They Say You Can’t Go Home Again

I’ve identified with the Thomas Wolfe quote “you can’t go home again” since my little cousin Jessie informed me during the summer after my freshman year of college that my parents were giving my room to my little brother. After I lost my room I never felt the same about being home. 11 years later I can say that this was totally fair and that Luke deserved the much bigger and better room since he’d played second fiddle to room selection his entire life. But anyways, that’s besides the point.

I nested pretty heavily into my rooms at college. I painted one (obviously not a dorm room), and spent hours decorating and finding the right furniture to make them homey. However, I also moved constantly. There’s a point of pride at Dartmouth for those of us that move constantly. Dartmouth is on a trimester system and has summer terms so the “opportunity” to move rooms is pretty substantial. Here’s my Dartmouth/SF living history:

Dartmouth fall ’02-spring ’06
Freshmen year: Dorm all three terms
Freshmen summer: Parent’s house/football frat
Sophomore fall/winter: Dorm
Sophomore spring: Tabard room (the Closet)
Sophomore summer: Tabard room (the President’s room)
Junior fall: Panarchy room (forgot the name)
Junior winter: New Orleans (Anton’s parent’s house)
Junior Spring: Panarchy room (the Realm)
Junior Summer: off campus apartment
Senior fall: Tabard room (Social chair)
Senior winter: NYC apartment
Senior spring: Tabard room (Social Chair)
Senior summer: Parent’s house/Anton’s aunt and uncle’s in NOLA
August ’06-Spring ’07: Geary/Leavenworth apt
Spring ’07-Fall ’08: Hayes Valley apt
Winter ’08-Summer ’10: Lower Haight apt
Summer ’10-Winter ’12: Upper Haight apt
Winter ’12-Spring ’14: Buena Vista Park apt

So in the last 12 years I have had 18 homes. 11 of these have been with A. The crazy thing is I’m not one of those people that’s ambivalent about having a home, it’s actually really important to me and plays a pretty major role on my every day happiness. I love coming home to my space. I can explain the reasoning behind each move, but I never intended to make this many moves.

With so many moves and feeling totally displaced at the beginning of each one, home became where A. was. During those years we also left for two months and traveled around Europe and most recently went to Thailand for a month and then drove cross country. With the physical location being such a temporary thing, A. became my home and feeling of comfort.

The separation of home from my parent’s house and home started that summer after college, but it’s deepened with each year. I feel like a visitor staying in what I considered my brother’s room and then while he was in high school I was constantly missing being part of the family. I mean missing, like I wasn’t there, not that I was yearning to be a part of it from college. I was like most self-absorbed college kids and perfectly happy with my bubble of 18-22 year olds thinking we were all so important and cool. But when I came back to my parent’s house it was clear that I was a visitor, I wasn’t there for the regular family meals, family events, or my brother’s high school accomplishments for the most part. I also had felt like an outsider growing up in Vermont from my tiny grade school to my tiny high school (9 kids in my grade school class and 12 in my high school class) experiences. I tried like hell to fit in, but never really accomplished that and it was rough. In middle school the girl I considered my best friend from daycare wrote me a letter telling me ‘I was too weird to be friends with’. I had similar strike outs with the cool kids in high school. And yes, even with a school that small, there are still cool kids. Having briefly gone to a reasonably sized middle school (over 100 kids in my class), I think that the smaller school is actually much tougher when you don’t fit in than the large school where there’s more people to blend into. For instance, one of the cool girls who was a year older than me had a weekly South Park watching party at her house who she invited most of our soccer team to. See the word “most” and guess if I ever got to go. So every week I’d have to hear how awesome it was from my friends and teammates and because of the tiny size of our school, there wasn’t a social alternative for weirdo me. I watched South Park with my Mom.

Since then I’ve found plenty of fellow weirdos to be friends with and am very secure in my weirdness, but the reason I mention it is that not only did I have the displaced feeling from my parent’s house, but I didn’t exactly have a social world that made me feel like home when I came back to visit. Each year there grew a greater and greater divide. A lot of people I went to school with stayed in Vermont and as we grew up into adults I lost my footing in what to social situation was. I knew where we had all stood in high school, but since I wasn’t home that often in college and then only once a year or so afterwards I missed the social landscape changing as people grew up and changed and got to know each other as adults instead of hormonal teenagers. I also had a hard time letting go of dislike I had for people who had been a dick in high school because we never had any interactions to move past that unlike the people I was friends with that lived in Vermont and got to know them outside of high school. I had a couple of people I kept in touch with and would still try and see, but that could be difficult too when my one trip home was over Christmas and we got a snowstorm so we didn’t end up being able to connect. Each year I felt more and more like a stranger in my hometown even though I still think of myself as Vermonter to the core.

I actually had a couple of nightmares when we were on our way to Vermont to spend the summer because I was worried about how I’d feel being back but being so disconnected from my old life there. It was a weird thing to go from being independent and living in SF for almost 8 years to moving back into my old room in my parent’s house at 30, even if it was just for a couple of months. To go from having my own space to inviting friends over to hangout at my parent’s house. To go from having my own phone to people having to ask my Mom to talk to me because there’s only a landline that works there. It’s weird. It’s also kind of funny. Except for the fact that my parents are not always reliable in passing messages or answering call waiting. That’s enough to make me feel like a frustrated teenager again.

Then my world got turned upside down and two months turned into five and a half. My time in my old room was probably equal to the time I spent in there my whole senior year of high school because of all the time I spent recovering from surgery and chemo in bed. My parent’s house became home again. And leaving home when it’s your parent’s house again is really hard to do.

My room became my cocoon. I felt safe there and comfortable, two things that I sorely needed going through this. My parents and I settled into a hybrid relationship where I was an adult but they were still overprotective. It’s hard not to be overprotective when your kid had cancer, but I still only need my Mom to ask if I’m sure that I don’t want a sweater once. Or not at all. It was nice though too the moments where we all enjoyed each other’s company as adults, like going out to dinner or watching the Voice. Most of us don’t get to go home again and although I would trade it all to not have cancer (seriously, if you thought I was going to say otherwise you’ve watched too many Hallmark movies), I am glad that I got to have this. The two months I was originally going to spend there went by quickly and wasn’t enough to get comfortable. The five and a half months I had there made it home and made us not have to make the time count so much, we could get comfortable and just live. It’s hard to describe, but hopefully you’re following what I’m trying to say.

Leaving was really hard. Even when what you’re heading to is exciting and good, endings are sad. It makes it even sadder because it’s combined with two other things, it’s going to be a few months before I see either of my parents again and I’m used to being able to see them whenever I want, and I can’t imagine that I’ll ever live in Vermont/home again. It’s a big goodbye/ending that I didn’t expect and I’m going mourn it for a bit. The first day I cried in 4 out of 7 states that we drove through and I’m crying now just writing about it. I have no doubt in my mind about our living in New Orleans and i am so excited for our life here, but it doesn’t make it any easier or less sad to say goodbye to my home.

So on that note, call your Mom or Dad and tell them that you love them.

 

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2 comments

    1. Hi Jenna,
      I am sending the quiet stillness of air that passes and yet no one notices until it is not there. It is still there. Only after does one recognize the true beauty of the unseen. Know that your spirit heart soars and your life has touched so many others in ways that may not be noticed until your presence is not there. You may be in the deep South living and not physically here where the cold breezes of winter will be upon us for the next 6 months, but your voice is strongly heard and echoes through the hillsides (what we call mountains here in VT) with a tone that holds true resonance. Peace to you and thank you for allowing me to know you and the beauty of your heart.

      Sue

      Like

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