"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world." -Richard Dawkins

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Meaning of Home

By Alina M. Hensley

(I used to long to see my city's skyline, heart aching. The sparkle of it from over the river, looking from a hilltop in East Greenbush. I'd come visit and get teary-eyed when I drove by, without fail.)

"They say you can never go home again," Amanda said to me the other night as we perched on the edge of her bed after not seeing one another for a little too long. "I know so many people who have gone back to where they grew up after being away, at that college age, and it's not the same, and the people they were friends with are totally different and it's like 'what happened?'"

What happened?

I acknowledged to her that she and my mother are the only reasons I would stay if I were inclined to stay, but I'm not. I'm not.

I can't believe how different it is, here. And I'm saying that publicly for the first time. In my heart, New York was a very different place. The reality of New York is that it's a brick that I carry and refuse to let go of for sentimental reasons. I love her, this place. I love New York and I probably always will, but the truth is, I outgrew New York, and I should not have encouraged my husband when he asked me how soon we could move back here.

But I did, because I wanted to come home, and maybe I needed to know the cold and bitter truth, that 99% of the friends I thought I had here are actually just acquaintances, and as fond as I am of them it doesn't change the fact that they're not enough to tie me down.

Here is what I know. I did not go away to college, like in Amanda's example, but I did go away, and I was away during that same squishy college age where you form your adult self and turn around one day and aren't sure who you are or how you got there. Instead of going off to college, I went off to become a grown-up. I moved into a house, had a baby, got married, became a woman, with different priorities and different values than the teenager I'd left behind.

("Look at what you've done, all you've accomplished," Steve said to me last week...)

I came back here expecting to embrace that teenager, see her again, remember her, her ideas, her dreams, but it turned out... she was a stranger to me. I have changed.

Back in Arizona I left a family. I was talking to Taylor about this just the other day, as we spoke about how Arizona seems to be drawing us both back, kicking and screaming. "We're family," I said to him, "whether we like it or not." And that's true.

I built my family out there with my bare hands, from my sisters to my brothers, and my nieces and nephews. Even new parental figures in the moms and dads of my close friends. There were even people I was just getting to know and love, and people I felt like I needed to get back on the ball with.

It took me the better part of four years to figure out how to live out there, but once I got it straight, I fell in love with it. Did I want to come home? Of course I did. Only I'd been so busy pining and mourning after New York I didn't realize I'd made a new home right there in Mesa. One it would actually break my heart to leave.

They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but I just spent two weeks rolling around in all that green grass and let me tell you how easy it was to breathe, how effortless it was to smile, how good it was to be back.


Liz, a friend of my husband's, said to me, "You can't ever really go home, as much as you might want to. The wheel keeps turning though, just as the seasons keep changing. Each step you take is a step towards a new you, a different you. But you couldn't be where you are now without the steps you've already taken."

I keep thinking of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Zach Braff's Garden State. "
You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your stuff, that idea of home is gone. You'll see one day when you move out. It just sort of happens one day and it's gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It's like you feel homesick for a place that doesn't even exist. Maybe it's like this rite of passage, you know? You won't ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I don't know, but I miss the idea of it, you know? Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place."

My best friend Kerry, she spoke words never truer: "
Thinking about ... your musings on where is home, it's clear that these people [in Arizona] are your tribe. However, that's tricky, because no matter where one finds a tribe, that's always changing- people move, people enter different life situations... everything's constantly evolving. The magic won't ever be the same, because it can't be, because you and everyone else is different."

We are all changed, but the feelings we have for our homes and our families- blood or otherwise- will always be with us. Part of being a grown-up is figuring out what to do with those feelings and which way to turn when they blindside you at three am... or while on a cross-country journey. Love and peace are all that matter at the end of things.

(Now, I find myself wistful for the summit of Red Mountain, peeking over the rooftops of northeast Mesa, vermillion and glowing, on fire in the light of the setting sun.)
(Originally written  March 25, 2010)

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