation of immaturity would normally annoy you, but you’re weirdly okay with it now. Mom starts to pepper you with the routine questions: How have you been? Have you made any new friends recently? Join any new clubs? She means well, and you are relieved to answer freely without one of your roommates listening to the conversation.

The questions continue as you make your way to the car. You’ve become so used to this, however, that your mind wanders. Without the familiar dorm posters to set your eyes on, they take up new targets. The back of your dad’s head is the first to fall under scrutiny. You can’t recall him having so many gray hairs the last time you were home. In fact, you can’t recall ever seeing a gray hair of his (or scrutinizing his head, for that matter). Noting the prolonged silence that has emerged, you apologize for your inattentiveness and ask your mom to repeat her question. Rather than distinguishable words, you only hear her voice—replete with the accent you once had yourself, but that has disappeared since going to college. You question whether you are better off without it for the next five minutes or so while maintaining conversation. Despite these efforts, your deliberations are inconclusive.

The conversation’s tone takes a certain, but nearly imperceptible, turn as you merge onto the highway. Your family’s interest in your college life has faded even more quickly than the campus’ fascination with international students did. How long could you realistically expect to entertain people with the weekly work-drink blur of college, anyway? Now it’s back to the usual: dinner with the neighbors tonight; your sister will be going over her friend’s house; order from someplace nice if you want. Tomorrow’s busy because of work and a meeting; maybe go visit grandma (she misses you, you know). Make sure to get a haircut before you go back.

Take a breath. Your flight leaves Saturday morning—at 10:30, to be exact. Only then will you realize just how long it will be until you can see them again. For now, though, you resolve to binge watch the new season of House of Cards. It’ll be over before you know it.