Monday, August 30, 2010

COMMENTARY: "Going Home"

There’s something so surreal about going home. I don’t mean going home from work at the end of the day. I mean going back to the place you spent your childhood: the “old” home. A few weeks ago, I did just that.

Technically speaking, the home I grew up in no longer exists. My dad built a house that the family moved into less than a year before I moved out for good. He still lives in that house, but the actual home that held most of my childhood memories is no more. Which, believe me, is a good thing.

So when I say “home” I really mean the small town in southern Idaho where I grew up. The town with two stoplights (although I do remember a time when there was only one). The town that boasted no chain restaurants during most of my childhood (I’m glad that Subway has finally found a home there, though). And the town with the hometown newspaper where I learned how to work for a living.

(And technically-speaking yet again, I’m not really from that town. Rather, I’m from a small farming community eight or ten miles from that town, but since it was the nearest outpost of civilization, in my mind, that town is “home” by default.)

It still shocks me sometimes how it is that I lived for the first 19 years of my life with no big-city amenities. Frankly, I like that I can walk from the house I live in now to the grocery store, the ice cream parlor and the city library. I like that I can go to the movies at the drop of a hat without having to plan for the 30-minute drive to the theater the next town over. I like that if my house caught on fire while I was out of town, my neighbors live close enough to see the smoke and call the police.

The reality, though, is that when I’m in that little town, it isn’t the amenities that come to mind; it’s the memories. Memories of a different time. Driving through this little town brings back those moments that I spent with the people who were so important to me at the time. Some of those memories are happy and some are sad, but either way, they’re unavoidable.

Wait. Let me back up. Maybe that’s too simplistic a view.

I’ve contemplated over the years why I become so weird whenever I visit “home”. It’s like I become a totally different person: emotionally insecure, scared, submissive. Being around my family, my old haunts, passing by the houses of people I knew so well but now haven’t spoken to in many a year…it can be somewhat disconcerting. I think I somehow forget that I’m an adult and I live in a different world now, with different friends, different relationships. But somehow, just being there, I get sucked into the nostalgia of it all. When I’m driving through that little town, I can remember vividly the trepidation I felt when I started 9th grade at the junior high school…my first day of school after eight years of homeschooling. I can remember my heart pounding with fear while walking through that cemetery in the middle of the night searching for a certain headstone. I can remember exactly how I felt the first time a boyfriend broke up with me, the moment I found out my best friend had been in a terrible car accident, or the year and a half I spent watching my mother die of cancer. Those moments in my memory give everything a sense of the surreal when I’m “back home”.

In real life, those pains are easier to forget, the memories fade into obscurity. But when I “go home”, they seem more immediate, more apparent. Those that I’ve lost, whether by death or by distance, become people to grieve again. Events that occurred, choices that were made…those things become painfully immediate in my psyche again. And so, it seems, for a short period of time during my visit, I become that same scared little girl I was when I lived there.

They joke here in Colorado that because there are so few people who live here who were actually born here, you can call yourself a native after you’ve lived here 10 years. I like the idea of that. Kind of like an adopted hometown.

So while I enjoyed visiting with the family that I only get to see once a year and doing the other things that I can only experience in that little town in southern Idaho, I am grateful to now be “back home” to my real home; the only home I now truly call home.

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