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“Home”

This week I learned that depression and writer’s block together is a scary thing, as writing is my primary way of alleviating depression. Then I realized that the reason I couldn’t write was because I was refusing to write the piece that was trying to come out. When I finally let myself “feel the feels,” this is what resulted.

In the dark and the stillness, the floor of my family’s house creaks and groans.

I have this ritual whenever I come home. Or, as I should probably call it, “home.”

I walk through the whole house and find all the things that are different. Like that game where you look at a picture and then you look at another, nearly identical picture and you have to spot the changes.

One time they had a new machine for juicing citrus fruits. They made fresh juice out of it. Now they make it for me every time.

Another time they had new bookshelves for me to look through. New photos, almost every time, of a little brother and sister who grow up without me now. This time they took apart the kids’ bunk bed. They’re too old for it now; they sleep on their own beds now.

Next time, maybe, they’ll have their own bedrooms.

Things will fall apart and be replaced. New gadgets will appear, charging next to the landline phone. There will be middle school textbooks, high school textbooks, someday. There will be other things, things people need as they grow old, things I can’t think about without literally weeping.

The floor will creak a bit more each time.

Before I left for college, my parents promised me that they’d never clean out my room and turn it into anything else. “This will always be your room, your home,” they said.

They didn’t lie. The only ways they alter my room is to clean it after I leave from my visits, always in a hurry, always leaving behind half my stuff and dragging away other stuff; or when my mom wants to borrow clothes that I left behind. I’ll come home and see her wearing something I’d long forgotten and she says, “Oh, I took this. Hope you don’t mind!” I don’t.

When I come “home” my room is almost the same. Entering it is like reentering the world of my high school self, although I can never really feel or understand that world again. I was so alone. Politically conservative, overly romantic, unable to put a name to the dark moods that often consumed me. The worst was definitely still to come, of course, but I already had a glimpse of what I was in for.

The only source of continuity, really, is writing. Even in high school I was known for that. A very different type of writing, sure, but writing nonetheless. My notebooks and journals fill my old room.

Nearly half a year ago my depression suddenly remitted. Before that, coming home was a treasure. It wasn’t “home” back then; it really was home. I lived for those school breaks. I daydreamed about them in class, at the gym, while I took walks. Nothing felt better than dropping my bags at the bottom of the stairs and taking that first tour of the house, playing the “What’s Different?” game.

After the depression was over, everything changed. Home doesn’t feel like home anymore. It’s merely “home” now.

Now coming “home” feels like being ripped out of my skin and put into another one. Sometimes it triggers a brief depressive episode; the rest of the time it just feels numb. Every object in the house seems to tell me stories about impermanence and decay, even as the house is gleaming and beautiful as ever.

I don’t understand the girl who once lived here. I don’t even want to. But sometimes, what I wouldn’t give to be her for just one more day.

The more this happens the less I want to come “home,” and the more the guilt builds and builds. My mom saw me crying and assumed it was about my finals (as it had been earlier), and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it’s because I have no home anymore and I don’t belong anywhere and no matter where I go I just can’t come home.

It’s like everything comes at a price. This seems to be the price I pay to be free–mostly–of depression in my day-to-day life. Religious folks might say, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” I say, sometimes shit happens. Sometimes this is just how brains work.

And, sometimes, people grow up. Some people will always cherish returning to their childhood homes and swimming through those memories. But I, it seems, just can’t do that. I love this house and the people in it so dearly but it’s not home anymore. That breaks my heart.

Now I know that if I ever want to come home again, I can’t go back. I can only go forward.

Comments

  1. Grumpy Mr. Gruff says

    Thank you for this. It resonated with much of my own college experience. Visiting my parents’ house each summer felt like tip-toeing through an archaeological dig. I’d enter my room and burrow down through the collected junior, sophomore, and freshman strata all the way to high school fossils. Then I went to grad school (preceded by spontaneous remission of four years of depression) and found myself a guest in my old house.

    For the time being, I’ve made myself a new home. I wish you the best in finding a place to call your own.

  2. Hunt says

    Just wait until your “boomerang” years. Then “home” will be home again. Oh the things you have to look forward to!

  3. Nicole Introvert says

    I have also been struggling with the concept of “home.” Hope you can find some peace soon.

  4. says

    Ah, well, in moving a total distance of 2 blocks, we dismantled the temple devoted to our adult daughter and for awhile she was quite upset, even more than the cats who don’t like anything to move.

