Why I keep coming home
Coming home is like coming to a waterhole. You are thirsty, and it is the only waterhole you know. You might get killed by an alligator or lions, but you still go. It is the only waterhole you know… and you are thirty.
I am in the window seat flying home—my first visit since the move to Arizona, almost six months ago. I look out the window and see lush, almost tropical, vegetation of the Southeast and immediately feel jealous of the people who get to experience rain so often. I start thinking about my family and get excited but I get nervous too. Will they fight again? Will I snap again? I know the answers, but I still pretend that maybe this time things will be different.
At home, I spent as little time around parents as I could to avoid the scenes that more than ten years ago made me leave. My husband and I ran half marathons in the mornings, spent hours at the vineyard where we got married, and visited my college friend for an extended dinner. But I still felt like I didn’t belong to myself. We spent half a Sunday at church and full Monday at a Ford dealership helping Dad negotiate a purchase of a pick-up at a zero-interest rate. After six months of unsuccessful bargaining, I was his last hope. I was annoyed even though I did want to help but I also wanted to come home and for once not have to serve my Dad. At least I had Tuesday to myself.
A week before the trip, I started fantasizing about food and told Mom what I wanted to eat: grilled pork fat, sausages of every kind, and honey cake. I was supposed to be on a special eating protocol but, instead, I gorged on the cake and mushroom-stuffed pierogi. To make things worse, Dad took us to Eastern European stores to buy food for Arizona. I later hated myself for stuffing my bags with sugary and processed crap that made me feel half-alive. But that crap reminded me of my childhood. Corn flakes, ginger cookies, chocolate wafers. I used to eat them only a few times a year at family gatherings or on big holidays. They were a rare treat. Now, they were a necessary evil, a small door into my family. So even now as we sat around my parents’ table drinking our customary post-dinner tea, we ate the same sugary crap while discussing family news and arguing, the only things we did as a family.
I let Mom do everything for me. She served while I sat at the table impatiently waiting for the next course. I used to hate when Mom mechanically cooked, served, and cleaned after me. I hated it because she always did it for my brother and I thought it spoiled him even more, but I also hated it because by doing that she was taking away my responsibility and independence. Back then, I was awfully defiant about it but now I just let her. She derived satisfaction and a sense of purpose from serving us, something I saw as a weakness when living at home. Oh, how silly it was of me to want her change into an equal rights feminist with manicured hands and sober mind!
I didn’t want to spend one of my three days at home at church, but I knew it was one of few opportunities to spend time with my sister. I didn’t do it for her, I did it for me. I wanted to acknowledge to myself how much church gave her and how cruel it would have been not to support the environment in which she felt the safest. As we stood listening to the service in the language neither of us understood, I knew I was home. I saw my stoic sister melt and disappear in Gregorian chants that required no translation. The sounds, as old as Jesus, emitted ethereal yet familiar vibrations, the frequency that could make anyone feel whole again.
I came home knowing I would get attacked by alligators and eaten by lions. I knew Mom would ruin some days and that Dad would steal my time, but I still wanted to come. For me, coming home is more than paradoxical, it is comical. I left home to escape my family, but my family is the only place where I feel normal. It is the only place where I can speak my native tongue without worrying about how I sound, say anything that comes to mind, and not have to worry about my image or the absence of it. It is the only place where I forget I am a self-sufficient adult with real world responsibilities and problems. And it is the only place that is consistently predictable and unchanging, perhaps the biggest comfort in my life.
So I keep coming to the waterhole.