If you want people to look at you like you’re mad, tell them you’re moving to Indonesia. Always, always, their eyes widen a bit and their first words in response are usually painted in some deep blue shade of why. There’s no escaping the inevitable yet ever-so-polite mention of tsunamis – sometimes with the t, even – and active volcanoes and earthquakes and vaguely specific bombings and, most enjoyably, a link to a YouTube gem of a chubby boy under three smoking like a fiend, accompanied by a pointed look at my six year old and raised eyebrows. As if I haven’t already warned Esmé against the dangers of performing shirtless around anything on fire. On camera. For free.
I really do always know what to say, though. I’ve had years of practice. First, before we moved to Oman, and then a few years later when we left for Jordan. With a slight wave of my hands and murmurs of nothing to fear but fear itself…and maybe also Dengue…we all usually swim away from the conversation safely to higher ground. Usually.
Because every once in a while, someone sweetly tries to drown me.
“Won’t you miss home?”
Home. That one word and I start to flail.
Shirtless summers catching frogs and singing Simon & Garfunkel into the box fan, thinking that making love in the afternoon sounded lovely at the age of five and differently just as at the age of now. Whiling away entire afternoons with a pack of Juicy Fruit gum and a stack of library books, never far from the hose. Or my mom. Holding tight to my best friend named Grandpa until the night my dad picked him up like he wasn’t 6’2” and the strongest man in the world anymore, carrying him outside to meet the ambulance and haplessly slow paramedics in the driveway.
Gasping, I search for shore, but all I see is the piece of red velvet hanging from my attic door the year Santa ripped his pants, which was only a few years before all of my older sisters and brothers moved out and moved on, diluting my Christmas magic with every in-law they added.
I call for help, but all I hear is the telephone. My dad’s cancer is back, and it stays until he is gone. The next thing I know, my sister calls with the same news of her own. It’ll be okay, she promised. And she promised again and again and again with the births of my first and second and third girls. And two weeks after that, there would be no more calls. She stayed as long as she possibly could.
I guess she was right. It is okay. And so am I. Some days, flooded. Most days, afloat.
Home. I can’t for the life of me picture it. It still looks like my mom and smells like Oscar de la Renta and vanilla ice cream and chlorine and lilacs and cow manure. It’s in my daughters’ chandelier smiles, unbreakable wills, and their every move. Every. Single. One. It’s when he walks in the door, and I only know this because it disappears every time he leaves. It’s in the first haircut I gave my girls after my sister’s death, biting the insides of my cheeks bloody and drowning in tears. Is it even? I wondered. Not remotely.
It’s in the eyes of someone who has lost her world, someone who’s found it, and someone who’s trying her damnedest to get it all back. It’s in Sunday meatloaf and fish fries on Fridays and fireworks on the Fourth and the agony of annual exams that leave you feeling like you’ve just dodged a bullet. And also like you’ve taken one.
It’s in the babies who made it and the ones who didn’t and the ones who live on in your dreams every night. It’s in the love that brought you to life and the love that nearly killed you and the dandelion that’s destroyed with one wish that everything gets better. At some point, you’ll settle for better.
It’s in the beginnings and endings and the to be continueds. It’s in the coming and going, but mostly in the leaving for good.
I get misty every time I read the phrase home is where the heart is. It’s almost impossible not to feel a little lost when your heart’s been broken by life.
Will I miss home? Oh…I already do.