In August, I visited home. My husband and I stopped there as a half-way point in our move (more on that later) and got to spend some time celebrating our wedding with family and friends who were unable to travel to Philly in May. My week and a half was split pretty evenly between goofing around with my sister, having heart attacks every time my year-and-a-half old cousin stood on chairs, and eating a lot of cake (no really, a lot.). I've noticed more and more since I left for university five years ago that home has a bizarre way of feeling exactly the same and completely different every time I go back.
There is something strange about going home. Not that it is bad, but many memories lie around waiting to be recalled. Going down one street throws me back into 8th grade: the sharp crunch of cheddar pretzels at a sleepover; the feel of a cool handful of quarters ready to be spent at one of the only restaurants in town on a school institute day; boys narrowly missing telephone poles and skirting around trees on their bikes; hot Summer afternoons balancing across the curb at the car wash; the tickle of overgrown grass around my ankles; the corn growing high above my head; a cloudless azure sky; a red car I'll never see again.
I know my town and the surrounding land like the back of my hand. I don't know how many times I've crossed a particular bridge and I find myself almost wishing I'd kept count on early mornings to work, on afternoons from school or very near curfew with my best friend. Then, as familiar as so many things are, differences stick out like a slap in the face. Something as ridiculously simple and mundane as a new gas station remind me that I've been gone, that though I have some claim on this space, I can't really hold on to it forever.
One night, my friend S and I talked about the past, present and future: our old friends, my current (likely baseless) anxieties, her baby due to arrive around Christmas. As we sat talking over coffees (decaf, in her case), I was hit with the thought that we've been friends now for ten years. I thought about how much has changed and how much has happened in that decade. We've had some serious late night conversations, we've sung and played music together, we've both gotten married, we've celebrated two of her pregnancy announcements. She was the first person I told about my eating disorder and she was the first person I turned to when a friend died. I then shook the thoughts from my head, hugged her goodbye, and went back home.
The best spot in my parents' house is a chair at the dining room table. Some of my favorite moments the previous year were the early mornings when I would make a cup of tea and watch the sun rise. Sunlight would slowly stream through the woods out back and the dew-covered lawn would be cloaked in a golden sheen. (Or, if I was lucky, a storm would wake me up. Heavy rain drops would patter on "my side" of the house, which had been added on later, and had a less soundproof roof.) It wasn't uncommon to see squirrels chasing each other up the walnut tree, a pair of rabbits wandering around, or a neighbor's cat go lunging at either of the former. The usual sounds at that time were chattering birds, the clunk of my mug against the table, and the scrape of the chair when I went on with my day.
Last month I spent more time there than anywhere. I filled favor bags and piped macarons for the reception, played games with the family, ate the most horridly flavored jelly beans in the world (and laughed hard when other people got worse ones), found out that I'm a competitive Jenga player, had the best fried chicken in the Illinois Valley (though, that's a popular point of contention), and managed a few solitary tea-fueled musings, too. I don't know exactly what it is about this spot that makes me feel most at home. I imagine that others have more atypical spots, but this is mine.
The thing that isn't strange about home is how it feels to leave.
I've left anxious to meet with friends, nervous for university, and excited to reunite on trips to visit C, but always with a sense that I'm leaving behind not only a part of myself, but the best parts of myself, my family. As sickeningly cliche as it is to say, they ground me (literally: I was grounded as punishment far into my teenage years). They remind me that as much as I'm eager to travel, to move, to change, and to find new things to interest me, there will always be a part of me that longs, too, for a stronghold. As much as I've talked about escaping that trap of a town, there will always be a part of me that thinks of that trap as a blessing. I think I've taken for granted my upbringing. I've taken for granted that I got to grow up in a place that was fairly safe with people who encouraged me to be the best person I could be. I've taken for granted the winding country roads, the new music flowing from car speakers, the friendships I developed, the reassurance I received at every new step in my life, and the beauty that only comes from harsh experiences of pain. This is what growing up is.
Looking back, I can only appreciate how lucky I was and how lucky I am that the idea of "home" isn't something that scares or irritates me, but something that makes me grateful. Not everyone has that luxury. Going home makes me happy I have a place to call home. Now that I'm married and moved away, however, I have a new home to find. But that's another post.