Where Do You Go When You Can't Go Home
When I was young and living 2200 miles away from my family, I always thought that if worse came to worse, I could go home.
My father, in fact, told me as much. “If it doesn’t work out,” he said, “I’ll send you a bus ticket.” A bus ticket? “Yes,” he said. “It will give you time to think. And plane fare is too expensive.”
But it did work out. I moved to San Francisco at age 18, alone, with only two suitcases. I attended City College and worked three jobs to pay rent while living with one or two or more roommates. Then I moved again. And again. I moved for relationships, I moved for school. I moved to escape and I moved to create. I moved to discover.
Friends said I was courageous. It didn’t feel that way to me. I merely felt compelled. Something kept calling me forward. Perhaps it was more emotional than rational. But it was always with the conviction that if worse came to worse, if it didn’t work out, if I failed miserably, I could always go home. To my father. And after he died, to my mother. Even in the last years of her life when she lived in senior housing, when there was clearly no place for me to crash, I still clung to this belief. And then, she, too, was gone. But I have a sister and a brother and even a stepmom. If the very worse happened, surely one of them would take me in, give me shelter, and feed me. Just until I could regroup, get a new job, and start over.
Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in. *
This no longer feels true. Home, as I had always thought of it, no longer exists. My parents are gone and the three family members who remain have no room for me. They love me, certainly, and I love them, and we talk on the phone. But visits are hard to come by, we each have our lives.
Let’s be honest: many marry for this very reason. And it’s a good reason. We all want a home to go back to. A people and place that are waiting for us.
The only thing that pulled me out of a terrible depression a few years ago was recognizing that while I no longer have a home to return to—the home I thought I once had, the home we all dream of, the home of feel-good movies—I do have a few very dear friends who would take me in. If worse came to worse. No questions asked. And that has made all the difference.
But some of us don’t have that.
So what do we do when we can’t go home?
If worse came to worse, where would you go?
Who are the people who would take you in? Who are your homies?
Next week is Thanksgiving. I tend to struggle with this holiday a bit. (If you’re interested, you can read last year’s post here.) This year, Mazie and I will be in Idaho with my adopted family. And this year, I’m thinking about the day a bit differently. I’m not sure how to articulate these thoughts yet, so I leave it at this:
Thank you. I am grateful for you. For each and every one of you reading. And for so many who are not. For everyone whose life I have touched, even when I didn’t realize it, when I was too self-absorbed in thinking I didn’t matter, thank you. You give my life meaning.
BACK HOME by Louis Jenkins
The place I lived as a child, the sharecropper’s farmhouse with its wind-bent mulberry trees and rusted farm machinery has completely vanished. Now there’s nothing but plowed fields for miles in any direction. When I asked around in town no one remembered the family. No way to verify my story. In fact, there’s no evidence that any of what I remember actually happened, or that the people I knew ever existed. There was my uncle Axel, for instance, who spent most of his life moving from one job to another, trying to “find himself.” He should have saved himself the trouble. I moved away from there a long time ago, when I was a young man, and came to the cold spruce forests of the north. The place I thought I was going is imaginary, yet I have lived here most of my life.
(from The Winter Road, Holy Cow Press, 2000)
* “Home is the place where…” by Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man
Will I see you when you visit Idaho? Have a house in Hailey now.
Beautiful, Jan. I haven't really had a place to land since my mother died in the very early 90's. I dream of my family home often, though...
Have a lovely Thanksgiving!