I have a fear of going home.
This has been happening since the day I drove away from Kalamazoo in the very early morning at age 19, but as the years have gone by, the reasons have changed.
At first I simply didn’t know how to put a voice to the discomfort I felt at having to smile and act normal while everyone danced around our family’s own personal elephant in the room – my child molesting step-father, who my mother was (and is) still married to. Everyone knew and had their own process for denial, which was easy when I wasn’t around. But my grandma didn’t know, and according to my mother it was important that she didn’t find out – the news might have killed her.
Once I discovered therapy and realized I didn’t have to play this role anymore, I refused to interact with my step-dad, and so we had family gatherings at which he was always conveniently absent. The small talk among those present was strained and repetitive. I dreaded these gatherings just as much as the latter – you can remove the elephant but his shadow will still be there, bigger than ever.
Finally I had an opportunity to visit home without seeing my family. I went back for a camp reunion, and to simultaneously spend time with one of my oldest friends who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. I only had a few days, and spent every minute of it with him and our circle of friends. It was the best, most relaxing, funniest trip home I’d ever taken.
On my last night in town we all stayed up late playing a game, which I always forget I love and am good at until someone forces me to play. We drank too much and I laughed until I cried. Desperate for distraction from the fact that I was leaving in a few hours, I begged my first love to have sex with me. I’d always been faithful to my husband and had never considered cheating before, regardless of how distanced we were, but I felt crushed by the idea of returning to him. Thankfully, my first love said no. He did stay up talking with me however, long after everyone else had turned in, and only nodded off moments before my dad pulled into the driveway at 4am.
On the way to the airport, I sobbed for my sick friend, and for my sick marriage. I asked my dad how anything ever managed to work? To just work? He patted my arm and said that he didn’t know.
When I returned to my ‘normal’ life, I became very depressed. I said to my husband “I have no idea where I went. I used to be a completely different person. Where am I?” and I said “I am so unhappy.” It was the first time these words had ever been spoken, by me. Perhaps the first honest and mutual moment I’d ever felt in our marriage.
I took several more family-free trips home, to visit with just my friends. Each time I felt alive again, like I was renewed and whole, the complete me again. And each time I left them I flailed around trying to hang on to that person, the one I only seemed capable of being when I was home, with my oldest friends. I continued to question where this other side of me had gone.
I divorced and reclaimed a lot of myself – I started a couple of blogs and began journaling again, after a decade of only the most mediocre attempts at writing. I made a point to say whatever inappropriate thing I wanted to, without worrying that someone’s lack of a sense of humor would earn me a scolding. People started telling me how much I made them laugh, after being told repeatedly, for years, that I ‘wasn’t really funny’. I learned the delights of self-deprecation, instead of letting someone convince me I should mope and feel sorry for myself. But I never got quite all of myself back, and I wondered if it would ever return.
Now I long to go back home to see the people who know me best, to sit with them and laugh until my side splits and I feel lightheaded. I want to sit out back and watch my kids play with their kids, just like we played when we were their age. My excuse is that a plane ticket (or 3) is far beyond my reach, and that is true. But another truth is that going to my old home means eventually – always too soon – coming back to what is now my actual home, and to the person that I, without fail, fall back into being here. These days that’s not such a dreadful person to be, to be fair. But, that person is still not me, completely.