I step off the plane and breathe deep. The air just smells like an airport; gasoline and cleaning supplies with a hint of people who haven't showered since before their long flight. But underneath that, it's obvious that I'm not in Germany anymore. It smells like home. Despite the fact that I'm exhausted and my legs are cramped up from the flight, I skip down the jetway and out into the airport. I spin around, trying to take in as much as possible before my parents rush us away to baggage claim. I smell an Auntie Anne's before I see it, and my mouth waters. There's a Houston News stocked with American books and magazines in English. It takes all my willpower not to go in and buy them all.
I catch a few words of various conversations that I can actually understand every word of. I hear familiar accents over the sound of stores and restaurants closing up for the night. The airport is almost empty save for some stragglers heading to baggage claim and those carts zipping past.
I pull my bag through the automatic door that leads outside. This time, the smell of home is intoxicating. I can't see much of Cleveland from the airport sidewalk, but I do see Megan, my babysitter practically since I was a born, waiting with our car to drive us home. And that's enough. All three of my siblings fall asleep in the car, but I stay wide awake, watching the familiar scenery roll by. As we go over the bridge I see downtown Cleveland and grin. I trace the skyline with my finger on the window. The Key Tower is the tallest and most recognizable building. A thick layer of snow covers everything, from the Arby's signs to the bright red fire hydrants. It isn't snowing right now. I would normally wish it was, but this makes it easier to take in my home.
My phone is practically exploding with texts from my friends, wondering when we can hang out. A nice change from my friendless existence in Germany. I moved there six months ago at the start of sixth grade, and it's easily been the most exciting experience of my life. That doesn't mean I'm enjoying it.
I respond to my friends, saying we should go sledding tomorrow, and they agree. I love sledding in Shaker. Even though I'm a huge scaredy-cat and never take on the steeper slopes, it's still an awesome way to spend your day. Plus, my friend Greta lives close to the hills we sled on and her mom always makes us hot chocolate to warm up when we're finished.
I start to recognize the familiar streets of Shaker Heights after we get off the highway, and I'm almost bouncing in my seat. There's the Ben & Jerry's I walk to in the summer. There's the creek on the private school property my siblings and I snuck into once but we fell in the water and had to explain to our parents why we were all wet. There's my street, there's my British neighbors' house, and there's my house! Brick and big and beautiful. Icicles hang from the windows, sparkling as they catch the headlights. When we stop, I jump out and push past my dad after he unlocks the door. I open the garage door, switch on the light, and-my cat's aren't here. I sigh, and shake a can of treats. They come running, and I feed them and pet them and tell them how much I missed them. Even though they probably can't understand me. Whatever.
I switch on my bedroom light and grin. I would usually hate the sight of my pink walls, a product of six-year-old me getting to pick the color of her room, but I love them tonight. I look at all the stuff I left behind when we moved. Rows of fancy dolls I collected throughout my youth, and all of my dance costumes aged 4-10. A paper doll with limbs made from cut up drinking straws on string my friend Jenna made for me in elementary school. "J + H" is written on her stomach in little kid print. I have no clue why I left that here. I guess I didn't want it to get damaged. I fall back onto my bed, which feels comfier than ever, and stare up at my butterfly mobile; one thing I actually don't want to take down, despite the fact I'm eleven. The butterflies never stop moving, a fact that's always intrigued me. They're the last thing I see before my eyes slip shut.