Home has always been a kind of fluid word for me. I moved out of my mom’s upstairs apartment when I was 17. It was summer. I went to Ohio to work with my Uncle. From that temporary stepping stone, I stumbled my way through dozens of countries, countless uncomfortable mattresses and a wide array of colors to the various roofs over my head.
Home was an idea. Not a thing. Since I left Pennsylvania in 2006, my mom has moved twice, my brother went to college, got engaged and is now expecting. My sister, much to my chagrin, moved in with her boyfriend and is now living the idyllic northeast lifestyle. I saw my family in short bursts separated by sickening lengths of time. A two year overseas assignment here, a deployment there and before I knew it, I was on the phone apologizing to my mother because, “It’s been way too long since I’ve been home.”
Visits in my younger years were negligent. I was more concerned about…well, everything young men are concerned with. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Late nights or early mornings, it didn’t matter the time, I’d dash in, grab a shower and a change of clothes, hug my mom and then disappear, only to return again the next day, slightly more hungover. She accepted it and I’m sure it stung, but I was selfish and therefore, inherently oblivious.
So, I clicked the “are you sure?” button when purchasing my tickets home and I vowed to myself to make this visit more about family. It has been about 3 years since I have been home and I feel that in my 20’s, I had missed a huge part of existing. Family. Bonds. Struggle. Triumph. All that. You see, distance creates, for me anyway, a veil. A desire to portray everything in a positive light. “Oh yeah, mom. Everything is good.” Everything wasn’t good at times but I was supposed to be the strong one. I’m the oldest, I’m the military man, living a life on the run. Emotions couldn’t keep up with me and if they got close, I’d just duck and dodge until they relented.
I flew the 20+ hour journey with a small stop in Japan and eventually came to rest at JFK international airport. In a rental car, the only thing that separated me from home was now a daunting 4 and half hour drive. I’m a ferociously patient dude but traveling gets old fast. I’ve found ways to make it bearable and they all involve talking to myself like a lunatic. It keeps me awake and ultimately, I discover a lot about me. I just have to ask myself the right questions.
My journey finally ended in a snowy driveway on hillside in Milan, Pa. It was about 1:00am, freezing cold and I get out of my tiny doll-sized car wearing lululemon shorts. I took in a deep breath like an under-dressed inmate tasting freedom for the first time. I can’t really put into words the harsh difference between the chaos in Hong Kong and the solitude of my mom’s new home. It was silent but alive. Electric. A faint pulse radiated around me. A quiet, dull hum of underlying energy. Almost overwhelming.
My mother and I stayed up for an hour or so, chatting and catching up. That’s the great thing about family for me. I can disappear, live a life so much the antithesis of what they’re living and come back only to dive right into a loving and compassionate conversation. It was warming but it was also late. My bed was beckoning me. Soft light and softer sheets had been prepared lovingly by my mother. I set my suitcases down and collapsed into the mattress allowing all the stress of travel to slowly melt away.
The two weeks during my visit were, from an outsiders point of view, were boring. The thing you have to understand is this; I wanted it that way. I went into this trip not with an itinerary loaded with line by line items that I must accomplish. I took each day as it came and found myself using the phrase, “Yeah, I’m ok with anything” religiously. I don’t get the chance to really shut off in Hong Kong. I wanted to be bored, if that makes any sense. Trips home in the past were always a mad rush to get out of the house. This time, I just wanted to stay in. There was also an intense fascination with Wal-Mart. I went about 8 times in two weeks. I would wander up and down the aisles, gazing at the obscene amount of products, lotions, potions, foods, beverages, clothing and everything in-between. On several occasions, I had to stop myself as I blindly placed nonsensical impulse buys on the moving check-out table.
Looking back on my trip now, a few events really stand out in my mind. There was the ultimate display of patriotism that came in the form of shooting handguns with my step-dad, Tim. I wasn’t able to go through a bonding phase with him. I left the house as he and my mom started dating. I think I was 17 or 18 and with those years came a very poor mindset, maybe indifference. I was living my life selfishly and as long as my mom was happy, I was happy. Standing over a makeshift table, loading rounds with cold fingers into the greased grooves of the magazines, I could tell that if I had made the effort to connect and bond years ago, we would have an even stronger relationship. As a son, I am proud to see what he and my mom have done together, entering some trying times, only to emerge stronger than when they went in.
Then there are the special moments that siblings have. The moments that are so special to you personally that to transcribe them for others to see would sully up the significance. Caitlin and Tyler, just know that those special moments will always be something I hold onto.
There was also the night at home where we gathered around the TV (which is perched up a little too high mom, you’ll hurt your neck!) and watched home movies. It was already an awkward predicament to be in but two of my good friends showed up just to make sure the point was driven home. I looked on, red-faced, as they watched me on the screen, dressed awkwardly and still sporting a healthy layer of baby fat. What really got me though was when everyone left. My mom and I stayed up and kept watching. I changed tapes and refilled glasses of wine as I watched a family trip to Gettysburg, Washington DC, Thanksgiving in Ohio and Christmas’s I don’t even remember. I cried in the glow of the TV screen looking on at simpler times when we were always together, something I treasure dearly, but I hid the tears from my mom. I’m the oldest, after all.