on Going Home (Part One)

It was six years ago in December that I drove away from Texas, my car stuffed to the gills with the few things I chose to take with me to Ohio: my bookshelves, a small number of books, some kitchen treasures, and what was left of my clothes. I’d made six previous trips between Dallas and Dayton before that drive, taking full suitcases full of loved items, clothes, and my golf clubs.

When I sold my house, I walked away in many ways. I left furniture, dishes, linens, and paintings on the walls. A clean slate of sorts, to shed twenty-two years of clutter with a deep desire to start fresh. That first winter in Ohio wasn’t easy and though it was my new house, it took some time to feel like home. I had spent much of the previous four years traveling anywhere I could to get away from Texas, yet I saw Dallas as my “home”. I even held onto my Texas phone number for another nine months after selling the Texas house.

Over time, though, Ohio became home.

John and I in August 2011

“Happiness is home. And home is not a house-home is a mythological conceit. It is a state of mind. A place of communion and unconditional love. It is where, when you cross its threshold, you finally feel at peace.”
― Dennis Lehane

Ohio became home because John and I created a home there together. More importantly, we both dug in and did the personal growth work it took to merge the lives of two independent adults. Adults quite used to living life, their way, on their own terms. We were able to do the work as a couple in part because I did the work after my divorce in 2005 to discover who I was and what I really wanted in life.

We also created a sanctuary within our house, converting a structure into a home. The hard work to develop a healthy relationship and create a home together allowed us to cultivate a space of love, peace, acceptance, and safety.

And if I am to be honest, neither my childhood home or my house in Texas could be considered “safe spaces”.  Yes, they were safe in the physical sense, but they weren’t places where I could grow myself or my art in any way. You can’t grow when you are always walking around on eggshells, waiting for a shoe to drop. You can’t be at peace when you are always on your best behavior, wearing the masks of perfection.

Yet, despite this, we still long to visit our hometown. It may not be our real home any longer, but we can’t deny that there are people, places, and things we long for. Who doesn’t sometimes long for a kind word from your father, coffee in a space that once served as sanctuary, or a jar of dill relish you just can’t get in Ohio?

“It’s one thing to develop a nostalgia for home while you’re boozing with Yankee writers in Martha’s Vineyard or being chased by the bulls in Pamplona. It’s something else to go home and visit with the folks in Reed’s drugstore on the square and actually listen to them. The reason you can’t go home again is not because the down-home folks are mad at you–they’re not, don’t flatter yourself, they couldn’t care less–but because once you’re in orbit and you return to Reed’s drugstore on the square, you can stand no more than fifteen minutes of the conversation before you head for the woods, head for the liquor store, or head back to Martha’s Vineyard, where at least you can put a tolerable and saving distance between you and home. Home may be where the heart is but it’s no place to spend Wednesday afternoon.”
― Walker Percy

I believe it was Thomas Wolfe who said “you can never go home again” and he is pretty darned right. That’s because the person you have become is not what the folks at home remember. You may have done a ton of personal growth and shifted your entire being, but folks who knew you before expect you to be who you were, which isn’t possible because who you were no longer exists.

Maybe we avoid returning home so that we don’t have to deal with the inability to meet the expectations of those folks whom we may really love. Maybe we try to introduce those folks we now know long-distance to who we are now. Perhaps we give up on trying to get folks to recognize the NEW US and try to act as if we haven’t changed.

None of these is the exact right answer, are they? Because you can’t put the Genie back in the bottle. And trying to go back to who you were is dishonest to who you’ve become. More importantly, it can cause you to slide back away from a healthier approach to living your life.

No matter how we handle it, a return is going to have good moments and bad moments. People and places will trigger your and send you reeling back in time mentally and/or emotionally.

Daddy and Me 1969

While in Chicago visiting with John’s mother (a last minute trip), I got a call from my sister about my father. A visit to the doctor had resulted into the doctor pulling my sister aside and telling her (according to my sister) that “we need to look at hospice care for him sooner than later.”  

I told her I would plan a trip “back home” and before I hung up the phone, the one thing I made clear was that I wanted him to have a quality life, not be artificially kept alive to get days if his days were just painful. It was the mistake we made with my mother, some family members (not me) insisting she “fight her cancer” when that fight meant that her final weeks were ones of pain and misery. We waited too long before making the call for palliative care. And I don’t want my father to suffer that way, too.

He has COPD and it’s advancing as these types of diseases do. This isn’t an unexpected call, yet it wasn’t the call I expected on that day.

“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?”
–Brene Brown

Especially a day when I was managing John’s family. Him not the same boy who left at 18 to go to the Naval Academy…unable to BE the person others in his family expects him to be now that he’s a man of 59. To hold the emotional space for HIM to be SAFE in that environment…and me, almost seven years  in, often feeling as if they still don’t accept me as I am, holding myself together.

I chose not to mention this call to any of John’s sister or mother. I manage myself the best when we are in Chicago by keeping fairly tight boundaries and  time in Chicago the best by listening more than speaking, by being compassionate and complimentary about the lives there, and rarely mentioning ME. So, if I don’t feel ready to share the tiny vulnerabilities that make up daily life, why would I mention this heart-rending one?

I woke early the next morning and while both John and his mother slept, I took a hard look at my calendar and, thanks to Airline Miles and Hotel Points, planned a trip to Dallas, squeezed smack in the middle of the trip to Chicago and our upcoming trip to Copenhagen (where I am now).

This meant that thirteen days of travel in February as opposed to the five days planned at the end of the month I had blocked off for Denmark. It meant preparing for three trips instead of one. It meant two stressful trips when I am already feeling unsettled, at least when it comes to my writing.

When I talked to my sister with the details of my trip, her first response was “Well, you don’t have to rush.” To which I responded “If not now, it will be at least March 15th before I can manage a trip…” A disconnect in my mind for the situation: are we drawing upon time for hospice care or is there plenty of time?

The disconnect meant that more than I thought after that call, I needed to travel to Dallas and see for myself how my dad is doing. But it doesn’t mean that going home was going to be….easy.

(What happened during my trip and how I’m feeling…in Part Two)

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