Finding Comfort in the Return (A Short Essay)
Posted on January 24, 2013
I like circles.
I like to return to places I have been, re-live what bewildered me, re-experience what bewitched me.
In 1998, when I was fifteen, I went to Nepal. In 1999 and 2000 and 2003, I returned. I went to the same restaurants and stores and bought the same sorts of things. I ruminated on the meaning of one year and five years.
In 2000, I went to India. I returned in 2001. I’ll go back again this May, to the city that I haven’t visited since I was 18, to volunteer at the same places and maybe talk to some of the same nuns, if I can. In the in-between years, I have read blog and searched Flikr and Facebook for news about the people I met there.
I used to travel with Teen Mania, a huge missions organization that has helps some of its participants and harms others. I couldn’t figure out why the organization continued to haunt me, years after I went on my way, and so I went back to their campus in 2009 as I researched my MFA thesis, which was about one of those trips to Nepal. I went back again in 2012 to observe my brother’s emotional return to the campus as he tried to figure out how they had been able to damage him so greatly.
I keep a diary. Two shelves of journals filled since the seventh grade. I never start a new one unless I finish the last one.
After college, I substitute taught at the same school where I had graduated.
In 2005, I went to the Tour de France with my mom. We saw almost every stage. Then we returned in 2006 and 2008, and we became self-described Tour-fan-experts.
I moved from Indiana to New Hampshire for grad school, and then I got a job and moved back home.
And now I live in the house where my grandparents lived. It is next door to the house where I grew up, where my mom still lives.
Living in my grandmother’s house is like living with her ghost. I eat my meals at her kitchen table. I use her plates and bowls. Even though I think I emptied the house after Grandpa moved into a nursing home last year, I occasionally find a box of candles my grandmother had stashed away, or a roll of old wallpaper. I park in her garage, sleep in her bedroom, cook on her stove, lock her back door at night, wash my hands in her kitchen sink, hang my clothes on her closet rack.
In the fall, I watched the deer come out of the woods and into the yard. We never saw the deer growing up next door, but Grandma would tell us they were there. One night at dusk I held my daughter on my hip and walked into the woods, following the deer, searching for their white tails. I looked for horizontal lines in the vertical structure of the forest until I found them, almost invisible.
I envision recreating her gardens–vegetable in the back and flower in the front–so that the yard is once again fruitful. I want to fill the house with the smells of homemade meals like it was when I visited her here in the years before she died. I was in India when I received word that she was dying; my sister and I traveled home early from our trip and made it here just before she passed. I watch movies and build blanket forts with my daughter in the room where she died, surrounded by her family.
When I visit Grandpa in his nursing home, I find myself hoping that I am taking care of the house like he would want it to be taken care of. I’m ashamed of the condition of the driveway. He never let anyone plow it; I did, and now the gravel is in piles that I can’t spread just right, no matter how hard I try or how much I work. I broke the rake today working on the rocks.
I don’t know why I am comforted by the cyclical. Perhaps it is the benefit of new perspectives. I like trying to understand what happened before.
Some people run from their pasts; I keep chasing mine down.