Growing up, I never went to a slumber party or even spent the night at a friend’s house. I wanted to, and I tried. Quite a few times. I’d be fine while playing, having dinner or watching TV. But the minute it was time for bed, everything changed and I needed to go home. Now!
It drove my poor Grandma Jean crazy. I loved being at her house. She played games with me and let me stay up late. My grandpa would mix me a drink (a lot of 7-up and just a drop of scotch) so I could have cocktails with them and my Grandma always found the best movies on TV. I Want To Live with Susan Hayward is still one of my favorites.
On one occasion, which was probably my final overnight attempt, my Grandma was trying to help me realize there was nothing to be afraid of and no need to go home. She went over all the things she thought might scare me – monsters under the bed, ghosts in the closet, ax murderers lurking outside my window, etc.. When I told her I wasn’t afraid of any of those things (an obvious lie, all little kids fear under-bed monsters), she said, “If there’s nothing you’re afraid of, then there’s no reason you have to leave.”
I crossed my arms and looked around. “I just don’t like the looks of this place,” I told her. She let me know that she didn’t exactly like the looks of me right at that moment, either. My dad arrived shortly thereafter and took me home.
Listing all the worst bedtime fears probably wasn’t the best way to convince me to stay. But although her intentions were good, she had it all wrong. I wasn’t afraid of what might happen to me. I was afraid that something would happen at my house – to my parents or brothers. The real reason is actually rather adorable (and somewhat grandiose), but I needed to be at home with my family so I could protect them or keep any bad things from happening.
When I got a little older I stopped even trying. At six or seven, my need to go home outweighed everything else. But as I grew up, it became clear that this wasn’t something other kids experienced. And there was no way I wanted anyone to know my secret. Children aren’t generally known for their compassion and understanding, especially in regards to crybabies and scaredy-cats.
I was able to conquer my debilitating homesickness when I finally accepted that my grade school superhero skills would be useless against earthquakes, house fires and the zombie apocalypse. But after decades of remission, I find myself homesick again. Not “protect my family” homesick, but actually missing my house, my home.
Between the divorce and some incredibly stupid choices I made, I had to sell my house a couple of years ago. But the thing is, there’s part of my brain – a part I can’t control, that seems unable, or unwilling, to accept the truth. I’m not delusional or in denial. My logical and rational brain works just fine, so there’s no chance I’ll show up on the front porch demanding that the current owners get out of “my house.”
But the area where feelings and memories of some of the best times in my life are stored, doesn’t seem quite ready to let go. It’s not easy to explain because I don’t actually forget it’s not mine. It’s more like that part of my mind just hasn’t started thinking in the past tense yet.
It’s not the physical structure I miss. It’s all the things that happened there and what it represented – family, friends, love, success, marriage, independence, hope, the future. Sometimes I can’t even bring myself to watch my home movies on YouTube because so much of what’s in them no longer exists for me.
To make it worse, I also feel like it’s turning me into one of those people for whom I have no patience. The ones I listen to while nodding sincerely at all the right times, but inside I’m rolling my eyes and silently shouting, “It’s been years! Get the fuck over it already!”
I’m sure part of what makes it so difficult to accept is that it didn’t have to happen. Of course, looking back from where I am now, it’s very clear I was on a self-destructive path. But looking ahead from where I was then, I couldn’t see it. Although I don’t imagine I was looking too hard, either.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one with the Danger! Turn back! signs,
And that has made all the difference.