Monday, March 8, 2010

You Can't Go Home Again

There's that old saying that somebody said... one of those things "people" say. God only knows WHAT people or why they started saying it, and they're all overused, but inevitably true in some way (or else nobody would say them). Anyway, they say you can't go home again. When I was twelve years old and my baby brother was born, my father (bless his heart) arranged things so that I had the option of moving out of the house and into a trailer located somewhere in the chaos of our "orchard". The orchard is really just a big yard down the hill from our house, filled with the detritus of my parents' abandoned plans, the centerpiece of which is a big old hollowed out schoolbus which my father uses as his little fortress. In a house with four, then five, then four again girls and only one man, my poor dad needed an escape.
Now that it was to be two to four, however, it seemed that I would be the one re-located to the orchard. At first I loved the plan. My own little space, no one telling me what to do, nobody to boss me around. I'd still go up to the house to eat and use the bathroom, but this trailer would be my space.
Then I started thinking about it.
No more late nights with my little sisters. No more bored afternoons, doing chores and getting in Mom's hair. Independence meant isolation. Plus, what would I do if I had to pee in the middle of the night?? That was one long walk to make in the middle of the night, in the dark, all by my over-imaginative self! My dad's enthusiastic plans were beginning to bother me.
I've come across this phenomena many times with my dad. He's not a teacher. He's a do-er, and you should be, too. My father, loving and funny and great at buying junk food, has little patience for fear or doubt or ignorance. And most of the time, he's been pushing me towards things I want. Which is why it confused me so much that I got so annoyed at his insistence that I stop edging my toes into the water and just jump.
Here's two fun facts about Emily:
1. I'm not a jumper. On rare, exuberant occasions, I will plunge headfirst into the fray. But as a matter of who I am, I like to be informed, accustomed, and SURE.
2. I am fundamentally, essentially, and deeply insecure. You know those studies that say babies like to be wrapped up super tight, or else they jerk and flail all over the place because even in their sleep, they're so terrified of their new world? Yeah. That's me. I want to be reminded, like, daily, that people love me and think I'm awesome. Possibly oftener. It's probably something that I'll end up on a shrink's couch talking about, someday when I can afford a shrink.
So basically, I wanted to move out. But I did NOT want my dad to want it. Maybe I just like having something to fight about- that's sure how it felt to my parents when I was pubescent, I know. I think, though, that I'm like a bungee jumper- I need to triple-check those cables before I jump. I don't believe that I have wings. I need the ropes, the bounce-back-to-me bondage that is love.
And three years later, I left for boarding school anyway.
When you're an obnoxious teenager, awkward and zitty and you KNOW you drive everybody nuts because even you can't deny that you're kind of a pain, a lot of hostility gets aimed at your parents. After all, YOU didn't ask for them to.... AACK! EWW! Exactly. It's not YOUR fault that you're stuck here on this sucky planet. And the parents aren't too thrilled, either- their crayon-coloring, ballet-dancing princess is suddenly this snarling, sobbing thing with BREASTS. It's a bad time all around. The wounds inflicted on both sides can, I believe, take years to heal.
But I was away for more than half of my teen years. Most of those fights never happened. I respected my parents. In fact, they became the heroes- the food-bringing, car-driving, weekend heroes. The teachers and deans were the iron fisted parents, enforcing dress code and curfew, and the parents were the fun aunt and uncle who send money. So after graduation, I was pretty happy with the idea of going back to live with the fun aunt and uncle, going to community college.
Rude shock.
While I was away at school, making friends and developing a personality, my fifteen year old self had been hidden away under my bed. When I got home, we had a mad wrestle for who got to control me- College Emily or Puberty Emily. It wasn't a battle that was ever really won. Meanwhile, my parents seemed to be undergoing a similar struggle- were they Mom and Dad, or Fun, Nice Aunt Mom and Uncle Dad? It was a messy exercise in not knowing how to relate. It was a little like the stage most people reach around 25. Somehow, during the time apart, I became, like... a PERSON. At home, I didn't want to be treated like a child. But I also didn't really want to be treated like an adult, expected to pay rent and drive my brother around.
Add to that the fact that I have no friends at home, and couldn't find a job, and you have one seriously unhappy young adult skulking about the house, losing not only her muscle tone but also all vestiges of her personality.
So I spent two miserable years trying to make that work, finally gave up and transferred, and now I'm away at school again. Things are so much better. I actually make contact with people my age, and I've lost some of my resemblance to a very large marshmallow. (Now I'm just a large, slightly toasted marshmallow.) I'm not really afraid of leaving the nest anymore- I'm way more scared of staying there. The thing is, the reason you can't go home again is because it isn't 1997. My mom doesn't bake cookies anymore, my sisters don't color (well, not often) and the world doesn't revolve around my little house. I'm not eight, I don't believe in fairies, and I'm not a lonely dreamer wandering in and out of books. Home isn't the same, and neither am I. Going back seems like everybody's trying too hard to make things what they used to be, or be too different, and nothing lines up right.
Some things never change. My mom will still give me a look if I eat more than one popsicle, our house still has ugly carpet and a distinct smell that's one part paint, one part soup, and two parts sweaty carpet, and the sun still wanders lazily through the leaves of the apple tree on a hot summer day. But some things have changed. There's a fence up now, the garden is bigger, and the orchard is a lot less messy. This is still the house where I grew up, where I learned to read and cook and dream. I will always love this house, because it represents my family. But I don't fit there like I used to. The shape of my room has shifted, and I've changed, too. We're growing in opposite directions now, my house more a pond and me more a bird than ever before. Well. A bird with bungee-cords. Still not trusting my own wings, but ready to launch into space as long as that love's there to bounce me back.

1 comment:

  1. Profound, deep and touching, Emily - Bravo!