  5. says

    I’m glad you pushed through and wrote this out.

    It took me a long time to get used to the idea that I am different enough as a person without an active mental illness from the person I was with one that what memories I have from that time feel like something that I’ve read about rather than lived. It took longer to get used to the fact that those memories are still vivid to the me who I am when I periodically experience that mental illness again.

    Brains and memory and identity are all very convoluted and strange. You’re not alone in this. There is no reason for guilt. It’s just one more bit of weird that no one told you you got to live with.

    Also, *hugs*.

  6. Dmitri Gekhtman says

    Thanks for the post!
    Do you talk to other Russian-American kids about these things?
    I’m experiencing similar problems and I’m finding cultural perspective useful.

    • says

      Unfortunately, I don’t know too many of them. But I think you’re right that culture has something to do with it. In American culture it’s much more expected and understood that young adults stop being as enmeshed with their families as they were when they were kids, whereas in Russian culture it often feels like we’re expected to continue playing the role of children for as long as our parents live.

      • Hunt says

        Oh absolutely, this is all very cultural. Americans are actually pretty strange regarding inter-generation independence, while Latin Americans maintain strong physical and financial ties between the generations and the Japanese, for instance, are not only expected to care for their parents into their old age but also often house them in their home. All of this is anathema to the rather rigid and sterile way Americans coexist with older and younger generations. Yes, there is the unspoken expectations that Americans are to be out of the “home,” never to return, on to successful careers. Returning, to make “home” home again apparently signals some kind of failure, which is kind of makes awkward the entire “boomerang kids” thing I mentioned earlier, which has been made necessary or at least accentuated by economic conditions. Sure, there is a lot to be said for striking out on one’s own and breaking your own path, but on the whole I personally dislike the American attitude. There’s something way to Horatio Alger and unrealistic about it. I don’t think it’s very healthy for any generation, at any stage or age. It causes a lot of stress.

        • says

          Well, that’s all true, but I feel like the reason I’m having such difficulties with this has more to do with the Russian part of my identity than the American part. I feel so much pressure to remain the same person I’ve always been when I step into my old house–and this is compounded by the fact that my parents act on the assumption that I am the same person, mostly.

          Or maybe it’s the combination of the two. There is very little compatible between Russian and American culture, really.

          • Hunt says

            That’s universal to all acquaintances, family and not. I still have visions of past friends I’ve lost contact with, and I’m sure that I’d be quite upset if they’ve changed a whit from when I last remembered them. I guess it’s a part of human solipsism, or maybe the adult analog of some Piaget stage of mental development. We all want the people we used to know to be exactly as we left them. But, yes, I understand what you mean about the pressure to conform to a previous version of yourself, and just as you’re so immersed in becoming a new person. That’s one of the great things about being young. You are in the process of becoming. One of the more depressing things I ever heard was an interview with Martin Amis where he described the change from living life in the process of becoming to one of essentially saying goodbye (He’s in his 60′s, which is not very old). I find this depressing not because I’m that old (yet, though I’m quite a bit older than you), but because I neither think that is a necessary outlook, or true of all people. There are many people who remain in a state of becoming most of their lives, or all of it, and not just because they reject the idea of mortality (though there are plenty of those too) but fear of mortality is at the heart of most of this. We reject change in others because it signals that we are getting older too. I can remember when I realized that this is true for parents as well as everyone else. Parents don’t want their children to grow up in part because they don’t want to get old! I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes the truth lies hidden right in front of us.

  7. Landon says

    This is a tough time, even for people who don’t struggle with depression, so I can only imagine that it’s that much tougher for you. For what it’s worth, you’ve captured something a lot of people feel, something a lot of people go through. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, I suppose, but I hope it helps to know that you will almost certainly come through it. You’re halfway through breaking down the old you and building up the new, of leaving behind the person whose identity was anchored in your “home” and becoming the person whose identity will be anchored in her OWN home… but the halfway stages of all processes are usually quite unpleasant and ungainly. That you don’t feel like you have a real home now doesn’t mean you never will, but its status as home will be a positive decision on your own part, an authentic creation of yours, rather than an accident of birth and history. I wish you the best.

  8. Leo says

    You just can’t win, can you? You had a home, and now you’re not the person the home belonged to anymore, going there is gut-wrenching. I didn’t, and though it taught me to be light on my feet and content with little, I have abandonment issues up the wazoo. And changing so little that the same place remains home forever is a great way to get uprooted or lose touch with the world. What’s a wanderer to do?