I recently had a talk with my mother about the things parents never tell their children because they want their children to be better than themselves, but are true, nonetheless. An example, the vast majority of romantic relationships start with physical attraction, and the ones that don't, start with something equally as shallow. She agreed that that is true and you do not tell your children that. For some reason, this past year has been full of realizations like that for me. One thing my mother never taught me or talked to me about was what it's like when you leave home. I don't mean when you leave your mother's house, but when you leave home, the city, the state, and all of your loved ones behind. My mother never told me about it because she never did it.
It seems like once many people hit their mid-thirties, they do not have a cadre of friends back home that they really talk to on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I do, and we did not reunite through Facebook, we never stopped talking. So, I have a fair amount of friends who I know well who never left home. When I go home, not only do I have family, but I also have close friends who have become my family, waiting for me. Although that sounds wonderful and beautiful, it doesn't quite pan out that way.
I didn't move far away from home to the big city by force. I was super excited about it and ready. When I got here, I wasn't afraid of getting mugged, or getting lost, or the general hustle and bustle of it all. I felt like I was where I supposed to be. This place seemed made for me! Now, I will admit, I didn't know how to get around well for quite some time. My internal map had the neighborhoods all mixed up, but whenever I was given a chance to correct this - usually on foot, it turned into an awesome adventure. I also met a lot of new people, which is always fun at first ... it seems like I always have to meet a handful of crazies before I settle on some goodies. Happily, I did find quite a few goodies and I now have friends that I will have forever after. Besides living in a great city with great friends, there's also the fact that I'm gainfully (well sorta) employed and I love my apartment. Had I stayed home, I might have gotten much more space for much less cost, but gainful employment would be in question, so...
As time passes, you acquire two homes, the one where you live and the one where your heart lives - with your mother, sister, nephew, family and oldest friends. And it's so exciting, every time it's time to go home. I can't wait! I can't wait to see everybody, to go back to old and new haunts, and to eat lots of food (home is so good for that!). But there's another side to it. Every time you go back, you feel as though you've been gone too long. You feel as though you belong a little less. You feel as though your heart is being given back to you piece by piece.
The last time I went home, it was for my grandmother's funeral. I'll get to that in a bit. My cousin passed about 5 1/2 years ago now, and at his funeral I cried uncontrollably. This sounds normal, but I rarely cry, let alone uncontrollably, in front of anybody else, so I was even surprised by how much the tears poured and my body heaved. My cousin's step dad (his mom and the guy were married for a few years about 35 years ago, and he is the father of my cousin's younger brother), spoke at one point. He looked at us on the front row, all crying, me clutching onto my surviving cousin with all my might, and as he spoke of our grief, he named us off one by one. When he got to me, I was my cousin's "companion." I barely recognized this man, so I'm not surprised he didn't recognize me (or remember my existence, for that matter), but it's something you never forget. At my grandmother's funeral, everybody knew my name, and quite a few of my close friends, their parents, and even some old teachers showed up. I went around the room hugging and kissing folks for 10 minutes before I could even join my family in the front of the room. The thing is, I didn't actually join them. I didn't ride in the car to the funeral home with them because my sister told me it wasn't a big deal and didn't want me to be hassled since we were all coming from different directions. So, when I got to the front of the room to join my family I was seated on the second row. In the first row were my grandfather, mother, sister, aunt, and some woman I didn't even recognize. Surely, she was a good friend of my aunt, but I didn't even recognize her. She was on the first row, and I was not. I was confused, and internally fuming, but then there was all the uncontrollable crying, so it didn't seem to matter so much - at the time.
But, to be honest, I feel completely betrayed by that. I feel betrayed by the fact that my sister had to get up and leave her seat to come to the second row to console me, the forgotten prodigal daughter. I appreciate that my cousin's husband put his arm around me and let me sob on him, even though I don't know his name, because I don't live at home. As much as I will resent that day, probably until I die (I'll pray about it), I understand that that's what happens when you leave home. When you're not there, you miss things and people forget you. Then people die, and soon, there's nothing to go home to.
The great thing about going home is that everyone is extremely happy to see you. They hug you, kiss you, cook for you, stuff bills into your hands, they really love you. And it's great, but then you have this nagging feeling that if you were there all the time, the love would be lost. Not that I doubt my family and friends' love for me. I don't at all, but we don't know what we miss until it's gone. Although the fanfare can be great, it can also be a stinging reminder of the fact that when you become a celebrity to your family, you've also become a stranger, if only a little bit.
When I first came here, I would watch The Wiz from time to time. I love that movie. I don't always watch the whole thing, but if you have the version of the DVD that I have, you know that each scene begins with a song, so you can hit the "next" button and hear all of the great songs without worrying about the plot. After Dorothy leaves Miss One and the Munchkins, she gets lost on her way to the yellow brick road, and begins to sing, of course. There's a line that she tearfully sings that for many watchings of the movie I tearfully sang along with her: "I don't want to be afraid, I just don't want to be here. I wish I was home." That was when I was having a hard time in graduate school or just feeling lonely and missing my family. As time goes on, I put the movie on and sing just as tearfully, but not because I am particularly missing my family. Now, my definition of home has changed. Now, I am missing something, but it is something I have yet to find. Now, I understand that when we become adults, we create our own homes. It doesn't mean that we love and miss our family and friends any less, it just means that we understand that our presence with them is only and forever will be temporary. We all know that a temporary home may be wonderful and just what we need when we need it, but in the end, it's not home. So, now, I search for my home. I don't know if it's in a person I have yet to meet or the people I've already found. I don't know if it's in a career or voluntary work. I don't know if it's already inside of me just waiting to be discovered. What I do know, is that while I have left home, I can find comfort in the knowledge that even if I'm not quite sure where I'm going, I am finally finding myself and coming home.