Going Home

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Sometimes going home is wonderful. Other times, not so much.

When we move away from homes, particularly the places where our family still lives, “going home” is billed as a vacation. A holiday of sorts. We take time off from work; time off from our new normal lives.

Going home means staying with family, visiting favorite haunts, seeing old friends.

The expectation of going home is that all will be as it once was when we were young and sheltered in that place. We will be safe, we will be fed, we will be comfortable, we will feel loved. Even if that wasn’t our experience as kids, it is still always our hope. Every trip home is filled with expectation and hope.

We hope for a special kind of time when we go home, a time different from the ordinary. Going home is a break from our adult lives, a return to something simpler, when the world wasn’t so complicated. This is why so many of our trips home happen around holidays – we are forever trying to replicate the magic of our childhood or create a homecoming worthy of our longing.

Regardless of when or why we return home, if our visit is good, home burrows deeper into our hearts and psyches.

If, instead, our visit is difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable – if going home doesn’t meet our expectations or hopes – the home we’ve returned to loosens its grip. Disappointment leads to disconnection.

***

I’m allergic to cats. Really allergic. “I can’t breathe” allergic. And, for many years, going home meant encountering cats. Not being able to breathe went hand in hand with seeing my family. (Actually, I’ve never thought of it quite like that before and it’s quite a metaphor.) Not surprisingly, this deeply impacted my feelings about going home. Yes, I wanted to see my family but, without a comfortable place to stay, it just wasn’t that fun. At times it was downright miserable. I have unshakable memories of dramatic tears and frustration. While I loved my family, I returned home mostly out of obligation.

And then I began staying with friends. Friends whom I have known for decades, friends with whom I have a long history. These are friends that are also friends with my siblings, whose parents had known my parents, whose children I watched grow up. These friends are family. My extended family. My family of the heart.

Staying with them changed everything. Now, going home means I can sleep and breathe comfortably, allowing me to better enjoy my siblings. Here we gather for dinner and games, conversations and laughter, with all of us together. As a bonus, it even includes freshly-baked brownies and crepes on Saturday mornings. At the Heinzke house, we share a common thread, we share stories, we share history. This house shelters us all. When I go home to Chicago, this is where I go.

***

I loved living in Idaho for fourteen years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere as an adult. I owned a home there, which I adored. I recuperated there, after many arduous years living in big cities and working in HIV. I healed some deep old sorrows, soaking in the sunshine, mountains, and rivers unique yet reminiscent of earlier favorite places. I recreated myself in significant ways. And, finally, after so many years of longing, I I adopted fur-babies: dogs that meant the world to me.

But I never fit into the community. Now that’s an odd thing to say but the Wood River Valley can be a small and cliquey place. I didn’t act or dress like other transplants, those who had moved there decades ago to enjoy outdoor recreation, or those who had money. I was always an anomaly, an outsider.

Yet I have friends there that I love deeply. These are friends whom I’m sure would do anything for me. But our friendship is not rooted to this place. We would be friends anywhere. In other words, returning to this area of Idaho would be “visiting” to spend time with them. I “fit” with them, but our friendships alone cannot over-ride the experience of not fitting into this valley. With one exception: one friend, one family, makes Idaho home for me, even years after moving away.

The Walker-Bergins have been here for generations. This family is part of the community’s history. While I didn’t wed into this family, I came close. The bond is unbreakable. Years of love, of cohabitating, co-custody of dogs, shared holidays, and more. The matriarch now gone, once a friend and as dear as my god-mother, the family home remains. The home where six children were raised. It is here that I stay. Here where I find small tokens of my contributions. I have woven myself into their history and they have woven themselves into mine.     

I returned home – to this place, to this family - on Memorial Day, in time to help create lilac arrangements for twenty family graves. After sixteen years, the last few visits seem to have cemented my inclusion as I keep coming back despite having moved across the country.  Here I belong, here I am accepted, here I fit in. This is home.

***

“Home is where the heart is,” - so the saying goes.  But this sentiment doesn’t ring entirely true for me. My heart is with all the people I love. While it’s true that I feel at home with each of them, that’s not the same thing as being home, going home, returning home. Yes, home is inside of us. And, home is also a place.

Home is the places where we have history, where we made - and continue to make - good memories; where we laugh and play, where we fit in.

Home is the people that reside in these places. Home is family, regardless of whether they’re kin.

**

Last month, I went home to Chicago. Last week, I came home to Idaho. Tomorrow, I go home to Tulsa.

Each going home is filled with expectation and hope. If our visit is good, home burrows further into our hearts and psyches. And if it is not, home loosens its grip.

I’m lucky. These homes are not my original homes but they are my homes nonetheless. These homes are a part of me. Going home, for me, is a good thing.


What about you? Where do you go home to?