Every time I come home, I inevitably have to answer the question from someone, what are you running from? And I say all the time, I’m not running from anything, I’d like to think I’m running toward the new. But, if you look at my last decade, you could find enough evidence to prove I should be running from something, but I’ll stand firm always in that I’m not.
But then I come home. I come home and in between the loud and chaotic visits to family, friends, discount stores and seafood huts that sell lobster and clam strips, I begin to find it hard to defend so many things I think I can stand firm on from an ocean away.
I don’t need home.
I don’t miss home.
I have never been absolutely ruined by home.
Home will not swallow me.
Home will not reduce me to a child.
Home will not win.
But it does. It always does.
I ended a night full of family and laughter and food and love the other night with a cigarette on the stairs of the sun porch of my new/old house. I sat alone, in the light of the moon at 3am and I slowly inhaled as I sat quietly and listened, really listened, in silence, for the first time in a very long time. For the first time, I heard the heavy rushing of the mill across the street, and the water soothed me and made me happy to live in such proximity. I saw the faint street lights and I was surrounded by only the sound of rustling leaves and wind blowing against my house and rattling the shutters above me. I could smell the wet and turned leaves, just recently so vibrant, but on their way out, and I closed my eyes, rubbing one small pile within my fingertips, knowing it was the last chance for me AND the leaves, and it was peaceful and sad all at the same time.
I sat quietly, hopeful but defeated. I was back to claim my future, but I was in a place I hadn’t known for twenty years. Twenty years I had been gone, but around every corner, I smelled and relived my childhood, and while it was joyous, it was beyond fucking painful.
I never ran away from anything, but I realized, I avoided coming back.
The sign of the bakery that hung outside my dentist was the place my father took us twice a year to celebrate a lack of cavities, a celebration worthy of whoopie pies and cream filled puffs with flakey crusts that ruined sweaters but caused infectious giggles.
I drove by the electric company my father used to work, the one where the light bulbs hung and swung in the windows at night, the one where the gum ball machine sold salted peanuts and m&ms, where the hallways smelled of men and my father’s office hung a tiny basketball net, a net I never could quite get the ball in.
I drove by the area that once had a tiny dirt road, one 1/10 of a mile from my grandmother’s house, the place we held Thanksgivings, the place next door to my Meme’s house, the place I retreated to when my house was just too much, where I learned to play cards, marbles, the place Pepsi floats never ran dry and oatmeal muffins were always warm and you were put to bed for crying too hard because crying too hard makes you sick and no one likes a child who cries til they’re sick.
I drove to get groceries and passed the store that we bought Slush Puppies from on hot, summer days. Drinks filled with lots of crushed ice and double, triple pumps of raspberry, so pickled, our faces remained sour for the rest of the day. I passed the train tracks where we laid pennies when we couldn’t sleep, because the trains came around the clock and we were too little to understand but if we laid pennies down, it was ok that we never slept because we could race down the hot tracks and find our flattened treasure, tuck it away and go back and try for sleep again.
I saw the florist we used to pass as children, where we’d stop in and trade our change for one rose we never could quite afford, to bring to our mother, who’d light up and smile and behave as though it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. I tasted the clams I’ve waited to eat once a year for ten years, and I unbuttoned my pants and swore at Germany for their lack of produce from the salty waters, promising I’d never return if I could be fed the depths of the sea until the end of time.
I smelled the ocean and closed my eyes and tried not to cry. I watched my children leap in a pile of wet leaves, almost drowning each other in a sea of autumn perfection and only paused to snapshot that moment until the end of time. I came home one night from a long day of adventure, far past bedtime and my son, not yet three said to me, Mommy, can we stay and see the stars? He’s never, ever said that to me across the way, and so I said, yes, of course we can, Sawyer, of course we can.
He looked far up in the sky, put his arms out wide, swung around and around and tripped hard and fell on his back and i gasped. I ran over and expected to cuddle him, bring him inside and tell him it would never happen again.
“Mommy,” he said, without crying.
I held my breath.
“There are just so many stars and I saw them and I fell.”
And my heart broke.
Because no matter how long you’ve been away, no matter how much you’ve endured, no matter what’s in your future, if you take the time to lean back your head, spread your arms, spin round and round and round, you’ll find,
there are just so many stars.
I’m so glad to be home.