Thomas Wolfe had it right.
I've been home for over a week now. Liv and I took a short trip to the small Iowa town where I grew up several days ago. Two of my sisters still live there with their families and this town is sort of the touch stone for everyone. Well, everyone but me.
I have never liked going there. I used to refer to it for many years as home and then finally it occurred to me this was not my home anymore. My family with Bing and my friends was my home.
I want Liv to know her Aunts, Uncles and Cousins, though. She is kind of stuck in the middle. The first group of cousins are in their teens, the rest are in grade school. She tends to hang with the older ones.
Going home just....stings. I feel my stomach tighten and ache as soon as we pass the sign with the WELCOME TO NAME on it. Suddenly, I feel like Ponyboy in The Outsiders, like Boo Radley hiding in the shadows. I feel like the bad seed who broke her mother's heart by loving a woman.
And it is ridiculous, really. I am in my fifties now. No one really remembers me. Most of my peers have either moved away or wouldn't recognize me. My mother is long dead. My sisters welcome us into their homes.
But the town sinks into my bones like lead poisoning when I am there for too long.
Too many hard memories, the worst being my mother's face as she ordered me out of her home, my childhood home and told me never to come back until I was ready to beg for forgiveness of the town priest. And her.
I went on with my life, lived for over a decade on my own. Made a good life for myself, became a professional. Found love, lost love. Made enough money to live well. But, there was always this voice in the back of my head that would not listen to my psychological reasoning. The voice that whispered, you broke your mother's heart...you hurt her....you are a bad person....a bad seed.
And I've never been the sort of person who believes in blaming one's mother. I see too many people who use that for a crutch, a way to not live fully.
"This is ALL Mommy's fault!"
I can't go there. In my heart, I believe that mother thought that she was doing the proper thing, the correct thing, driven by her intense religious beliefs.
Still, I know that I was collateral damage in that war in her heart and it stings. No way around it. I will go along thinking that I have dealt with this and then....WHAM....I go back to that little town and suddenly I am nauseated and scared and anxious. Suddenly, I am that 24 year old girl who in one misplaced dinner conversation lost her family and was completely alone.
When I was back in that town last week, I felt my stomach clench from the first sight of the town and the unsettled feeling never really went away. It threatened to jump up into my throat several times but I mentally battled it down, kept a light conversation with my sisters and their families.
Liv and I went to mass with my family while we were there and I sat in the pew with her, silently looking around at the signs of the cross while the priest droned on. So many memories. So many Sunday mornings spent in this place. Liv and I held hands, her thumb making windshield wiper passes over mine.
I went to school here with my sisters. Made friends. Had a boyfriend. Got all A's. Sat in the school lunchroom joining the laughter of my friends as they talked about who was dating who now, what teacher was just so mean.
And all the time, I felt distant, as if I were watching from afar as I sat right there.
I did my chores, worked in countless gardens with my mother. Had her wake me up at dawn every day in the summer to go out and weed the garden with her before it got too hot. I snapped beans, shelled peas, shucked corn and fed the chickens, the pigs, the outside dogs.
I tamped all those crazily butterflying feelings that kept slamming up against my rib cage when I would least expect it. We drove by the high school football field and I could hear the drum beats in my head, feel that lonely sadness in my heart, of being right there in the bleachers but being so different. The odd one out who everyone thought fit like a glove.
I was relieved when the time was over and we were driving home, freshly hugged and kissed by my family members. I returned their hugs but felt in my heart like I was acting a part. I love my sisters, but when I am in this small town, I feel as if some part of me is still screaming. And the pain flies around my temples and my hands, my heart, my soul.
Liv and I talked on the ride home. I asked her if she had fun with her cousins and she shrugged.
"You know, they are all just kind of...well....one dimensional. Does that sound snotty?" she asked.
I thought for a moment. Told her it depended. What did she mean, exactly?
"Well," she said, her voice quiet and careful. "I mean...there are NO black people in this town, Mama. And they make fun of the Mexicans who have to live in those awful houses. Talk about them like they are the socs and the Mexican families are the greasers, like in that S. E. Hinton book. And they all go to church and bow their heads but it's like...they have no diversity in their lives. There is so much gossip and well...okay...I just felt homesick for...for...US....for our family. You, Bing, Me. Dad. Our friends. It kind of feels creepy in that town. Like...Pleasantville or Stepford, you know? Does this make sense? I don't mean to be rude about your blood relatives. MY blood relatives. It's like...they look at me as if I am less than because I have a different life then theirs. And it's ....it's SAD, MAMA! They don't know any better, do they?"
I wanted to kiss her at that moment and told her so.
She went on.
"And, it bothers me that they were so mean to you for all those years. Mama, they DESERTED you...over...what? Some stupid thing like homosexuality? How can they all be so small? Do I sound snotty? I don't mean to be that way, truly. How could you ever forgive them for hurting you like that?"
So we had plenty to talk about the rest of the way home. But, as the miles stretched away from my little town, I felt my heart warm and my spine relax. We were almost home.
When we got home and I was safe in Bing's arms again, her nose in my hair, her whispering that she had missed me so damn much. But, now I was home, all was well, she said.
I soaked in her smell, her touch, her kisses. So did Liv. We were like puppies around her, laughing and vying for her hugs.
Later that night, after a meal together and after Liv and I had written our thank you notes to my sisters for their hospitality (my mother called these bread and butter notes), I was upstairs in the shower, the hot sweet water pouring over me.
It was then that I let myself break down. Cried hard. Silently. Holding on to the walls. Pressing my face up to the water spray, feeling baptized and saved by the life that was mine now...away from that town and those people that I love so much but feel so distanced from, so far away.
And I thought of a song that described this exactly. I had made it, hadn't broken down like some weak puppet in front of my daughter, had carried on nicely...but in the end, on the drive home, she had said the words that had been in my heart too.
So, I let all those tears run down my face, down the drain and away.
And I felt so grateful for my life now.
How about you? Can you go home again?