I am home.
This place is brimming with familiarity and knowable quantities.
I don’t have to think about where I am driving to and I don’t need a GPS. I know the roads and places. I don’t worry about other drivers pulling suddenly out in front of me, or pedestrians, or bicyclists. I don’t wait on public transportation. I know that there will always, always be a parking space. I drive my beast of a diesel truck, the growl of the powerful engine almost soothing to me, the same sound and size of my first truck when I was sixteen, and it feels better to me than the little Corolla I have in Boston.
I take care of my horses and I ride them. The smell of Bermuda grass hay and leather and horses fill my senses when I walk into the barn. My horses greet me as if they’d seen me everyday for these past few months, as if nothing had changed at all. When I ride they respond to my commands like always, and they know what I mean when I lift the reins or press with my spur just so. My body remembers what it’s supposed to do–heels down, shoulders back, back straight, hands slow and low. Soldier backs his ears and acts angry at feeding time. Tigger protests when I take one of the others from the barn. Nothing has changed, except that their sleek, shiny summer coats have been replaced by their fluffy, shaggy winter coats.
When I go out, I run into people I know almost everywhere. Abilene is a smallish town, and I know a lot of people here.
I worship at the church that I grew up in, surrounded by people I have know all of my life, or most of it, or for many years.
My mom has filled the house with Christmas cheer. Santa Clauses, snowmen, gingerbread people, and snow globes cover every available surface. When I wake up, the coffee has been made. The fridge is full of food, and so is the pantry, and many of my favorite things are there. Mom cooks food that tastes better than anything else in the world. She leaves me notes in her careful handwriting telling me whether she’s fed the horses or not. We meet for lunch at our favorite places.
Dad leaves for work early in the morning, before I wake up, but I hear him leaving, walking through the living room, picking up his computer bag, opening the closet door and getting a jacket, opening and closing the front door. He tells stories and laughs and listens and processes in the same way he always has. He watches the weather carefully and understands more than I do about what is being said. He watches Hallmark channel Christmas movies with me and mom because we want to, and I suspect he kind of likes them too. We watch a football game and talk about sports.
My brother comes to visit from Austin and prepares an incredible meal, delighted to bless us with what he’s learned at culinary school. We are delighted, too. He and I talk about the kinds of things we’ve always talked about, and watch movies, and are happy to be together.
I can do laundry anytime I want, without needing twelve dollars in quarters. I can start a load and leave the house and finish later. I can leave clothes in the drier overnight. I do not have to climb perilously steep stairs with a heavy laundry basket.
I hang out with friends and don’t worry about how my words or behavior might seem to them. We laugh at ten-year-old jokes, and remember people we went to high school or elementary school with and talk about religion and politics and aren’t afraid of offending each other. I don’t have to negotiate the relationship. I don’t ask for a glass of water because I know where the glasses are and can get it myself. I don’t wonder if my social awkwardness is showing through or if they find the same things funny or meaningful as I do.
I am not home.
My bedroom is a much different color. None of my things are in it. It has a bed that is not mine, and a lot of empty space, and decorations that I didn’t choose. It feels like a guestroom, and nothing of me is left in it, except a few things in the closet which are now obscured by other things in the closet that are not mine. It is not my room, and I am comfortable in it, but I am a guest.
I have to ask about my horses’ care. I do not know when the last time was that their hooves were trimmed, or when Soldier’s shoes were last put on. I can’t remember how much of a vitamin supplement Soldier gets. I forget the number of feed bags we always get and buy too few. I did not help load or haul or unload the hay that is in the barn now. The stirrups on my saddle are set short for a friend who has been riding my horses and I have to adjust them for myself. I forget to feed the horses because that is no longer a habit that shapes my days.
Spur is not with me. It feels lonely to go to bed at night without her curled up near my feet. It feels strange to sit on the couch without her next to me. It feels empty to walk through the house without the clicking sound of her toenails as she follows me. I keep expecting to see her face peering around a corner, or to hear her begging for table scraps as we eat. For five years, she was always here in this house with me, and I feel her absence acutely. I miss the rhythm of our walks and the order of our days, and her persistent determination to share her toys with me.
I try to turn on the bathroom light in the hall, which is where the switch is in my apartment. Every time.
I enjoy my time with family and friends, but am haunted by the knowledge of how limited that time is. I grieve a little at every parting, and I wonder how many months will go by before I see them again. I am frequently asked when I go back to Boston, constantly reminded that this is temporary, that this trip and this place are outside of my ordinary life now. It is a strange feeling to have here, which has always been my base of ordinary in the past.
The patterns and rhythms and habits that I have grown accustomed to are disrupted rather than re-established during my time here.
There is a madness to the way I spend my days, a desperation in the way I try to fit everything I loved about my life here into the quickly dwindling time that I have before leaving again.
Soon, I will board a plane and fly back to Boston. I will get my dog and climb up the stairs to my cozy little apartment. I will be surrounded by my books and my things, and by a city that is a stranger to me still, and I will not run into people I know when I’m out, and I will depend on my GPS to get me where I’m going. I will go to church and I will see my friends, and I will miss my church and family and friends here. I will resume the life that I am establishing there, the habits and patterns and rhythms that give shape to my days.
I will be home and I will not be home.