I’m going home

I’ve noticed a theme running through my entries of the past few months: I miss my home.

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday, so I called him to chat. At the end of the call, I said something about hoping we could find a way to see each other again, since it’s been four and a half years.

He said, “Actually, Mom and I have been talking about that for about a month and I just double-checked that it was still okay before you called. What do you think about flying up here for a visit soon?”

So sometime in mid-October, they’re going to buy me a plane ticket and I’m going home for a visit. It’s up to me how long I want to stay, whether a couple days or a week; I’m leaning closer toward 5-7 days.

My little family are all really capable but I’m going to miss them intensely. My insane but needy cat that we adopted in December is going to absolutely freak out with me being gone that long. But there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the right thing to do at the right time.

I have to make some transportation arrangements for the kids, including for my middle child, who starts his first job on Monday (which is very exciting!) And I am waiting to see one of my oldest and most loyal friends before she moves to San Diego in about a week. But after that, I’m free to go.

My parents are getting older and can’t travel as well anymore. I can’t physically handle driving two days to get there and two days back anymore like I used to and can’t afford to buy plane tickets. With juggling kids’ school schedules and jobs, even if we had the money for everyone to fly, it would be nearly impossible to coordinate.

My parents were clear that they want it to be restful for me. When I used to visit home when I lived here in the 90s, visits were insane, tightly packed, and rigidly scheduled to see as many people as possible. There was nothing relaxing about it and it definitely did not feel like a vacation.

This visit is more casual. There are no big family gatherings scheduled, in part because I don’t have much family left. I’m going to go visit my grandpa, my last remaining grandparent, who’s in assisted living now and reportedly doing quite well. But with the infrequency of my ability to visit, it will very likely be the last time I see him alive. And it just makes me cry and cry to even think about that — I can’t imagine how I’ll hold it together when I’m there.

My parents said I can take things at my own pace and they’re aware of my need for more sleep, but I can spend time hanging out with them and seeing any of the things that I want to. Of course, I want to get caramel apples fresh from the orchard and a steak sandwich from my favorite mom-and-pop restaurant that’s a local legend. I can get the good crab/cream cheese wontons that I’ve craved ever since I left.

I desperately want to see my parents again, to get lots of time to catch up and talk and hug them and let them know that I finally, finally forgive them and see them with more fairness and objectivity than I ever could before. They already know that stuff and have ever since I was hospitalized last year. But sometimes you just have to reconcile in person.

But to the same degree that I want to just enjoy their company and get lots of hugs and cry, I’m also ready to finally say goodbye to the area where I grew up. My dad said I could borrow his car if I want, and at first I couldn’t think of where I’d want to go.

Then the ideas started to come to me. I want to drive past the house that my husband and I owned there. I know the new owners have had the money to fix it up in ways it needed but we could not afford. (I almost wish I could meet the new owners and apologize, but I have too much shame.) I can also drive by the house I grew up in, which my parents moved away from almost 20 years ago, but it went through a massive house fire a couple years ago and sits vacant, unrepaired.

I want to visit my grandmother’s grave, the woman who was married to my grandpa who’s currently in assisted living. I didn’t get to go home for the funeral and I want to see where she’s buried. I want to sit by her grave and cry about not ever having been close to her. To tell her that I always wished I could have had a relationship with her and that I’m sorry that I always thought she was kinda mean and that I forgive her because I have no idea what she experienced that made her that way.

Circumstances required that when I moved here, it took a lot of boldness and quick action. I was quite literally gone with less than a week’s notice and didn’t know if I’d make it here and stay or be returning home a failure. I didn’t fail, so I spent four lonely months preparing for my husband and kids to join me. But I never saw my home again.

I don’t ever regret that I moved, but it’s only been in the past year that I have begun to mourn that there were any good things that I left behind.

