Home: Building our own definitions

This is my mother’s house in suburbia Illinois.  It’s not the place where I spent my entire childhood.  It’s the house my mother bought on the tail end of my parent’s divorce.  Its next door to the house I would spend my last year in Illinois before I embarked on my dream path: the shores of California.

My mothers world and mine are very very different and its more than just the zip code.

Andrew Largeman: 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 shit, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.
Andrew Largeman: 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.

It’s been nearly 3 years since the itch hath caught me, but here I am yet again.  A white sky and wind chimes silently protest the rolling thunder filling the canvas.  Blank pages used to frighten me.  This one doesn’t surprise me at all.

I came back to celebrate the life of a man I didn’t know that I didn’t really know.   What do you do when you find out everything you thought you knew was a lie?

It started off small: a piece of him I thought I had.  On the day of his death I proudly wore a US Army shirt with his last name written on the pocket.  I’m not sure when (I believe it may have been in my days of ROTC back in high school) or how I acquired it but I always believed that was his.

I knew my grandfather was military, but what I didn’t remember was that he was not in the army.  He was in the navy.

It wasn’t until I had flown cross country to the place I grew up that I would find out.  How much of what else I remembered was also a lie?

I’ve been journaling intermittently throughout my trip.  My mind is scattered and focused… but every time I try to focus on the very man I came here for, I can’t seem to stay there.  Why?

When I’d made the call to my mother (a woman whom I don’t have much of a relationship with) it was greeted with disdain.  See, I haven’t been “home” in years despite many friends and other family here requesting me visit.

“You have friends and family here that care about you and want you here.” friends would tell me.

“I’ll be back someday… likely in a box but not anytime soon if I can help it.”

And that’s when I’ve come back.  Last time it was for my cousin’s funeral.  Time passed and so did another.  Tragedy happened again.  My mother’s side seems to get the brunt of it.  Perhaps its because there are more of them than in daddy’s immediate family.

When I’d come back last time, I saw friends as well.  I don’t believe death should be a sad time.  Its a time to celebrate life all around you.  So when I come home, I make a point to see as many friends and family here as I can.  I do my best to fill the days here with positivity.  Nothing gets accomplished with sadness and worry.  Life has a way of working things out.

Theres a touch of a scent of mildew.  The water washes the country roads of its city grime.  The sadness remains constant.  It bids to swallow this place whole.  Not so secretly, a part of me wishes that it would.  Perhaps this is why I ran to pages of comic book and blobs of paint.

My favorite place for baked raviolis closed down a year ago.  Some of my friends had moved to the city.  I find less and less reasons to return every time I come here.

The phone call to tell mom I’d pulled the favor with my longtime friend and gotten a ticket home was greeted not with an ecstatic thank you, but

“This is not a vacation.  You are here to see me and be with my family.  That’s all this is about.  It’s not about you.”

And while it isn’t a vacation, it is about family, and, as selfish as it may sound, it’s also not about them.  Life is a journey and the destination is yourself.

I made the call to my friend for my mother.  She and I have years of darkness that I want nothing more than to get through.  I haven’t been the nicest person.  Neither has she.  There are reasons I don’t live here anymore.  There are reasons why I don’t make a huge effort to come back.  The feeling of “home” hasn’t existed in this place I spent my childhood for what feels like ages.

I was speaking with someone this morning about what home is.

Andrew Largeman: 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 shit, that idea of home is gone.
Sam: I still feel at home in my house.
Andrew Largeman: 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.

Home is not just a place a person spends some of their time in.  It is a feeling.  It is a state of mind.  It is a place of refuge.  It is comfort.  It’s a hug.  But it’s more than that.  It’s very specific.

Home is not something you are given.  Home is a gift that is found deep within the heart.  I am constantly surprised by the places where I have found this very specific embrace.

I was standing in line at two stores before I made my exodus from LA.  I’d lost more than a grandfather this week and I wanted to chronicle via film the whole adventure.  I didn’t make it to the checkout line with a camera.  Instead, I bought 3 bags of candy.  I didn’t even buy a notebook.

I went back to my apartment and packed in a rush.  I wasn’t the only one going on a trip that morning.  After I gathered everything, I dashed to see Prince Charming.  I wanted my last moments in Los Angeles to be spent with someone who brought back to the surface these feelings of home simply by just existing.  Someone beyond myself.  If only for a moment.

Even being there, however wasn’t about just him.  It was about me.

We both live in our singular worlds and at times we peek out and step into a world outside of it.

This would be the first trip we would not take together… but that’s a different story.

He brought me to the airport bus.  It was late but I would still catch it.  I really do need to speed up.  Was part of me just not wanting to say….

We kissed and said our “See you laters.”  I’m not a fan of the word “Goodbye.”

Is that partially what this is about?

The rain stopped outside. I shouldn’t be inside writing.  I should be out and about meeting a stranger in my hometown visiting from Portland or a secret admirer from a city just outside my “home”town.  I should be visiting friends and having a grand ole time.  But this is not a vacation.

The door slammed.  My mother returned from work.  I think I may toss on my Converse and get muddy and contemplative and wet. Years later,  my escape route has changed very little.

My mother is watching family videos.  In her world, these were the “happier days.”  And as much as I do enjoy my own moments of nostalgia, moments with her are not the moments that I turn to.

A friend of mine gave me a challenge for this trip: to film only the things that made me happy about being back.

“My mother would never be filmed.” I told him.

In the vacuum of silence and laughter of yesteryear, I look at how different our memories are.  Beyond just my grandfather, were these too all just… an illusion created in the mind’s eye?

Off I go into the great white yonder.  Armed with a camera and a pen.  And while it isn’t a vacation, it is about family, and, as selfish as it may sound, it’s also not about them.  Dare to build your own definitions.  Dare to create your own stories.

Life is a journey in ever constant motion and the destination is yourself.

If this note has touched you in any way, I would love for you to write me and tell me your story.  What is your definition of home?  What makes an amazing memory amazing?  Do you believe that where you grew up is your home?  Why?  How has it shaped you as the person you are now?

Thank you so much.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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