January 1, 2018

Coming home

There's an observed phenomenon: when asked to draw a picture of a house, most people draw their childhood home. Where we grew up - physically, mentally, emotionally - is deeply ingrained in us, and we hold it in our hearts long after leaving the buildings themselves.

I laughed with recognition the first time I heard this anecdote. I always draw the little ranch-style house in Connecticut that we moved to when I was a child, just after my youngest sister was born. Door just off-center, three windows in the front, and a little brick chimney to the far left. I lived there for a little over a decade before I moved away for college, then further for grad school, and then all the way to the West Coast for work.

While I was working in California, my dad sold the house - his health had him in a position where he could no longer live independently, so that was that. The decision was made quickly and with little fanfare, and I didn't have an opportunity to return home between his announcement and the sale. Anything of mine in the house was discarded - again, because of his physical limitations, he'd just hired a team with a dumpster to empty the place as best as they could.

I hadn't lived at home for years at that point, but the things in the top of the closet of the bedroom I'd shared with my two sisters were meaningful to me. It was my senior prom dress, a gorgeous and heavy black ballgown. It was letters from my middle school best friend who'd moved out of state. It was pictures of my friends, my family, places and things that were important to me. It was yearbooks. It was birthday cards. When I was a little kid ... those boxes were everything.

The whole house was just over a thousand square feet, with three bedrooms and one bathroom. When we first moved in, it was my parents in the biggest room, my sister Lisa and me in one room, and our baby sister Katie in the third. When my parents started their own business making and selling crafts, Katie moved in with Lisa and me and the third room became a craft storage room. After my parents' divorce, everything shifted - and with the birth of my brother, more changes. But even with all the shifts and moves, it still felt stable. It was still home.

The house was sold in 2012, which feels like a million lifetimes ago for me, and with good reason: it's been an absolute roller coaster of transitions since then, all of which have left me with a feeling of not belonging anywhere. I've had places to live, and in relative comfort, but none of them have felt like home. When I left California and returned to Chicago, the experience was so different that it no longer felt like the city I loved and had abundantly thrived in. My son was born, and we moved to South Carolina - again, changes. We stayed in South Carolina for just shy of four years, not because I loved the job (I didn't) and not because it was good for my marriage (it wasn't), but because I craved even the tiniest bit of stability. I didn't want to lay down permanent roots in South Carolina, but I was happy to have somewhere to stay put for a little while.

Earlier this year, I was deeply depressed. It was the culmination of a lot of things - deep discomfort with my job, anxiety about finances as I recovered from my divorce, feelings of inadequacy and frustration as I struggled to find a way out of what felt like an endless darkness. I opened up to my doctor, who prescribed me an anti-anxiety medicine that has worked brilliantly and relaxed the rapid stream of thoughts I felt I was drowning in.

In a miraculous series of events, within a month or so of beginning the medication, many of my life's situations began to improve. Most notably, I got an email from my former boss in California; her French professor was retiring, and she invited me to re-interview for my old position. I agreed without hesitation, and had both an interview and an offer in-hand within another month.

It felt like coming home, in a way that had me both thrilled and terrified. Back to somewhere I had been before, but returning in ways that I'd not yet existed there. A mom. A divorcée. An obese person. I was nervous - I'd left Chicago and then returned, and it had lost so much of its wonder. But then again, I had loved Chicago intensely the first time, and the experience of second time had been deeply influenced by much more than geography.

Even with the new challenges to introduce into a previously familiar place, I was ready to return to California. My time there had been conflicted. It had such potential to be a great place for me, but I was not yet ready for a life there. It was right after my weight loss, and I was overwhelmed with novelty. There was a tremendous immaturity in my entire life - there had been a lot of life experiences and endless feelings I had entirely no experience with after having hid for so long behind the protective shield of my large body.

I've grown since I left California, and that's a complicated and layered statement. But I'm exceptionally thrilled to be back here. It wasn't that California wasn't the place for me - it was just that I arrived a few years too early. Now the timing is perfect, and we're amazingly happy here. Noah has adjusted incredibly well - he loves his school and his friends, and we're both quite happy with the climate. We miss the state parks from South Carolina, but we're finally settled in enough to do a little exploring and make new adventures around here. We have a lovely little townhouse apartment that is decorated in my own style, which I missed immensely after spending the last few years renting someone else's condo and being surrounded by their art and their furniture. I met an incredibly kind, compassionate, loving man who I've been dating for about six months, and I'm in absolute awe of what real, sincere love looks and feels like.

Noah and I went to Connecticut for the holidays, and it went about as well as it usually does. At the end of our visit, it felt relieving to be returning to our life and our space and our routines. It wasn't heading to Connecticut, but rather, returning to California that felt like coming home. With every visit back east, I feel less and less connected to the place - maybe it's because there's no physical home for me to return to, or perhaps because I've created spaces and relationships elsewhere that give me that warm, familiar feeling of comfort. It's my sweet, amazing, caring, creative son. It's the job I love, with hardworking students and incredibly supportive colleagues. It's the house I've furnished with care and attention. It's the places in which I exist and the people with whom I surround myself. And that includes here - my quiet little corner of the internet where I've grown beyond measure.

Home is where the heart is, yes - and here, now, I'm living and loving and absolutely thriving beyond what I could have imagined even a year ago.