Saturday, September 19, 2009

Home is Wherever I'm with You

Around this time last year, I ran into an old high school acquaintance at the gym.

"Hi Anney," he said. "Are you home from Boston?"

"No, I moved back. For good."

He stepped back and scowled "Why?" he asked. Like the idea of moving from a hip city like Boston to bumf--- Phoenixville, Pennsylvania was absurd. Like I was really uncool. Like we were back in high school again.

"Because it's my home," I stammered. It was the best I could do at that moment. Flustered and embarrassed, I walked away.

That was a year ago.

I still remember exactly where I was when I decided to move home: a train station in Leeds, UK. Out the window, Leeds looked like a crap town to me. But people poured out of the train. I saw moms and grandmoms, businessmen, teenagers, recent college grads on their cellies, even sleek pretty ladies in power suits. Why, I wondered, are these people here? They could live anywhere! Why here?

A voice answered from the back of my head: Because it's their home. Their family and friends are here. So what if it's an ugly town? Buildings can be torn down. It's people that make a place.

Oh my God, I thought. I am so lonely. I need to move home.

If my life was a movie, the credits would've rolled as I planed back to the states. There would be a montage of scenes, showing me starting over. Packing liquor boxes with books and candles. Driving Yoshi onto the Mass Pike, headed south. Dragging my bags up my parents' driveway. Walking across Molly Maguire's to hug my friends hello. Driving to Phoenixville Hospital in the rain, and stepping into the room where my BFF of 22 years just gave birth to her daughter. "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros would play. "Home, yes I am home, Home is wherever I'm with you." There would be the prevailing "happily ever after" feeling, like everything would be fine now.

My life is no movie.

Shortly after I moved back, everything went to shit. Jobs disappeared. Next, money. I couldn't afford to move out of my parents' house. Try living in a house with five other adults. Scratch that. Make that five other adults that are part of your family. See how much you get done. Answer: Not much.

Our house is a four bedroom Colonial. For the past year, I've camped out on my sister's floor. The fiction book I've been writing has lay in scraps of paper, piled up under her bed. My clothes, balled and wrinkled, in a Tupperware bin behind the door. To be fair, my sister was incredibly welcoming. She treated the room like it was ours, instantly. She was way more gracious than I would've been. But still. It's hard to get your life together when there's nowhere to organize it, besides the floor.

All over the house, there were signs of it being overcapacity. The fridge door never closed right. Inside, there were four different kinds of milk. Mom's lunch chicken. Matthew's rice. Moira's yogurt. My tofu. Racks of clothes hung along the upstairs hallway. Almost every night, I'd get up to use the bathroom and stumble into one of the racks. All the clothes would fall to the floor. Every morning, we fought each other for the shower. Sunglasses and keys were lost. Nobody ever got their mail.

So, yeah. Be careful what you wish for. In four months, I became the polar opposite of lonely. I couldn't get a peace of mind.

From time to time, the question resurfaced. Anney -- Why did you move back home? With it, came this awful shadowy monstrous doubt. What if I made the wrong choice?

Last winter, I got proactive. I started taking classes to get certified to teach secondary ed. Classes rejuvenated me in a way that story publications never ever could. Yet I continued to stress out. It was impossible to cram all of my new interests into a single day. I started to wonder if happiness was impossible too.

Then, this one horrible day, it came to me.

It was late last January. I was rushing around in the morning, late for class. It was snowy out. I was racing back inside from scraping off my car, when my one leg flew out from under me. My right leg went one way, my left, the other - 'til I was breaking a split in the middle of our front hall. I got up and realized that I'd pulled muscles from the sole of my foot up through my calf and thigh, to my ass.

Did I email my professors, telling them of my injury? No way. I drove the snowy thirty minute drive with two feet. I hobbled around campus. I held up lines of people on the stairs.

Halfway through the day, I found out that I'd been denied financial aid. This meant that I had to pay for five classes straight outta my pocket. Then, I failed a test. Spilled food on my favorite shirt. Broke my ipod. You name it, it happened. Driving home that night, I got pulled over on route 113 and was given a ticket for speeding five miles over the limit.

When I got home, I lumbered into the warm kitchen. My dad had Bill O'Reilly blasting and was screaming "Screw you" at Obama. My youngest sister, who hates my guts for moving home, shot me a glare from the family room, as if to say: Don't you even think of coming in here. My mother was doing school work in the living room. Upstairs, I escaped to my little bit of floor, where my other sister was on the phone with her boyfriend, going, "Squeeeeeeeee!"

There was nowhere for me to go.

I dove into the shower. Turned it on as hot as it would go. Then I squat down in the tub and bawled my head off. I squished my eyes together so hard and grit my teeth and squeezed the tears out of me as hard as birth. When I was done, I straightened up, finished washing up, got out and went back to the room.

My sister was off the phone and reading a Yoga magazine.

I said to her: "I just had the worst day of my entire life. And I'm still happier than I was last year."

"Good," she said.

I opened up my journal and wrote down one of my favorite quotes: "Home is where you move fluently through darkness." It's from a story by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. When I first read it, I committed it to memory, just because. I don't think I understood it completely until now.

Yes, I'm banging into the racks of clothes in the hallway. Yes, I'm getting pulled over on 113. Yes, I'm crying in the shower. But I'm home.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Shut Your Mouth

I went to the recycling center today in a dress. This didn't seem odd to me. But upon walking through the gate, this guy called out, "Hey, you're over-dressed!"

"Not really," I replied, in my snottiest voice.

Sometimes I really like myself.

It's true that the recycling center is kinda like a garbage dump. But whatever. It was hot out. When it's hot, I rock the dress. The damn thing only cost me ten bucks.

The comment didn't get under my skin. It amused me. The inability of proper attire is a talent of mine. The older I get, the more confused I get about the rules. No matter how much I try to pay attention to style and fashion and all that crap, I continue to miss the mark.

As a kid, I dressed as a rainbow. My favorite outfit included a bright orange Flyers t-shirt that hung down to my knees, turquoise stretch pants, a pink hoodie and pink Chuck Taylors. Of course - this was the eighties. Didn't everyone dress like that? We preferred big, loud colors. Most girls knew how to put those colors together.

In high school, I stripped my hair white blond and invented my own look. One of my boyfriends at the time dubbed it as the "I don't care" look. I disagreed with the name. I DID care. My clothes only looked like I didn't. My clothes all came from the thrift store. I wore ripped t-shirts with my old Catholic school uniform, Boy Scout socks, and combat boots that came up to half my shin.

Honestly? This was probably the most happiest I ever was with how I looked.

I do pretty well as a grownup. I mean, I do well when I'm not wearing dresses to garbage dumps. Although my BFF did tell me a couple days ago that my new pocketbook looks like something her grandmother would buy.

The best thing about the exchange at the recycling center had to be my reply. I squinted at the guy hard, shook my head, and spat, "Not really." Something stirred in my chest. My heart gave gave a kick. Then I knew. Rainbow Brite and Courtney Love are alive and well. Both take up residence in some quirky bitch corner of my brain. Finally, I don't have to let the world know they are in there.

It makes me wonder. How many of us actually change as we grow up? How many of us have simply learned to keep our mouths shut?