I spent so long insisting the whole place was a shithole and in many ways, it was. It’s always cloudy, which lends it a nearly permanent air of gloom. The town I grew up in is one of the most violent cities in the country. People I went to school with and people I worked with died in gun violence there. It has one of the highest rape rates in the country. More people than I can count have died by suicide there, including some of my friends. Sadly, my greatest association with the area is death, which is probably why I’ve never found horror movies entertaining. I lived it.

My husband spent so much time there unemployed, despite his great skills and experience, and would have been again within two years of the time we moved. Because he recommended his own replacement, he found out from her when the job was permanently gone. (It took her more than six months to find another job after that, which also laid her off within a year.)

There’s no question that life for us there was hard. So hard. We weren’t one of the lucky ones like my sister’s husband to get a 6-figure job at Dow, the one solid employer in the area. The environment where I grew up was heavily contaminated (by Dow) and that likely played a major contributing role in my MS. There were so many valid reasons for me to have a grudge against the whole damn place.

When I left, it was with an attitude toward the town like “fuck you, good riddance.” And it took me almost four years before I could even say anything good at all about the entire state, let alone the city itself.

What I have learned about many other things is that anger often covers up really deep pain, at least for me. And I finally figured out that my intense anger at my hometown was actually a deep hurt about how powerless I felt when we were there. I felt constant, crushing disappointment about how we could never seem to get ahead.

We were wasting the most productive years of our careers, languishing in a place where you were likely to eventually get laid off, no matter how good you were at your job. You might be unemployed for nearly a year, like my husband was once. If you lose one job, chances are good that your next one will pay a lot less and be a step down.

Good luck getting promoted anywhere because every other employee has also worked there forever and is at least as qualified as you, and they’re waiting for the same non-existent better job to come available. Employers always had the upper hand and there was nothing you could do about it, because where else would you go?

I went back to finish my university degree but it didn’t matter that I graduated magna cum laude, because it took seven months after graduation just to get hired part-time at Starbucks. Having previously lived in a place with a better economy, it was just brutal and painful to keep getting kicked in the teeth, over and over, no matter what we tried to do to better ourselves.

But now I’m safe, far enough away in time and circumstances that I’m not mad anymore. I’m actually really sad, like can’t stop crying sad. Nothing was like I wanted it to be, from my extended family relationships to my house that I couldn’t afford to fix after a basement flood to the utter devastation to our careers. And no matter what we tried to fix it, nothing ever worked except leaving.

If that’s not sad, I don’t know what is.

So on the one hand, going home will be a much-desired chance to visit my parents again. I love them as people. I got so many great traits and qualities from them. It will be healing to go see people who know all about me and still love me anyway. And to let them know how much I love them, too.

But on the other hand, I realize that it will also likely be a combination ghost tour and farewell. I will give all my grudges and pain a proper burial. I think the whole trip is going to be pretty emotional.

After I talked to my dad, my husband and I went to Target together. I told him I’ve heard that they’ve built a lot of new things in our old hometown, and I asked him what we would do if there were enough good new things that it made me want to live there again, because that’s one of my biggest fears. His kind but practical answer was that he still wouldn’t be able to get a job there, while he’s constantly being contacted by recruiters here. There’s no question that this is where he needs to be.

And I’ve begun to realize in the past year or so that I’m also okay if his career eventually takes him somewhere else. I actually hope it does because I’ve finally broken both my strong aversion to my home and equally strong attachment to being here. My husband and my children are my true home, not any geographical place. We had to be here now; I have absolutely no doubt about that.

Maybe my middle son will succeed in his goal of moving out of the U.S. and building a bridge for us to follow. Maybe my husband will get a job offer or transfer somewhere else that’s not even on our radar now, but we’ll clearly recognize it as right. Or we could end up staying here. All I know is that I am open to seeing where God leads me and I will follow, just as I did when I came down here 4.5 years ago.

As I break all these chains that have held me back for so many years, I suddenly feel so free. There’s an element of sadness to that newfound freedom too, the same way there’s a little bit of pain when you peel off a scab to reveal healing skin underneath.

I’m finally ready to go home and make peace, once and for all.

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