I got to come home for Christmas this year. I didn’t think we’d be able to, but my in-laws (correction: my awesome, awesome in-laws) bought us plane tickets so we could make it out to the east coast. I haven’t been home in almost two years. And it’s weird.
Why is it weird? It shouldn’t be. I know this town like the back of my hand, right? I lived here for thirteen years. As much as I hated growing up here it is, undeniably, home. This juxtaposition of comfort and anxiety kind of bugs me out. I feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder a little. Waiting for someone to recognize me or want to talk to me or, horror of horrors, reminisce about high school. Do they all have collective amnesia? Why does no one remember how they didn’t want to talk to me in high school? It’s like the one grocery store in town exists in some kind of awful sorcery bubble. Whatever. It’s fine. All angst is forgiven. But just because we’re all thirty now doesn’t mean that we have anything in common and I sure as shit don’t want to talk about sixteen-year-old me. She was kind of an asshole.
The town itself hasn’t changed much. Small southern towns don’t really do stunning transformations, barring some natural disaster or major financial revitalization. A couple of things have moved around. Some buildings are gone. Some have been renovated. There’s a new crosswalk on Main Street. Apparently the gymnasium of my elementary school recently caved in (twenty years too late for that little piece of serendipity). It’s like when you have a friend who you see every day and then you don’t see them for a long time, and suddenly you can see how drastically they’ve changed. Whereas before you wouldn’t have noticed because the weight gain or the weird hair seemed gradual, right? I don’t know. It’s a small town just like any other small town. But this one is mine. And that’s weird.
Again: why is it weird? I don’t fucking know, you guys. That’s the point. There’s this cultural assumption that coming home should be easy, especially at the holidays. You get to see your family and sit on familiar furniture and eat your mom’s cooking and tell stories and laugh and bask in the glow of comfort. And all of that is true, I suppose, about this particular trip (except that I’m eating my mother-in-law’s cooking so there’s way more deep frying involved and it is fan-fucking-tastic). But there’s an undercurrent of weirdness that I can’t quite pin down. An almost undetectable hum of anxiety. Maybe that’s just operant conditioning. I’m here therefore I’m anxious. Is that why I’m freaked out by being here as opposed to somewhere else? I don’t feel this way when I go other places that are familiar. But I never lived anywhere else for as long, either. I only grew up here. I only got my metaphorical battle scars here.
Another point that’s worth mentioning: I don’t really have a place that’s mine here anymore. My in-laws’ house is comfortable and familiar and I spent a lot of time here when I was younger, but this isn’t the house I grew up in. That house got sold several years ago and I can’t go back to it. There’s a lovely family living there now, fixing it up, raising kids, farming the land, doing right by the place. But it will never be my house again. It will never be the place I get to go for Christmas. That particular warm fuzzy does not exist for me. I could drive there with my eyes closed (and have, actually, with assistance – don’t tell my mother), but I can’t turn down the driveway anymore. I can’t walk the trail through the woods where I spent most of my childhood. I can’t take my maybe someday future kids to the river where I learned to fish. I can’t go sit and have a beer in the sunshine under the tree where we planted my dad’s ashes. This is all sounding really bucolic and sappy, isn’t it? A weird contradiction from my bitching about living here? It’s true. My childhood was a study in contradictions. But that’s a long story.
Don’t get me wrong. My in-laws and that whole side of the family are amazing people. I want to make it very clear that I love them and I’m always welcome here. Also, my sister is here, so I’m always able to hang out at her house. The other day she told me that she’s glad I’m comfortable enough to take a nap on her couch. Made me want to cry a little. So sweet, my little sister. And I have friends here who always make me welcome, unconditionally and without hesitation. They’re family, too. Their homes are my home, in their own way. I think that’s really what makes home home, more than a specific house or any set of particular places. When I’m with any of these people, that anxious hum goes away for a while. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s what I fail to remember when I get all tense thinking about coming home. That the hum can be alleviated, the anxiety made into a less formidable opponent.
Anyway. I didn’t mean to go off on a sentimental rant about the nature of home and family. But I guess it’s at the forefront of my thinking this time of year. It’s tough, being so isolated from friends and family like I am in California. Those people you want to hug when something good happens, or who you know wouldn’t care if you showed up on their doorstep sobbing at two in the morning? Those are the people who make it hard to live three thousand miles away. They’re what the “away” refers to (that sentence doesn’t technically work – my grammar seems to abandon me whenever I talk about this emotional stuff, please forgive me for that). I should probably try my best to absorb as many comfy home feely things as I can while I’m here, store them up. Here in the south, those feels seem to disguise themselves in the form of about eight kinds of fudge, which one must eat constantly to appease the gods of Christmas Fat. We’ll be back to nerdy things next week, I promise. Stay warm. Stay snuggly. Have a happy New Year.