How to Come Home
You have to leave. You can’t come back to a place you already are. Stuff your vintage dresses into a trash bag. Toss them into the back of your hatchback. Tell yourself it’s temporary. The great freedom of youth is thinking the world you love extends beyond every doorway and up every knoll into more of the same world. Coming home is like trying to fit back inside that feeling of foreverness. After the world has revealed itself as not, in fact, expanding or soft and grassy, coming home can feel like bottomless disappointment.
It’s the children tumbling back into their transporting wardrobe in the C.S. Lewis classic, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. There’s no world back there anymore, just mothballs and hardwood.
The holidays are a great excuse to try shoving your way back into the crawl space of your childhood. When Christmas comes around in the Midwest, there’s a magnetic pull from the coasts back into its synthetic wool arms. Melted butter. Snow banks. Red buckets and bells outside the grocery store.
Nostalgia used to be a disease. Johannes Hofer, a Swiss physician, coined the term in 1688. Before that, soldiers in The Thirty Years War were displaced because of the sickness. Their symptoms ranged from the obvious — melancholy, loss of appetite, to the supernatural — the visitation of ghosts, hearing voices. In an attempt to avoid fighting, some soldiers feigned nostalgia. The giveaway sign of true disease? Those with nostalgia — proper, gut wrenching, bone breaking, nostalgia — would never name the cause of their grief. They would just go inward, without reason or fanfare, according to Michael S. Roth’s Dying of the Past: Medical Studies of Nostalgia in Nineteenth-Century France.
Modern nostalgia is cited as a whim of fancy, a momentary regression painted pale yellow and smelling of cinnamon. If you think you’re ready to come home — for the holidays, as a metaphor, at long last — you must swear off the sickness.
Students of How to Come Home can expect to understand their smallness in regards to the planet. Like astronauts, leavers will come home, but with particles of crater wedged into their boots. It’s not that space is better than hometowns. But you can get lost in the galaxy and wander around. Aliens, the fuzzy silence, how much you miss gravity, those things can surprise you. Once inside the childhood home, said astronaut can remove their helmet to reveal mostly the same person who was there to begin with, only with a taste of space.
By the end of this course, you should be able to step off the flight in your small city airport with frozen lungs. You’ll be able to hold your breath through the traditions and the mini hot dogs. Like a free diver or a child under what psychologists call “breath-holding spells.” After being angry or startled or in pain, a child holds their breath for what’s usually less than a minute. Sometimes the child passes out. Breath-holding spells are horrifying to watch, but most children outgrow the phenomenon. Their natural reflexes are replaced by more sophisticated reactions. There’s nothing to be done to prevent the spells, only, according to the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, keeping daily routines and maintaining a calm environment.
Students enrolled in the course should complete the term with a greater understanding of how hard it is to fit back inside of the box you came from. Think of those games where the plastic cars are jammed together in a simulated traffic jam. The end goal of the game is to move all the cars out of the path of the red car; to release it from a tiny entrance. You will be able to see your childhood bedroom as a small space you no longer fit inside. There are some children who grow up and, whether by lack of protein or concrete boundaries, remain in their childhood bedrooms. People get paralysed. Comfort calls itself stability. By the completion of this course, you should be able to see this life without envy or disdain.
Leftover pain pills from wisdom teeth removal ten years prior
Composition notebook half filled from fourth grade
Mechanical pencils or felt tip pens
Obscure collections someone told you would be worth something
Frozen chocolate chips from the back of the freezer
Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, Henri Nouwen
Daybook: The Journal of an Artist, Annie Truitt
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler
Dying of the Past: Medical Studies of Nostalgia in Nineteenth-Century France, Michael S. Roth
The Holidays, Weddings, Funerals, Birthdays that end in zero
Coming home will never be easy or simple or delightful or unexpected or as fun as you imagine. Coming home will always be slow and sleepy and exhausting and sugary and the warm air will be rushing out of the electric fireplace like a force of Evangelical weather.
You’ll have your own home of complicated sentiments someday. Other people will drag their feet to visit. “This is different,” you’ll think. “This is modern and open. I keep extra blankets on every bed. There are no prayers before mealtimes here.” But there will always be reasons why going back is like dancing in reverse. Why not go forward? Into sweet, cool loneliness, into the quiet disappointment of having only yourself.
Dreams, mostly. You will sleep your way into your childhood home, only with jello walls spinning into paper staircases. According to Dreamsopedia, a dream involving a childhood bedroom represents forgiveness. Others think going back means you desperately want to revisit a time in your life when things weren’t complex. Another site, Auntyflow.com, says you need fun! If you’re in the bedroom, this is your sign to pursue delight. The reliability of these sources is beside the point. Universality is what’s important. Everyone dreams about coming back to their twin size bed.
Phone calls work at first. But then life gets loud and the strings that connect you to the family you came from become frayed or knotted. One of you is interrupted by the drive-through pharmacist. The other can barely hear over the screech of a subway train. People say the wrong thing. They use the wrong tone. Speak straight to their best intentions in dreams. The verb for dreams is “interpret.” Not decipher or anything sharp, like resolve. We assign colors to dreams. We speak of flying and falling, not the way the volume of our voices trailed up before one of us hung up. Keep communication abstract. Feelings are warmer there.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. What can be done about the childhood relics, all the movie stubs and stuffed animals?
A. “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” William Morris
Q. My parents sold my childhood home. They moved to Florida. There are no memories. Should I expect the same “coming home” symptoms upon visiting?
A. “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition,” James Baldwin
Q. Something animalistic, like teenage angst all grown up, takes over when I have to sleep in my childhood bedroom. What’s the point?
A. “If I see it in nature, I know it will work in a home,” Miles Redd
Q. I have my own home, my own disappointed grown up children, and tubs of decorations in the basement for the holidays. Why is it that every time Christmas rolls around, I only ever want to leave?
A. “The ache for home lives in all of us,” Maya Angelou
Stop eating dairy…..50 points
Meet your highschool boyfriend for a drink…..100 points
Drink warm beer in the garage…..25 points
Recycle childhood artworks…..100 points
Rewatch home videos of birthday parties…..50 points
Go to church…..200 points
Forget where the silverware lives…..50 points
Read a childhood diary…..100 points
Drag an empty cart through the grocery store…..50 points
Watch three movies in a row…..50 points
Cry in the parking lot…..100 points
Wear slippers outdoors…..50 points
Call a new place home…..500 points